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Walmart Labs India’s Sunita Venugopal on how she implemented the Spark of Inclusion diversity and inclusion campaign for a multinational corporation and what’s inspiring her these days

Portrait by Sameer Raichur

Since 2016, the director of corporate communications at Walmart Labs India has overseen external and internal branding for the retail giant as it works to innovate its products and technology, which involves everything from digital supply-chain operations to Walmart.com. Based in Bangalore, India, Venugopal also advises senior management on Walmart’s branding and digital communication. Her work empowers tech talent in India, who in turn support hundreds of millions of shoppers across 11,300 brick-and-mortar stores in 27 countries and e-commerce websites in 11 countries.

In her 18 years of comms experience, she’s worked with global brands such as Swiss Re, the Zurich-based reinsurance company, where she was vice president of corporate communication in Bangalore; Target, where she was a senior communication manager; and IBM, where she led internal communication. We asked Venugopal how she leads and communicates globally, which apps power her day, and her approach to disconnecting and downtime.

Here’s how Sunita Venugopal communicates:

On the most important thing she learned about communicating brand messaging

“I started out handling external and digital communications, a role that has expanded to internal communications, events and corporate social responsibility. Today, I’m responsible for building the technology brand for Walmart in India, which is already a best-in-class global capability center. My role is to articulate the story of Walmart in Bangalore, where not every associate has seen our store or shopped at Walmart.

“I believe that in today’s age of marketing and communication, the ability to tell the right story to the right people is what matters. In the quest to push brand messages, we sometimes forget the art of storytelling. This is what we grew up with and that is what makes communication so memorable.

“The ability to tell the right story to the right people is what matters. In the quest to push brand messages, we sometimes forget the art of storytelling.”

“The most important thing I’ve learned at Walmart is how to operate with a global outlook and the importance of quality stories over quantity. For our Spark of Inclusion diversity initiative, we tried breaking the clutter on [the] number of emails with lengthy content. We created very impactful, minimalistic content to convey the message.

“Ideating creatively, building a team from scratch, working with different agency partners and effectively communicating with multiple stakeholders over the last few years have taught me a lot about the art of picking the right stories to communicate better. How to anticipate risks, so you have a viable plan of action and how to handle tricky situations—it’s here that I have matured as a communication professional.”

On advice she’d give herself at the beginning of her career

“It was advice my dad gave me when I started out—work hard, come what may. To this day, I hold his words close to my heart and give my best to whatever I am working on. It’s been an amazing journey in the field of communication. I worked hard, learned new tools and platforms, understood businesses and always stepped out of my comfort zone. It’s an ongoing process. Even today, I continue to study new things, build competencies and skills to stay relevant. This has helped me to juggle different priorities in the VUCA [volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous] world.

“The advice I would give any budding professional: Be eager to learn, prepare yourself for the long run and take chances when they come your way.”

On her biggest win at Walmart Labs

Inclusion Solution

Walmart Labs’ Spark of Inclusion diversity initiative was sweeping. It included an Inclusion Week in Bangalore in March 2019, with posters featuring transgender activists, for example, and roundtable conversations around gender and sexual identity. (One poster read: “Apparels Belong in the Closet. Not Humans.”) The program also included encouraging Walmart associates to interact in sign language and a screening of the Disney movie Zootopia, which encouraged acceptance and inclusionary themes.

By the numbers

2,700 Number of Walmart employees reached
80% Associates who said Walmart Labs is up on inclusion
100+ Positive mentions on social media
4,000  Views on LinkedIn posts

“At our Bangalore office, more than 3,000 talented engineers help accelerate our global strategies and collaborate seamlessly through a highly engaged, talent-dense and global agile delivery model. Given these dynamics, it is critical that the culture is established on a foundation of trust, relationships and accountability.

“For me, the highest form of a positive culture in such a pulsating workplace is coming in each day and working together free of biases. Launching the Spark of Inclusion campaign to drive this message on diversity and inclusion is something I hold close to my heart, and is definitely my favorite victory at Walmart Labs for the sheer impact it created. In a world of clutter, our key messages stood out, and we made a difference at the workplace by amplifying our voice of inclusion.

“It’s become a key recruitment lever for us in India, and we’ve even received the NASSCOM (the National Association of Software and Services Companies, which is the trade association for the Indian information technology and business process outsourcing industry) award for excellence in gender diversity, which proves we’re striving to ensure the organization is a diverse and inclusive place to work.”

On the apps that power her life

“I’m a big fan of meditation apps, and Isha foundation, started by renowned Indian spiritual guru Jaggi Vasudev. On a daily basis, I engage with multiple apps. I buy my groceries on Flipkart groceries app. I use Google Pay for money transactions. And, I keep in touch with my kids via Instagram. It’s hard to say ‘no’ to technology when you work for a technology powerhouse.”

On how she unwinds

“I unwind by cooking for my family. Cleaning also helps me unwind and keeps me sane. I also love spending time with my dog Miles, who is more like another child to me.”

On the content she’s consuming for inspiration

“I’ve just started reading Creative Confidence by Tom Kelley and David Kelley. And I binge-watch movies when I’m traveling.”

On a communicator she admires

“It has to be Daniel Martin Eckhart. He was my colleague at Swiss Re. His day job was to spread happiness, encourage employees to speak up and establish cool tools at work. Daniel is also a screenwriter and author. His work as a screenwriter has been nominated for a  Grimme-Preis, [considered the Oscars of German TV]. He’s a master storyteller, and I love him for his humility and commitment to work.”

On the companies she admires

“Companies today are increasingly realizing the value of having a diverse culture and how it has a positive impact on their organization’s growth and productivity. And it’s amazing to see so many companies moving the needle to create an impact.

“Building thorough leadership in D&I takes time and has to be in the DNA of the organization. Many corporates like Accenture, Diageo, Gap are doing great work in this field.

“A company that I really admire is Zomato, a food-tech company in India who recently introduced 26-week paternity leave, making their leave policy gender agnostic and breaking the age-old stereotype that it’s one parent’s job to look after a newborn. What makes this exceptionally pathbreaking is that companies like Zomato are really young and are part of the new age of startups that are really making the difference and leading the change.”

On the hardest challenge for communication pros today

“I think the most challenging, albeit fun, part of being in this field is that you need to wear many hats. Your role is not just limited to your team—you need to interact with various stakeholders within the organization.

“You will have to move from project to project, team to team to really understand the value your company delivers. Today, you might be collaborating with the CSR team and contributing to their initiatives, and tomorrow you may be coordinating with the product team, talking about the next big technology innovation.

“It is imperative to stay on your toes, be aware of the changing environment and constantly keep learning new things. So that you can not only build, but also communicate, the story of your company effectively.”

On what she is teaching herself now and what will be the next disruptor for communication professionals

“At the risk of being cliché, technology will continue to be the disruptor. From parenting to managing teams, everything around us is evolving. Communication platforms are changing drastically, with newer platforms being introduced every day. Corporates don’t just need to adapt to these platforms, but also understand where their brand fits in and how to talk to their audience on these platforms.

“The #JTBD (jobs to be done) framework by Clayton Christensen, a professor at Harvard Business School, builds upon the theory of disruptive innovation. As a communication professional, I constantly reflect back to this concept to improve current solutions and ponder upon what’s coming next. We really need to be cognizant of changes before they even happen—that’s the way of the future!”

Adam Wren

Adam Wren is managing editor of Catalyst.

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