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‘Being a woman one has to strive twice as hard to make a mark in the workplace’

Monday December 13, 2021, By Janani Sampath

A Defence service veteran, a corporate leader, and sports enthusiast, Anuradha Kanchi, Principal Strategist, Audits and Assessments, Avtar Group, wears multiple hats. Touching upon the many roles she has juggled with aplomb, she talks about her experiences, the challenges she encountered, and the transformation she has seen in the corporate landscape.

 

You have vast experience in different aspects of human resource management across sectors from being in the armed forces to corporate board rooms. How different has the experience been in each of them? Can you share some insights about the uniqueness or even similarities?

I was the only woman in my workplace— at the Indian Navy (one of the pioneers) and in the corporate (senior management). I took the baby steps of my professional life in a male-dominated workplace. In both places, I had to work hard to earn my place as a woman leader. Once people realize your value, the motivation and support are high.

The armed forces were adjusting to the new normal of having women in the workforce. The men were hitherto not used to taking orders from women.

Also, it was important to be professional and lead from the front to earn the respect and trust of subordinates. Trust and respect are important factors in the Armed forces, as we are ever-prepared for war.

My work experience in corporate dealing with industrial relations, trade union leaders, and labor disputes was equally challenging. Trust and organization development involved changing mindsets at all levels. Senior management to the last worker in the organization.

 

Can you share a couple of memorable experiences with us?

After a mixed first year (excellent peers) and difficult bosses, the second year (new bosses) trained me into a hard-core professional and valued my work. One of my clerical staff did not want to work with me (he told my boss that I am his daughter’s age and can’t take orders from me).

My boss heard him out and told him to come to him if he had any problem, keeping his confidence in me.

I was transferred from that office and came back after a few years for an official meeting, and the first person to greet me was this gentleman who had very high words of praise for my working style.

After a challenging tenure in one of my corporate roles, I moved on to a bigger role. At that time, when I made my last visit to the shop floor, many associates were in tears, appreciating my hard work and giving me their blessings.

 

You have a diverse background – Defence service veteran, management professional, and sports enthusiast. Has the juggle between the identities been organic or intentional?

All my activities have been organic and spontaneous. I was the only sportsperson in a family of four sisters and two brothers. My parents supported me in every phase or activity of my life. I enjoyed being an outdoor person. I represented the school in basketball, handball, cycling competitions.

I was also very interested in current affairs and participated in debates and quiz competitions.

I represented my state of Andhra Pradesh during the Republic day camp and parade as an NCC (National Cadet Corps) cadet. My Commanding officer played a huge role in shaping me for professional and competitive life.

My entry into the Indian Navy was accidental, as I was studying to be a corporate HR professional. An advertisement that said ‘Join the Navy and see the world’, and growing up with neighbors who wore a pristine white charming uniform made me join the Indian Navy.

 

You are also a certified corporate director. And, we are in a time when company boards are yet to see many more women leaders. What do you think are the reasons for this imbalance?

Most women till the last two decades played a secondary role at the workplace. They needed a job and regular money to have a better quality of life than their parents. They were not very aspirational in leading and were comfortable playing the silent partner in the family and organization. Today, with the impetus provided by the government’s legal framework for women directors and organizations realizing the value of diversity, especially women in the workforce, more women are aspiring for corner offices and board membership.

India has the largest pool of STEM women graduates and they are sacrificing their careers for satisfying family life. Nuclear families, non-supportive families, and organizations/ colleagues, especially after childbirth, and not wanting to challenge male hegemony have been the primary reasons for this imbalance.

Organizations also looked down upon young mothers as problematic and did not invest in women’s inclusivity. The male-dominated industry did not think that women can maintain a work-life balance and do well at home and office. Women and organizations have woken up to a new reality.

 

How has the corporate world warmed up to women leaders in the last few decades?

Yes, but not at the pace one expects. Corporate leaders are seeing the difference in the balance sheet with diversity, and inclusive work practices. Corporate Governance transparency and leadership have opened the doors for women leaders. The past decade has seen more women in the workforce who have trained/ aspire for leadership roles, take risks, and want to be counted.

Being a woman means one has to work twice as hard, beat the patriarchal mindset, and most importantly, balance their home and career.

Organizations today are supportive, grooming and empowering women leaders and improving the work culture.

 

India Inc. has begun taking strides towards diversity, equity, and inclusion. What do you think should be the next big push collectively towards this direction?

Diversity has had a slow start, but equity and inclusion are way behind.

Traditional organizations like manufacturing should push for more inclusivity and diversity balance. HR policies need to be more transparent and employee-centric. Inclusion should not just be a word but should be the way forward.

The service industry is experimenting with diversity in all forms and is performing well. Other industries should also take a cue and enjoy the returns of a diverse workforce.

The ISO 30415, a guidance standard, and ISO 30414, a human capital reporting standard, are hopefully the agents for pushing diversity in Indian organizations. These are guiding forces, but the push of the leadership and corporate governance practices, HR policies, and individual employee support, is required to help more organizations in their diversity journey.

 

Author Profile

Janani Sampath
Janani Sampath
With close to 15 years of experience in journalism across beats in multiple mediums, Janani Sampath is senior content writer and assistant editor, Diversity Digest.
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