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This former HR professional turned entrepreneur to ensure diversity and inclusive culture at workplaces

By Tenzin Norzom
November 09, 2021, Updated on : Sat Nov 13 2021 07:47:54 GMT+0000
This former HR professional turned entrepreneur to ensure diversity and inclusive culture at workplaces
Sonica Aron, Founder and Managing Partner of HR consultancy services firm Marching Sheep, is on a mission to ensure diversity and inclusion with clients like JCB India, Clifford Chance, and Phillips, among others.
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Sonica Aron is all too familiar with the biases women face at the workplace. After her first maternity break, she had switched to working half day from the office and the other half from home. 


“However, when the leadership changed, they were not okay about it and said that I had been given extra privilege,” she says, adding that many other women had faced similar experiences of microaggression and biases.


A human resource (HR) professional with nearly two decades of experience heading the HR department at an MNC, Sonica took a sabbatical after giving birth to her second child. Sonica had seen many consultants get involved with companies to do interventions, but saw little to no change. 


Determined to make a tangible difference in women’s lives and career and drive respect and equality for all in a systematic manner, Sonica decided to start Marching Sheepin 2013.

Marching Sheep primarily offers services relating to diversity and inclusion strategies, human resources consulting, leadership and talent development, and health and wellness portfolio, which focuses on helping companies drive productivity and profitability by ensuring a stress-free workplace and focusing on emotional, mental, and physical health.

Some of its clientele include JCB India, Clifford Chance, Phillips, Cognizant, Kelton Tech, Mahindra Finance, Tata Realty and Infrastructure, Mahindra Holidays & Resorts India, Indian Oil Corporation, Lupin, and Easy Gov, among others. 


In 2020, Sonica was recognised by Forbes India among the top 25 most-valued people and the firm has received several awards as well.

Enabling inclusivity

incusion

Conversations around diversity and inclusion at the workplace started with a focus on increasing women’s participation into the workforce. Despite the changing times and evolving discourse, recruitment still remains the success metric for building diversity. 


Sonica believes change lies in addressing mindsets through gender sensitisation strategies and programmes to imbibe a truly inclusive environment. 

“You cannot just talk about recruitment strategy and have an inclusive culture to talk about the kind of biases people carry because the workforce comes from the society where patriarchy still exists,” she tells HerStory.

In addition to hiring, she emphasises on nurturing women in junior levels by ensuring a landscape or environment where they feel valued and have a place to grow.


The key, Sonica believes, is landscape navigation to address all gender-biased problems, including pay parity and unpaid care work. 

“You need to change mindsets and address people who still believe women are the primary caregivers and men are the primary breadwinners,” she says. She adds that her consultancy firm has done many interventions, stating that there is no right or wrong in choosing a career over being a homemaker and vice versa as long as it is her own choice.

The roadblocks

Sonica was adept with her knowledge and experience as an HR professional, but it was entrepreneurship that she struggled with initially as she did not know the nitty gritties of running a business. 


She says cash flow was the biggest challenge as most payments from the corporate clients came at different times after she had incurred the expenses. 


“The moment you raise an invoice, GST needs to be paid next month while the clients have different payment terms ranging from 60 to 90 days,” she shares. 


Today, the startup manages its cash flow to ensure there is enough money in Marching Sheep’s account to meet the GST cost and salary for her five-member team. Once it became profitable, the first thing Sonica did was set up a treasury department. 


“I have learnt all of these along the way. Otherwise, I would always have to ask my husband for money to pay salary and other expenses,” she adds.


Starting with a GoDaddy account online, Sonica started off by working with a few freelancers who would not deliver on time and have the work pile up on her at the eleventh hour. 


Hiring was also a challenge. “When you are heading HR at a big company, attracting talent is easy because you have a very different power. I lost that the moment I quit my job,” she says. However, she did not compromise and hunted for the best talents in order to ensure quality service. 


Several years into the operation, COVID-19 became a challenge and the profits saved in treasury came in handy to stay afloat. 


“Still, I don’t think the pandemic will be the last challenge, something or the other will pop up and a team as committed as yourself will make all the difference,” she quips. Some of the key players sharing the market space include Randstad, AIRA Consulting, and Mercer, among others.


Started with an initial investment of Rs 10 lakh, the firm secured about six international clients in the past year. The focus for 2022 is to tap the international market for human resource consultancy market - valued at  $31 billion - in a bigger way by acquiring more clients outside India. 


Edited by Megha Reddy