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Confluent India’s Head of HR: “Working here has helped me grow both professionally and personally as a woman in tech”

An interview with Nisha Natarajan, Human Resources Manager, India

When Nisha joined Confluent India’s team as Workplace Manager in December 2019 there were fewer than ten people in the office – and even fewer desks. Fast forward to July 2022 and she joins me on video from a sleek meeting room in the brand new 160-seater Bangalore office, now People Business Partner in charge of HR for all of India.

It’s the soft opening of the India team’s office, located in Bangalore’s booming IT corridor, and Nisha is visibly excited. “Today feels like a personal achievement for all of us, it’s like we’ve moved from a small apartment to a big home.”

Off the back of record growth for Q1 2022, Confluent plans to create 100 additional new jobs in India this year across go-to-market, engineering and global supporting roles. Nisha will be a busy lady – but she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“The excitement has not stopped from the day I joined”, she says.

We chatted with Nisha to find out more about her journey and what makes Confluent a best-in-class workplace for Indian women in tech.

You’ve been with Confluent in India since the beginning. Can you tell us what that journey has been like?

When a friend of a friend told me that there was a position for a Workplace Manager at Confluent I was a bit hesitant because the job description seemed too narrow to fit my experience which was predominantly in HR. But they told me that Confluent was the kind of place where I would definitely have the opportunity to move into an HR role. Even if it didn’t exist yet, for sure it would soon because the company was growing.

And they were right. Initially, it was just a few of us. We did everything together from administrative work to moving boxes to sorting out the office snacks!

Slowly we started to see some of the regular challenges that you expect to have in a start-up organization and people came to me for my knowledge and experience. I began to support various teams to develop better processes as we gained more people.

Eventually, I got the opportunity to work with the People Business Partner team and Veronika who’s now the Director for APAC HR, and showcase my knowledge and experience in HR. I officially moved into the People Business Partner team on my first anniversary with Confluent as the People Business Partner. People operations was also a part of my role as we had a small team in India at that time. Since then, we’ve grown drastically, and with more folks in the people team, I have transitioned completely to being the People Business Partner for India from January this year.

What’s wonderful is that because I’ve been here since the early days, I feel such a close connection to so many of the employees. It’s such a family feeling, I know when they get married, when they have children – it’s a beautiful bond.

Describe your day-to-day at Confluent

My day-to-day is so varied; whether it’s supporting the business with people solutions, employee engagement, making sure our HR initiatives are aligned with strategic business objectives, company culture or understanding which processes work best for India. With so many of our employees working remotely that’s a big challenge for us, so mentoring managers on best practices for building bonds with virtual teams is also one of the focus areas for me at this point.

How would you describe the culture at Confluent?

We help people to expand their career path opportunities and grow as individuals, and we have an extremely inclusive culture. The company doesn’t just talk about inclusion, it also makes a huge amount of effort to drive and run programs around being diverse and inclusive. It’s clearly an organization that embraces and celebrates our differences, be it experiences, background or way of thinking.

One example here is how leaders regularly reach out to the local people business partners to find out if culturally the communications they are planning to put out are appropriate, or if they need to do anything specific to be more inclusive. Separately, we’re currently moving an employee from one organization to another who may not have the practical experience but certainly has the right attitude, passion and drive to learn.

Another important part of our culture here is ‘Empathy’. For example, the pandemic hit each one of us in so many different ways – emotional, mental, physical. No one was prepared for it, but it seemed like Confluent was. There are so many employee programs around general wellness, mental health, covid leave, additional time off, flexible working hours, no questions asked policies, recharge days, and home office equipment to name just a few that have been launched. And they’re here to stay.

How has working at Confluent impacted you personally?

I think what stands out to me is the fact that we’re allowed to admit when we don’t know something.

It’s very normal for people to avoid saying “I don’t know or I am not sure” because you’ll get judged. But I saw people, for example, admit even in executive meetings that they didn’t know something. They would simply say that they would go back and find out. The beauty is, they did find out and always came back. But at that time, I was so shocked, yet delighted that not knowing and going to find out is a very acceptable response.

Confluent has taught me that it’s ok to not know because you can always go find out and learn. I can’t stress how much of a reinforcement this was. Confluent gives me the confidence that nothing bad could happen if you don’t know something. It is in fact good because I will have the opportunity to continuously learn.

As a person, this has helped me become more calm. It’s amazing that an organization, as opposed to friends or family, has had this impact.

What makes Confluent a great place to work as a woman?

Not just India but around the world I think, women are most often the ones who adjust their schedules and make compromises when the needs of children and other family members collide with work. Women are also most likely the ones to experience career interruptions while attending to family needs. Given that, Confluent accepts this expectation and creates space for it. I can bring my kids into meetings or answer the door. I don’t have to worry about what’s in my background.

In many organizations, being a mother meant people questioned if I had time, or if I’m able to juggle work and home, will I be able to attend evening meetings. None of this was a hindrance for Confluent. It is always about what I bring to the table.

It’s beautiful that the company allows you to be yourself and also career driven. This mentally supports you, right? It resonates somewhere with the mindset and reduces stress. You’re no more worried about how people will react to you taking childcare leave or being annoyed if your dog is barking on a call.

Confluent values you as you. And I’m sure all the women working here feel the same. We all are here doing some great work. Confluent’s culture supports every woman who is determined to succeed while remaining true to her priorities.

How do you see your role developing as Confluent India continues to grow?

I have a manager who is extremely invested in my growth. I have always worked closely for companies and teams in the India region, but she expanded my responsibilities beyond India to drive and support people initiatives across all of the APAC region, which is an exciting new phase. I know how India works but now I get to learn what motivates people in Singapore, the ways labour laws are governed in Australia or how to drive and improve employees’ engagement and collaboration across different cultures for example.

She has a clear path for me where she feels I would be able to challenge myself and grow. I’m looking forward to the next phase now. I’m equally nervous and excited, but the thing is that I’m allowed to learn and fail – and learn again, and that’s thanks to Confluent.

Becky Straker is Confluent’s Head of International Communications

Nisha Natarajan is Confluent’s Human Resources Manager, India

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