The W Suite | Leadership is gender neutral: Manashi Kumar, BARC India
Diversity in the workforce has become a necessity today, and more so in the 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.
With an experience of over 15 years, Manashi Kumar, Chief People Officer, BARC India, has been driving Human Resource functions within Media & Entertainment, Broadcast, Consulting and Retail organisations. She has had the opportunity of working extensively across the entire spectrum of HR roles – from creating HR vision & strategy to facilitating business growth. Kumar has been able to provide HR leadership in multiple organisations with different cultures and business objectives.
She has always taken pride in being an effective coach and trusted partner to executives, team members and employees and has played significant role in shaping organisations culture and creating a great place to work. Her vision of human resources transcends routine to being the critical differentiator for an organisation and its people.
How would you define today’s woman leader?
We need to start looking at leadership from gender neutrality point of view. My idea of leadership is like that of John Maxwell: “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way”.
What are the foremost attributes that women leaders in today’s business ecosystem must possess?
A woman in leadership position must be able to harness her natural strengths, like vision to nurture and grow the organisation (and its people), capacity to operate on multiple projects effectively and efficiently, problem solving, creativity and innovation. While they build on all of this, they should also be able to embrace qualities such as risk taking, assertiveness and career orientation among others which may or may not come to them naturally.
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?
Historically and traditionally, women have not been the primary bread earners for their families. Therefore, when they reach a junction where they must prioritise between their family versus work, the most natural choice for any household is that the woman of the house will give a backseat to her career or at best, try and balance both, which progressively gets difficult as they move up the hierarchy. Lack of support from family, the government and fellow women are the primary reasons.
What more do Indian corporates need to do to encourage and groom women leaders?
Organisations today need more women mentors for young women employees who aspire to reach the leadership positions. These women mentors should guide other women with their experiences from their own professional and personal journey.
We also need some progressive policies such as flexible work timings, work from home or remote working options, maternity and child care support, elderly care support, sabbaticals, etc. With technological advancement, all of this is feasible without any interruption in business deliverables.
What is also important is that women who do choose to take a break from their careers, should be provided with a platform to begin from where they left instead of starting afresh.
According to you, what are the Do’s and Don’ts for today’s women to break through the glass ceiling?
- Be passionate and relentless in what you are pursuing. Give your best. You will not go unnoticed.
- There are no shortcuts to success. Establish your credibility and worth with your hard work, drive, ethics and self-belief.
- Don’t hesitate to ask for support where required, from your colleagues, from friends, from family.
- Don’t feel guilty as long as you are doing the best that you can.
How acute is the gender pay gap issue in India today? What needs to be done to address this in an effective manner?
While the pay gap does exist in pockets, it also depends on the individual’s ability to negotiate and demand with confidence. It also arises from the fact that women tend to lose out on their pay scales because of stunted growth at various stages of their career lifecycle, such as maternity, etc. Most women also look for stability rather than career growth. A whooping majority is unable to work across geographies and time zones because of demands at their personal fronts. If organisations can provide support to women to take care of these needs without compromising on their growth, we would see a lot more parity in terms of money, promotions and opportunities.
Do you think the leadership effectiveness of women is higher than men? Why?
As I mentioned earlier, leadership is gender neutral. Effective leadership is a not a function of gender, but that of individual attributes of the leader.
What are the five most effective lessons that you have learned as a woman leader?
- Think Big. Create your life vision and list your goals (personal and professional). Use your energies wisely.
- Take support from and provide support to other women. We understand our own needs and issues the most.
- Be confident. Don’t be afraid of judgements. Speak up when it is required. As Ayn Rand put it: “The question is not who is going to let me; it is who is going to stop me”.
- Don’t wait for opportunities. Leadership is not a stage in your career. Keep leading right from the start.
- Keep learning and growing to stay relevant.
How proactive have our corporates been when it comes to addressing a serious issue like sexual harassment at workplace?
This is one area which has been taken very seriously when brought to the forefront. I can re-count many cases where top male leaders have been asked to leave because of such charges against them. However, there also are cases where women have not been able to bring such issues to the forefront because they fear loss of reputation, jobs, etc. Organisations need to be more proactive and intolerant toward such behaviour.