The market HR cluster head at Google believes HR should be seen and heard.
When Avanthi Maharaj took on the role of Market HR Cluster Head for SSA at Google in 2019, her experience and approach to HR was completely changed.
The experienced HR leader says after 18 years in recruitment and in HR, she has finally found a home in Google that enables HR practitioners to express empathy within a people centric environment.
“With Google, I feel like it's coming home because I finally aligned with both culture and leaders who have a similar approach to work, to life and to purpose,” she says. We recognise that putting yourself first is actually beneficial to both you and the company and that you can achieve the greatest professional fulfilment when you balance business goals with employee advocacy and care ”
Avanthi highlights that empathy and purpose is important in HR as it builds a relationship between employees and the HR Function.
“HR should be seen and heard, it should not just be about policy, hiring or firing with a reactive approach.
That status quo must change and Covid has forced us to relook at many roles with a different lens and dimensions.
She mentions that as she moved into senior roles in HR, she was motivated to build a relationship between employees and the HRs engagement. We do have a seat at the table but how are we ensuring that our contribution is impactful, purposeful and still supports the needs of our people while driving business strategy.
“I have always had a problem with how companies conditioned HR managers/practitioners to act like machines and lack empathy (it's only business and clinical) . It is difficult to operate like that with people because you do affect their lives and your decisions on how you treat people has a broader impact ” Avanthi says.
Avanthi realised early on in her career that she wanted to work with people. She started off at a recruitment agency, where she worked as a recruiter and got to experience first hand what it means to be in a service environment. This truly makes one appreciate the challenges and benefits of being client centric. She says that although she experienced challenges, her passion for the role made her persevere
“I didn't want to be superficial, and view people as a target . I didn't want to just be a tick box of a placement. I was passionate about what and how I did my job because my role was affecting and impacting people's lives. When you are recruiting, you are effectively changing people's lives., and that is what motivated me into the HR field,” she says. The struggle to fit into a traditionalistic role was a reality for her as many HR leaders at the time drove a culture of a reactive and operational experience when dealing with staff or internal clients.
For Avanthi, her current role offers both incredible personal growth and a chance to define her philosophy as a Market HR leader. "Be the hand on the back and not on the face" is an adage that she lives by in her engagement with all employees.
She says that Google has changed the approach that has conditioned individuals to believe that work is more important than health (mental and physical) which as HR Practitioners we have conformed to and neglected historically.
“What Google showed me in my first week is that I matter as an individual and that every other title that I hold outside of the workplace also holds equal weight. It took me a long time to reconcile the two experiences because on one hand, you are conditioned to be switched on 24/7. If you are unwell or have family commitments, sacrifices should be made for the good of the organisation or as a directive from your manager.
On the other hand, here's a company that is saying no, we don't reward sacrificing your health or personal situations, but how can we respectfully accommodate each other,” she adds.
Google in Africa
Being part of an organisation whereby one is able to thrive, develop and evolve has been an incredible experience for Avanthi. "The Google mission statement which is to "Organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful" could not be more relevant to us in Africa at this point in time and employees recognise their role in making this a reality.
In her current role, Avanthi is responsible for South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana. Google’s total African team is approximately 150 people strong with goals to significantly grow headcount and open new territories over the next few years. Google recently announced its commitment and investment in Africa and is currently building their first Product Development centre in Nairobi.
Avanthi says she is thrilled with the activity that the company is currently having in Africa as it also recognizes talent based on the African continent.
“We are looking to enhance our research centre, which we just opened in Ghana. The activity across Africa is becoming very formidable and competitive, and this is driving talent back into Africa, and recognises talent that is based in Africa. That is where my focus is going to be over the coming months,” she adds.
The wellbeing of employees and their families is a top priority for Google, Avanthi says.
“When I joined Google, I was impressed and surprised by how inclusive, accommodating and welcoming the organisation was- and this was not just talk This was most evident during the pandemic as well - when it mattered the most - During this time, we leaned into our values to take care of Googlers and their families and more than ever are caring for either children, parents, or both and not surprisingly, the pandemic has made these roles more difficult. "We expanded our carer’s leave to 14 weeks, and also introduced work-from-anywhere weeks, no meetings weeks or days and also we closed our offices globally for reset days, so that the whole company could take a break together. We also provided wellbeing bonuses and stipends, so that employees could set themselves up with the right equipment to work from home."
Avanthi says her greatest achievement is recognising value, “recognising, firstly, what value do I bring to an organisation that is more than what is on a job description. Because for me, purposeful , long term relationships are key.” I am passionate about what Google gives to society and how we are coming together to Build For Africa.
When she is not working, Avanthi binges on Netflix sci-fi and crime series, Disney+, and is an avid follower of current global news.
She also enjoys catching up with her family and friends to shut down from work. She adds that she has aspirations to continue studying this year now that her kids are in their teen years and she has carved time out to focus and prioritise self development and going back to University.