When I think over the course of my HR career thus far (now more than a decade), I can say with certainty that there were distinct moments in time that helped to define and shape the course of my career. These were moments which made me think, challenge, and push myself ahead into becoming what I'm today. One such defining moment was way back during my time at TISS.
My wedding date was decided. One day, I walked up to my professor to request for two weeks leave for my wedding. He behaved as if I had just told him that the world was about to end. He said, "This is exactly why I do not like to take too many women into the program. They are not serious about building a career in this profession but only want to get degrees from good colleges to find better boys to marry." He went on to say that I would never be willing to work through the remaining 1.5 years with sincerity and that I am wasting a seat for a more deserving student who will make much more use of this opportunity than me. I was not surprised at this reaction, given the stereotypical society that existed in the world around women.
I was brought up being taught that leadership is about people being inspired by the vision that you stand for and at that point I was clearly standing to balance my relationships, my responsibilities towards home and my aspirations towards my career. In that quest my family stood by me and I successfully completed my MBA, ranked amongst top 10 in my batch and landed a prized internship with Monsanto and later a job with Tata Motors in their corporate office in Mumbai.
I worked with Tata Motors and Monsanto in the initial 2 years of my career and had the opportunity to learn a lot of the HR fundamentals of recruitment, talent management, campus hiring, business partnering, compensation & benefits. I took up challenging assignments including a recruitment drive for the Nano Car Operations team (Then known as the Small Car Project) which included hiring 500 employees in 4 months and travelling extensively across the country for ensuring impeccable and timely delivery on this project. This challenging assignment taught me how to work in a high pressure and ambiguous environment and work through the matrix of several stakeholders to deliver on your objectives. I then worked with Monsanto where I learnt quite quickly that to be a good HR partner, you need to think like the business leader and contribute according tobusiness priorities. Therefore I spent a considerable amount of time in the field meeting farmers and agriculturists to understand the challenges faced by my business stakeholders as they service these customers.
It was around this time that my husband and I decided to start a family. Clearly priorities changed, my responsibilities towards my baby overshadowed every other responsibility in my life. But after all the hardwork and perseverance I put through in my career until this time, there was an emotional battle that I had to go through in making a choice between putting my career on hold (at that time I thought for the long term) and the well-being of my child. The choice was very clear. I resigned from Monsanto to take a few months off and dedicated myself to motherhood. As a couple of months went by and the child's dependence on me was not fulltime, my family encouraged me to find creative options to pursue my aspiration in the corporate world. It wasn't long before I found an opportunity to work with Johnson & Johnsonin the HR Team partnering with the Pharmaceutical business with an agreement to work 4 days a week and 4 hours a day. I was delighted to see the culture and people at J&J and how amazing they were in accepting and accommodating my working schedule. They really made me feel welcome into the organization and supported me fully as I started to learn about their business and started contributing to the organization.
My managers showed great faith and trust in my capabilities and provided me with inputs and candid feedback on my development. The focus was always on the quality of output and contribution to the organization and not how much time you are spending at work. This made me work harder and contribute more to the organization. What was amazing about this was that I was able to experience fulfillment both as a mother and a HR professional who was making a significant contribution to the business. As my son grew older I was able to take on a fulltime role with J&J. After a few years, I accepted an opportunity to move within J&J to the Medical Devices business. This was one of the first moves across the enterprise in the HR team and was a huge milestone in my development. As a BU HR lead for some of the units in Medical Devices, I contributed through several different roles within the HR organization in before moving into my current role.
From my manager to business partners to the peers & friends have played a big role in my success. While working on areas of development is important, at my organization we encourage employees to identify their areas of strength and leverage those to make an exponential impact to the organization.
There are very good and holistic processes which enable an employee to focus on their own development. I was provided several opportunities to continue my learning through exposure to global and regional (Asia pacific)projects, workshops which focused on building technical and leadership capabilities. This gave me visibility to key stakeholders in the larger organization which also meant an opportunity to create career sponsors for me through this journey.
Senior leaders are extremely focused on developing talent for the future. They spend a considerable amount of time on mentoring key talent. I have benefitted through this by having the opportunity to work with world class mentors. The key learnings for me were "Own your own development, and be the captain of your own Career Ship" and "Focus on your long term career goal, do not try to compete with others. What got someone else to a certain role may not be the only path to follow, create your own path as your go along and learn along the way."
To sum it up, as I look at my career path so far having confidence in one's own ability, leveraging the opportunities that come your way and making the most of it(if you get lemons make lemon meringues)& be open to non-traditional opportunities.. The ability to reach out for support and not try to be a superwoman has been a huge success factor for me as well.
Fast forwarding to ten years later - the key to these breakthrough moments was an open mind, a willingness to try something new, exposure to ideas and the opportunity to keep learning and growing, and leveraging the knowledge of those around me.
All of this would not have been possible without the support I received from my husband, my son, my family as well as managers, business partners & colleagues at work who played a huge role in enabling my career and allowed me to not only focus on my career aspirations but also focus on a healthy balance between work and life. Through this journey of the last 11years I unequivocallybelieve that,as a HRprofessionals it is imperative to be seen as anindividual who understands the business as much as any other business leader and brings in their expertise on building capability, nurturing talent and bringing in the right culture in the organization.