By Rani Borkar, Corporate Vice President for Azure Hardware Systems and Infrastructure, Microsoft

At the height of the pandemic, entire industries were put to task to accelerate years of digital transformation overnight. During this time, I witnessed the incredible powers of collaboration at play across my teams as we sought to meet the needs of our customers, despite the multitude of challenges facing us. It’s no question – over the past 11 months, we have all learned a great deal about being supportive and collaborative with our colleagues, partners, and customers in times of crisis. Now, with a recovery on the horizon, my mindset has shifted from learning towards growth and opportunity for the future. As leaders, how can we reimagine a workplace where this support system is permanently embedded into working culture? It all begins with rebuilding for inclusivity.

Why inclusivity matters for working women
In April 2020, The New York Times reported that in a survey conducted among households where both a man and a woman worked full-time remotely, women reported that they were responsible for 64% of the childcare and 67% of housework duties. These are impacts felt across industries and levels – as work life and home life converge, the tax on working women is impossible to overlook.

What can be done now? I believe the impact of helping employees develop a sense of belonging and purpose is ultimately closely tied to a company’s long-term success as a business. Only then can we truly ensure that we’re looking out for the needs of working women and improving the outcomes for our partners and customers along the way. Here are three ways to view the path to inclusivity for impact.

  1. Meet colleagues where they are with empathetic leadership

Practicing empathy with colleagues has been a core practice adopted by many to help teams feel supported throughout the pandemic. Last fall, many companies adopted hybrid workplace policies that required challenging widely held norms of working culture to help them balance their work while caring for loved ones at home. On top of this, our teams adopted the policy of designating one day per month as “Meeting-Free Fridays” to help colleagues remain productive while providing greater flexibility and uninterrupted focus.

By giving workers more flexibility to draw their own lines between work and life, the impact can be significant for female caregivers down the line.

  1. Build strong communities to redefine equity in the workplace

“Mission first, people always” has always been another guiding principle for me in my leadership style. This means taking the time to understand colleagues’ unique needs and qualities in order can build a culture of caring and community across teams. In my view, this is a prerequisite to elevating diverse voices and creating an equitable environment at work.

The simple act of building great workplace communities also means truly understanding what diversity entails and creating authentic spaces for dialogue and connection for our teams – whether through dedicated employee resource groups, roundtables with company leadership, or other forums. And the benefits of creating an environment of inclusivity are good for people and business: helping people feel at ease to speak up, give their opinions, and bring their full selves at work can contribute to diverse perspectives to design, build, and sell technology and services that are truly for everyone.

  1. Invest in continued learning to level the playing field

Rebuilding for inclusivity also means providing easier access to digital skills for people hardest hit by job losses and the existing skills gap. This is a gender equity issue first and foremost: In December 2020, it was reported that 100% of jobs lost in the United States were attributable to women.

Investing in upskilling and reskilling as organizations can cause a sea change for women – and particularly women of color – for generations to come. This is where our responsibilities as innovators in digital transformation span far beyond the near-term horizon of our newest technology roadmaps: with more people in highly skilled roles, a stronger economic recovery becomes possible, resulting in more equitable opportunities down the line. If we want to catalyze this cycle of opportunity tomorrow, these strategic investments must be made today.

Rebuilding for inclusion and impact
Ultimately, as leaders, it is our responsibility to see through these changes that create more inclusive workplace communities for the long-term. The seismic shift that our industry and society have endured over the past 12 months has fostered change in how we lead to ensure that we are meeting the needs of our community and our customers. With empathetic leadership, a growth mindset, and the proper investments in reskilling and professional development, we can rebuild our workforce and our industry to drive innovation forward.


About Author: Rani Borkar is the Microsoft Corporate Vice President for Azure Hardware Systems and Infrastructure (AHSI) and a member of Azure’s Senior Leadership Team.  In her role, Borkar leads the core organizations building Microsoft’s leading cloud computing platform—from silicon, systems, to supply chain. Throughout her career, Borkar has established herself as a pioneering hardware engineer in the semiconductor industry, a technology executive, product visionary, and trusted leader with decades of experience in the computing industry. She is passionate about delivering end-to-end solutions to empower customers to achieve more.

Leading with the philosophy of “mission first, people always,” Borkar has inspired and transformed organizations by building close-knit communities. To produce great technology, Borkar believes in the power of combining technology assets and engineering talent with the values of collaboration and mentorship. To nurture and lead high-performing teams, Borkar combines her passion for tech and her deep insight and interest in human dynamics to create a safe place for people to be themselves; so they may continuously learn, grow, and thrive.