Article (July-2017)


Trying to champion the cause of gender equality

Shilpa Kabra Maheshwari

Designation : -   Vice President & Head (Human Resources)

Organization : -  National Engineering Industries Limited, Jaipur


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Different times and different circumstances call for different leadership skills. So when it comes to managing your own career, it is important to prepare yourself to move up the career ladder. My professional journey issimilar to that of every ordinary woman who stepsinto the world of HR with ambitions, capability and the spirt to make difference. It feels like only yesterday when I graduated in Economics (Honours ) from Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi University and went onto do my MBA from Faculty of Management Studies, Udaipur. Right from my childhood I always wanted to do something which involved people. This becomesclearer while pursuing my MBA that I wanted to build a career in human resources. In the last 22 years, I have got  opportunities to work with varied organisations and industry sectors. My best exposures have been with my first organization where I started as Management Trainee and worked in the areas of marketing, treasury, financing, total quality, BPR and human resources over a period of four years. I may have been one of the few women in the HR profession at that time.

It is encouraging to see how human resource has evolved tremendously over the years. From the days of P&IR to current digital HR we see HR as playing a more active role in business partnering, championing cultures and digital transformation. The HR function will see tectonic shifts both in paradigms and ways of working. With the millennial workforce and digital onslaught, talent issues, fulfillment of aspirations, agility in HR processes and the ability to manage the impact of the VUCA world will pose tremendous challenges for the HR function. Digital transformation has given way for a great opportunity and these new inclusions call for HR to pause and reshape its approach with futuristic considerations. Attention must be focused in the key areas of Digital Leadership availability, Culture Alignment, Employee Processes, Communication, Change Management and Talent Management.

Though the industry has traditionally been dominated by the male workforce, probably this has been notby choice but by design to manage the complexity of the traditional workforce and complex unions. Somewhere I think it also comes culturally to us where India is a more paternalistic organization with women playing more secondary and silent roles, than being encouraged to be more in the forefront, daring and outgoing. Recent trends are changing with girls, daughters and wives getting accolodes. Service sector as a softer career choice has recently emerged and is giving opportunities. Yet, India has only 26% of women represented in its workforce, among the lowest percentages within Asia. This is much lower as you go up to the leaders positions. While Indian companies have seen some positive change in recent years, women are still under - represented in leadership roles. The scenario is more precarious in the manufacturing sector whether it is automobile, process industries or pharma. However, the role of women in the HR industry has changed dramatically in the last few years. Yet there are some challenges that women face!

The first challenge I see is acceptability of women at the shop floorasorganisations are not sure about their ability and toughness to deal with unions. Additionally, the mindset of safety for women in case of a crisis situationcomes in. Secondly, women have to deal with the perceptionthat they understand business less as compared to men. The third challenge is organizations feel that women cannot drive large scale key change initiatives impacting a larger male workforce. Lastly, comes the corporate politics where most people feel that women are not made to handle such situations.

I too have had my own challenges and learningthroughout my career. I have witnessed times and moments of truth and various ups and downs in life, where I had to prioritize between my personal and professional life. However, the utmost support from my family and superiors motivated me to grow even in unfavorable situations. My own learning is that most of the times are about our own qualms - what we can do, how successful we can be and how much pressure we can manage effectively. It is our own tendency to hold ourselves back that limits our growth. We need to be our own support systems - the belief is in us. I feel that there are a few steps that women can take to help achieve their leadership potential and get the representation they deserve.

- Build your inner strength and confidence: Believe in yourself; never doubt your capabilities

- Seek support systems: Leverage your friends and families, engage with support communities

- Network more: Don't be shy about asking for your rights;

- Brand yourself: Talk about your achievements, don't feel shy about taking credit

Whilst I have had a long and varied career in different organizations, including both service and manufacturing sector, I often wish that I had been more vocal in furthering the cause of gender equality. With ever-changing HR industry, my belief in the power of women leaders is strengthening and I am trying to champion the cause of diversity and in whatever small way I can. Recently we have launched the "Back on Track" program to help women make the career transition back into the workforce. Though the gung ho on diversity mandates and the need to bring women to leadership has begun, in spirit maybe yes, but in action there is a long haul ahead. In my opinion women bring more diverse perspectives, are emotionally mature and empathetic and have the ability to manage crisis in a better manner. They encourage more openness, transparency and a sense of fairness in organizations. The onus is on us to encourage and bring forward women in all walks of life through building and retaining confidence, and surrounding themselves with a supportive environment. We all have a responsibility and role to play in cultivating the next generation of women leaders. Today's women leader's can create future women leaders.

About the Author

Shilpa Kabra Maheshwari is Vice President & Head (Human Resources) at National Engineering Industries Limited, India's largest bearing manufacturer. At NEI, Shilpa is leading the HR function and is passionate about making a difference to organisation transformation and talent building through leadership development, culture enablement and change transformation. 
She comes with more than twenty years of experience with a wide exposure to various facets of HR including authoring a book on the subject. Her forte lies in launching and facilitating major capability building, development programs and have also led projects around design and implementation of HR Strategy, Competency based HR systems and Leadership Development. 
Shilpa has graduated in Economics (Hons) from Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi University and holds an MBA in Human Resources from Faculty of Management Studies, Udaipur. She is a an accredited trainer by Marriott, HR Excellence Assessor by CII, Assessment Center Assessor, Hay Job evaluation & DISC Profiling and a certified coach. Also a passionate writer, she has authored a book “Human Resource Strategy - Architecture for Change”, published by Sage India.