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Can work cultures be gender neutral?

In a wide-ranging discussion on the necessity for gender equity in the workplace, six women, who hold positions of power, shared their experiences of navigating a historically masculine workplace. And, these ‘women at the top’ offered insights on what needs to be done today to foster diversity in workplaces.

Indian women corporate leaders in Bengaluru
Geetha Panda, Revathy Ashok, Dr.Shalini Rajneesh, Sandhya Mendonca, Latha Reddy & Nina Nair at "An Equal Balance" leadership panel

'An equal balance' was the title of the panel consisting of Nina Nair, Sr. Vice President & HRD Head, India & Americas for [24], Latha Reddy, Co-Chair, Global Commission on the Stability of Cyberspace, Dr Shalini Rajneesh, IAS,

Revathy Ashok, CEO, B.PAC, Geetha Panda, Novartis, moderated by Sandhya Mendonca, Founder & MD, Raintree Media.

Geetha Panda set the tone of the panel discussion by first sharing a life-changing

incident, which had happened during her Monsanto days, when she was all of 29. She was the only woman among ten men at a leadership bonding activity in Pune, and Geetha insisted on sharing the same room with the men to be able to bond with them better. Till today, they remain her best buddies. But, she learnt that organisations unwittingly create barriers but it is up to women to break them. “We have to keep enforcing that women are equal,” said Geetha, who heads an MNC today.

Former diplomat, Latha Reddy’s story is inspiring by itself. She held her own in a career in which women were scarce. In her career, Latha has accepted challenges with alacrity – like the time she was made India’s deputy national security advisor and had to learn to deal with hard-core insurgency and border security issues, which was a far cry from her earlier soft diplomacy duties. This ambassador responsible for extraditing notorious gangster Abu Salem from Portugal, has negotiated military agreements and has dealt with insurgency issues in Kashmir and with Maoists. Reinventing herself at 60, she has turned today into a “cyber peace warrior” taking up cudgels for a greater voice for India in global debates on cyber security.her earlier soft diplomacy duties.

Shalini Rajneesh, a bureaucrat, who's currently the Principal Secretary to Government Planning, Programme Monitoring & Statistics Department, threw light on the positive impact of a Beti Bachao orientation programme conducted for a group of young men and women in Bijapur, Karnataka. In just one year, the percentage of girl babies had increased. It was adverts of a girl going out on a moped to buy snacks, while the boys stay home to help the mother make tea for guests helped change minds. This IAS officer also disclosed that Karnataka is all set to take into account “productivity of women at home” in the upcoming state’s Economic Survey, which is great news for homemakers.

Indian woman bureaucrat
Dr.Shalini Rajneesh, IAS

Revathy Ashok talked about a political incubator run by her organisation, which is helping women to make change on the ground and drive issues of safety, waste management etc. Interestingly, Revathy’s suggestion that Karnataka should take the lead and release a gender report made sense. “We need data first on the number of women as high court judges, in politics, bureaucracy and in every walk of life before we can change the narrative,” she offered.

Nina Nair spoke of her own experiences as a leader, as she spearheads the mandate to create a vibrant, people-centric organization across two distinct geographies and cultures in her company – [24] She also has a rich experience of serving in the not-for-profit sector. Prior to her current association with [24], Nina was the Chief People Officer at Indian Institute for Human Settlements and a teacher for 16 years.

Highlights of the panel

Sandhya Mendonca : "How do you deal with a workplace culture that is skewed against women, more so for women who reach the top of their careers…?"

Nina Nair: “Initially, I tried very hard to constantly prove myself as a leader. But, I learnt that if I have to counter anyone, it was not because I have to prove myself as a woman but because I knew better. That made me learn, and learn. We have enhance our knowledge, awareness, understanding and coupled with our emotional intuitiveness, it can take us a little ahead of others in a room… don’t speak because you are trying to prove yourself, speak because you are the best, and you have to be the best”.

SM: "Are women less aspirational, if so? Why? What are the inner obstacles women must overcome to reach higher levels of executive management?

Latha Reddy: “The problem is women want to be perfectionists, super control everything and want to micromanage. The secret of men’s success is to delegate, delegate… Women feel I have to do it all. That is not necessary. Why women volunteer less for challenging positions? I would say the reason is societal and family pressure…the foundation has to be laid, society and women have to be supportive, mentor and inspire young women”

Indian woman diplomat
Latha Reddy & Nina Nair speaking at 'An Equal Balance' leadership panel at Under The Raintree women's festival on 2/11/2019'

Shalini Rajneesh, IAS: “Mindsets needs to change. As far as IAS is concerned, just 12% are women, and the numbers are not going up. One of the reasons… is they (women) are told they will be neglecting their family, which is their primary responsibility. Isn’t it a primary responsibility of men too? Our education and orientation needs to be strengthened”.

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