Organisations need to have an inclusive work environment: Ayesha Desai

We, at Adgully, have always saluted and honoured women managers and leaders across diverse fields. 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 seek to 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.

Ayesha Desai is the Co-Founder of Cornucopia Concepts, an enterprise promoting sustainable living, responsible consumerism and empowerment of women artisans in India. Desai has been working on issues related to women and children’s health and education for over 15 years. As a budding social entrepreneur, she believes in scalability with a cause. Based on the foundation of environmentalism and fair trade, Cornucopia is a platform bringing together indigenous talent and the urban consumer.

In conversation with Adgully, Ayesha Desai, Co-Founder, Cornucopia Concepts, speaks about how women leaders have come into their own in the post-pandemic world, the importance of creating a secure work environment for women and more.

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

Women leaders have come into their own in the post-pandemic world. More than anything, they have proved to themselves that the clichéd phrase ‘making the impossible, possible’ was written for them. The pandemic unjustly and unequally pushed women to the brink. They had to manage multiple roles with equal tenacity. Survival in life against Covid and at the workspace, where jobs were under threat, was key. But women (who are born firefighters and crisis managers) had to go above and beyond their defined scope and have emerged battle scarred, but are more resilient, strong and determined.

It is now important to nurture these women leaders who have found their potential in adversity.

The rapid transition to digital, an uncertain economic landscape, charting unknown waters, working from home – how have you been navigating during the COVID-19 times? How are you maintaining work-life balance in the new normal?

There was no ‘balance’ of anything! We were all just thrown into the deep end – it was sink or swim! And a lot of us didn’t know how to swim and there wasn’t a lifejacket around for miles! But we learnt and adapted and thrived. It was highly challenging to begin with, setting boundaries and then working hard to maintain them time and again. Whether it was defining work space and time at home or outright refusing to take calls after work hours – the struggle is real and continues.

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?

Women have the innate ability to communicate, be compassionate and adaptable. Living in a patriarchal society women are always in fight or flight mode (most often it is fight rather than flight mode!) – having to assert their identity and prove themselves every step of the way. It is these very qualities that women were able to bring to the fore during the pandemic.

What are the five most effective lessons that you have learned as a woman leader?

  • One of the key lessons that I have learnt is that being given an ‘opportunity’ is half the battle won. Very often people are not able to show their true potential as they are not given the opportunity to do so.
  • Communication is key. As clichéd as it may sound, calm level headed communication is what gets one through a crisis.
  • Effective collaboration with likeminded people will help you and your company grow by leaps and bounds.
  • Transparency in communication and business helps build a brand that is viewed as honest and ethical.
  • There is never any substitute for hard work. Being a woman, often it is double the amount of work that is put in – at home and at the workplace.

Gender sensitivity and inclusion in the new normal – how can organisations effectively encourage and groom women leaders in challenging times?

To begin with, organisations need to have an inclusive work environment. A work environment that doesn’t discriminate on the basis of gender, age, religion, race, sexual orientation or any other personal characteristics. Hiring decisions, therefore, need to be skill based.

To be able to attract, retain and encourage women leaders, organisations need to get creative around role structuring as well as flexible work arrangements. Women need to feel secure at their work space, secure in the knowledge that the organisation has their best interests in mind. By creating this environment and working towards changing the narrative around women, organisations will be able to build a sustainable ecosystem that will nurture and encourage present and future women leaders.


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