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Leadership has more to do with purpose than gender: Akanksha Sharma

We, at Adgully, have always saluted and honoured women managers and leaders across diverse fields. Last year, we launched our unique and distinct program, called WOMEN DISRUPTORS, which drew a lot of attention and was highly appreciated by the industry. W-Suite is a special initiative from Adgully that has been turning the spotlight on some of the most remarkable women achievers in M&E, Advertising & Marketing, PR & Communication industry. In the refurbished series, we will find out how women leaders have been managing their teams and work as well as how they have been navigating through the toughest and most challenging times brought about by the global pandemic.

In this interaction with Adgully, Akanksha Sharma, Head - CSR and Sustainability, Sterlite Technologies, gives her take on leadership and how women leaders have been better in handling the pandemic crisis. She also shares her mantra for maintaining a healthy work-life balance throughout this challenging period.

How do you define yourself as a woman leader?

I personally do not believe in anything that divides people, and gender is one of them. However, as I work in the area of international development and have worked with a wide spectrum of people, I have witnessed how deep this divide is in many societies, including India. And therefore, we need more examples to demonstrate how beautifully people can rise up to not only their dreams, but also empower others. All things are improving, but the divide has to be overcome.

How do you think the role and scope of women leaders has widened in the post-pandemic world?

It is really interesting to observe that during the pandemic, it was countries led by women leaders that were particularly successful in fighting the virus. They are now being held up as role models on how public health crises should be managed. Similarly, on the corporate front, the role of a woman leader has extended much beyond the professional arena. While she needs to ensure swift action, meet targets and keep team morale high, it also becomes important to identify and resolve areas that team members or employees may be struggling with, with higher emotional quotient. I feel women are naturally blessed with greater degrees of empathy and compassion and therefore, become more effective leaders, and there are several examples today in all areas.

The rapid transition to digital, an uncertain economic landscape, charting unknown waters, working from home with no modes of the usual contacts. How have you been navigating during the COVID-19 times? What were the challenges that you faced and how did you tackle them?

Use of digital and support from the organisation has been crucial in making Work from Home manageable during the pandemic.

In the social sector, it was even more critical as we had to ensure that social development is not affected. Transitioning to digital and agility in implementation models here was crucial to ensuring continuity of programs despite the pandemic. Our ‘smarter networks’ – our partners helped us achieve huge strides here. With their help we reached out to over 100,000 individuals during the pandemic across 20 locations nation-wide.

Additionally, it has been important to keep team morale high and ensure continuous engagement as the sudden transition affected everyone; disrupting regular schedules, tasks assigned, work-life balance with personal and professional lines getting blurred and so on. But resilience to pursue despite the hardships and team-work has helped overcome initial barriers to continue delivering on set goals towards a better and greener tomorrow.

How challenging has it been for you to maintain a balance between managing the team & office work on the one hand and family responsibilities on the other, as boundaries blurred while working from home? What is your mantra to maintain that balance?

2020 has been an unprecedented year. And of course, the initial days were particularly challenging and there was fear and panic. But this has also been a year of reflection and adaptation. I have personally learnt a lot this year. I don’t have any mantra for anyone. Each one of us has our very unique journey. I am more on the spiritual path, practising Vipassana for the last many years, which has helped me centre myself during all of this.

Multiple studies have shown how women leaders performed better during the COVID-19 crisis. According to you, what makes women the best in crisis management?

I see leadership again as a gender neutral concept. It is about individuals who endeavour to rise beyond their little selves. I believe in the leadership of that kind. It has more to do with purpose than gender.

One of the best messages on leadership that I always remember is of Prof. Heiftz, who said, “Exercising leadership is a way of giving meaning to your life by contributing to the lives of others. At its best, leadership is a labour of love. Opportunities for these labours cross your path every day, though we appreciate through the scar tissue of our own experiences that seizing these opportunities takes heart.”

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