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The W Suite | Geeta Suthar’s 5 lessons in effectiveness of women leaders

Diversity in the workforce has become a necessity today, and more so in leadership positions. It can’t be denied that women bring a high level of creativity and empathy while solving problems and handling crises. Women leaders bring to the table a different level of dexterity. 

Adgully’s ‘The W-Suite’ series features interactions with influential women leaders in India, who share some deep insights on what being a woman leader means in India’s business landscape, the mantras to succeed, achieving work-life balance, pay parity and much more.  

Geeta Suthar, Co-founder, COO and Chief Business Officer, Fractal Ink Linked by Isobar, heads business and operations at the company. Fractal Ink has grown from a small boutique studio of 7 people to one of the largest digital experience design studios in India on her watch. She has been instrumental in not only growing the company in size and the acquisition of marquee clients, but ensuring that the company has remained profitable every step of the way.

Suthar loves – oiling the cogs of design, business, client servicing, finance and human resources; maintaining the speed of the wheel and pacing up as required; running a company of shiny, happy, creative people; creating an organisation that is as celebrated as it is scalable. She also loves running, travel, reading, friends and mythology...in no particular order.

How would you define today’s woman leader?
Gender should not be a factor when you weigh in on the definition of leadership. A woman leader is just that – a leader. She has vision, she is empathetic, she can dream big and knows how to pull her team together and motivate them to make the impossible happen.

What are the foremost attributes that women leaders in today’s business ecosystem must possess?
Every leader has her own style, but there are some attributes that stand out for me – Passion is amongst the foremost. When one is passionate about the work they do, it shows and it energises people around them. The ability to wear many hats is another extremely useful quality as it allows one to look at situations through different lenses before taking decisions; which brings me to decisiveness. She needs to be able to take decisions with conviction and to stick by the consequences – the good and the not so good.

Despite the qualifications, aptitude, and experience, why do you think we don’t see the expected number of women business leaders, especially when it comes to boardroom decision-making?
I think there are two main reasons for the scarcity of women in leadership positions: the first comes from centuries of broad cultural biases against women and stereotypes die very slowly – the stereotypical behaviour of being deferential to the male gender, of not having enough confidence in themselves. A lot of women instinctively defer to the men around them even if they all have similar credentials. This prevents them from reaching out for what they deserve, and let’s face it – in competitive environments, if you don’t have the confidence to ask for what you deserve, you will in all probability be overlooked. The second is a woman’s genuine desire to put her career at the back seat in order to focus on raising her children and taking care of her home.

What more do Indian corporates need to do to encourage and groom women leaders?
In all my interactions with women that I have come across, a large percentage are a motivated and driven lot who are focused on performance and achievement. For this set of women, all corporates need to do is keep an open mind and give equal consideration to all possible candidates for advancement and promotion, and let the best person win. But then there are another set of young women who are intelligent and capable, but perhaps have been brought up in a more conservative environment that has not been conducive to the slight aggression that is needed for growth. For this set, I believe the first thing to do is to build awareness, to let them know what they could achieve if they set their minds to it. Corporates could monitor them closely and provide mentorship as needed. A third thing that comes to mind is recognition. Recognition and rewarding their performance sends a message to their families that these women are star performers and are genuinely appreciated at work. This suddenly paints them in a different light at home and their careers are taken seriously.

According to you, what are the Do’s and Don’ts for today’s women to break through the glass ceiling?
There are a bunch of Do’s that I can think of that will get a woman’s leadership qualities noticed and the opposite of these behaviours would be the Don’ts! Taking the initiative and going above and beyond what their role calls for and being innovative at the job are the quickest routes to corporate stardom. While most corporates run training and development programmes, potential leaders are constantly in self-development mode – reading, researching, sharing their knowledge with others are all signs of a driven individual, the kind of person who will drive to get results and hence an asset in the C-Suite. Displaying a highly developed sense of integrity and honesty is a differentiator, and the last ‘Do’ that I would like to highlight is building relationships. Building relationships is key to growth and stands a leader in good stead when the going gets tough – which will definitely happen at some point in every leaders’ career. 

How acute is the gender pay gap issue in India today? What needs to be done to address this in an effective manner?
I personally don’t think there is a gender pay gap – at least not in the industry I work in. There are roles and responsibilities and as long as you are able to deliver, you are paid what that level demands, your appraisals are based on your performance and are not defined by your gender in the least.

Do you think the leadership effectiveness of women is higher than men? Why?
Taking nothing away from men who are leaders – and there are several that I know who are truly inspiring – I do believe women make excellent leaders. We have some attributes that are almost genetic in origin that serve us well. The work scenario today and in the future requires a kind of fluidity and adaptability that comes to us naturally. Our EQs on an average are higher which helps us connect with and work with others more effectively. Communication is another area that we excel at; we use it as a tool to build confidence and trust with co-workers, partners and clients alike. A leader is nothing if she cannot build and grow her team and a woman’s natural nurturing ability kicks in to make this easy for her. And last, but one of the most important qualities women have is the ability to multitask effortlessly.

What are the five most effective lessons that you have learned as a woman leader?
I have been an entrepreneur for almost 20 years and for about 15 of those, I have had a team to take care of. The team size has grown from 2 to a 120 and the composition has changed drastically in these years. But there are some lessons that I have learned that cut across situations and will hold true 20 years from now.

Listen well – To clients, to partners and to co-workers. If you truly listen, you will hear and understand things that are not obvious. You learn to read between the lines and that helps to address problems before they even come up. It gives you the opportunity to do things right and come out the winner.

Have clarity in thought and action – A lot of the times we take decisions based on instinct, and while that works sometimes, take the time to process your instincts and understand the reasons for your actions. This helps bring clarity to your thoughts and logic to your actions.

Lead by example – Don’t expect the team to do anything that you have not done or will not do yourself. The easiest way to win over a team is to lead them by example.

Be humble – Ego so often comes in the way of making good decisions. Check the ego and bring it down a few notches. No one can always be right and others can have better ideas and solutions. Be a team player yourself.

Never stop learning – This one is something that we have heard just about everyone say, but I guess everyone says it, because it is so necessary. Even after working in this field for almost 20 years, I learn something new every day and that is because I have my eyes, ears and mind open to it.

How challenging has it been for you to maintain a balance between career goals and family responsibilities? What is your mantra to maintain that balance?
I have been extremely lucky in that regard. My husband and I co-founded Fractal Ink and he knew exactly why I needed to put my energies into building the company and he picked up the slack at home when I was not able to give time there. The mantra to this balance was to sensitise the larger family that my work was as important to me as home was. Once that was understood, and accepted, the rest was easy.

How prevalent are the instances of sexual harassment in workplaces in India? What should the industry collectively do to tackle such a serious issue?
Recent discussions in social media and the news have brought to light some extremely disturbing cases of sexual harassment. The industry is running several initiatives – some of its own accord and a few because law now demands it. The first step to preventing such crimes is to build awareness and to let women know that there is enough structure to address any problems they may have. Online training is the easiest way to spread this awareness. At Dentsu Aegis Network, an ICC has been instituted for every region that it has a presence in and ICC members have been put through intensive training to help recognise, address and resolve situations if and as they arise.

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