Women are resilient enough to groom themselves: Priya Sharma

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.

Priya Sharma is the CFO, COO & Co-Founder of ZestMoney, India’s largest and fastest growing Buy Now, Pay Later platform. Using advanced mobile technology, artificial intelligence, machine learning and digital banking, ZestMoney has built a platform to serve the over 300 million households in the country that currently have no access to formal credit due to insufficient credit history.

In conversation with Adgully, Priya Sharma, COO, CFO & Co-founder, ZestMoney, speaks about how the pandemic has changed every aspect of life, the steps to take to make things work without getting burnt out, making diversity, inclusivity and respect a non-negotiable integral part of the work culture, and more.

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

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed every aspect of life, including the way we work. But one thing is clear: Though we stumbled, we learnt to navigate and tried to adapt to the unforeseen, unplanned and unprecedented threat to humanity. It may be years before we actually realise the effects – positive or negative – of the pandemic on society and workplaces, particularly on working women. But, women have always been able to successfully lead while taking everyone along. The recent case in point: Some studies showed that countries led by women leaders did systematically better in COVID-19 management than countries that weren’t led by women.

I think that the pandemic has helped in bringing in flexibility and more choices to women employees, which women in leadership roles have tried to normalise for long. For years, women dealt with a situation where they had the guilt of choosing between work and family, given the fact that women take a disproportionate share of house responsibility. But, that has changed drastically, thanks to the flexible work options such as remote and hybrid in the post-pandemic world. While I am well aware of the difficulty and exhausting efforts involved in balancing their career and family together because of the work from home arrangement, several women folk were able to manage both with the flexibility and choice the situation presented them with.

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?

Pandemic or no pandemic, work-life balance is something I’ve always advocated. In my capacity, I have always vouched for flexibility in working. We have people from across the globe working even before the pandemic struck the world. We have no set office hours, we have unlimited sick leaves, we have round-the-clock counsellors available for the mental, psychological and emotional wellbeing of our employees. We encourage our employees to take mandatory time off from work and also organise master classes for their personal growth. We also have learning allowances.

Personally, I try to balance my professional life and personal life, but the lines get blurred sometimes, especially with the remote and hybrid way of work. But, one has to remember that it is not about how efficiently we try to do the balancing act, but about the conscious steps we take to make things work without getting burnt out.

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 always been the stronger lot with a high emotional quotient. Although empathy is gender-neutral, women’s innate ability to be more empathetic while taking tough decisions, their ability to wear many hats at once, and bring in a holistic view and approach make them stand out. I have seen that women tend to be clearer and more effective in communication as well. Needless to say, effective communication has become all the more critical in the last two years when, for the first time ever, all of us had to work from the confines of our drawing rooms through screens when COVID-19 completely caught us unawares.

All these factors help in building a more open work environment and come in handy in the face of adversity.

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

  • Conviction matters: Important to always have a vision and equally important is conviction in your idea.
  • Ignore the noise around you: Ignore the surrounding noise and the stereotypes and raise above them. Don’t limit yourself and believe in your caliber.
  • Feel free to reach out for support: It’s important for women to reach out to mentors when they need guidance. There are now a lot of women focussed groups so one knows they are not alone in the journey. A lot of women leaders I know of are open to mentoring people.
  • Go beyond tokenism: Initiative should not be restricted with the sole aim of bridging the gender representation gap but should be taken up to create a gender-equal working environment where talent and skills are rewarded. Leadership recognising talent just on the basis of merit will organically help create a no bias environment.
  • Let go of the guilt: Women are prone to feel guilt a lot with the weight of balancing home and work. Apart from figuring out what works best, letting go of the guilt is liberating. Of course, it is easier said than done but one must make a conscious effort to not let it play on the mind all the time.

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

If you ask me, put women in a challenging situation and they are resilient enough to groom themselves. But, that said, organisations can do it on a larger scale, provided there is conviction. The key here is for the organisations to walk the talk. They should be mindful of the values that their actions reflect.

For instance, at ZestMoney, we have a women’s group that organises monthly events. We do multiple panel discussions where various issues, such as problems and challenges faced by working mothers, are discussed openly. This paves way for gender sensitivity and inclusivity. In addition to this, making flexi-hours a norm, leading with empathy, rewarding talent and merit without bias, and above all making diversity, inclusivity and respect a non-negotiable integral part of the work culture will encourage more women to take the lead.


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