The Triathlete who is building Tall Dreams
Executive Director at Brigade Group, Nirupa Shankar, not only oversees the office, retail and hotel portfolio of the Brigade group, but manages to take out time for her other passions. She is a two times TedX speaker and an ace Triathlete. The creator and founder of Brigade REAP, Asia’s first real estate tech accelerator, she has always been driven to create a great working environment through best practices in HR.
1. What was your dream job in your growing up days?
I had a lot of dream jobs growing up – to become a lawyer, an advertiser, a restaurateur and a hotelier!
2. Where did you study and how did you start out at the beginning of your professional career?
I studied Economics at the University of Virginia before working for a few years in the US. I took evening classes in Hotel Operations from New York University’s Continuing School of Education while I was working before pursuing my Masters of Management in Hospitality Real Estate from Cornell University.
3. When you began your career many years ago, did you ever imagine that you would have a leadership role in this profession?
Growing up, I really wasn’t sure about what I wanted to do with my life. I enjoyed working in many professions. While in college I had done multiple summer internships in advertising, consulting and hospitality. I liked Hospitality a lot because hotels fascinated me, and I enjoyed the people interaction at hotels. However, based on campus recruitments, my first job was as a consultant with Ernst &Young. I worked as a Business Analyst out of the Charlotte, Washington D.C and New York offices. I enjoyed it because it gave me the opportunity to do projects across many different industries. The learning was tremendous. But since my passion was in hospitality I decided to move back to India when Brigade was launching its hospitality vertical in 2009.
4. What were the challenges and how did you overcome them?
I look at challenges in two ways. Those that are within your control and those that are not. Those that are not within your control are more macroeconomic environmental issues where you have to learn how to ride the wave with agility as the same challenge exists for everyone. Challenges with business operations are a lot easier to manage as it is within one’s control and you can take necessary actions to sort them out. Usually, challenges arise due to a mismatch of expectations. Once you understand where the mismatch lies it’s easier to navigate through it. Thankfully, haven’t come across something we haven’t been able to handle yet.
5. Do women in your profession have a hard time getting ahead in their career?
Not necessarily. Women are able to cope in a male dominated environment. They are just as competitive as their male counterparts. Maybe in some parts of the country it is harder to accept having a woman boss and ambitious women do face an element of resentment and resistance. But being from South India and working in a professionally run organisation, I personally have not felt it.
6. Who inspired you and why?
My parents have been my source of inspiration for the hard work and the integrity with which they have worked all their lives. My father is a true visionary and respected by the industry for his fairness and transparency in dealings and humility. My mother was Bangalore’s first woman stock broker and had the courage to try her hand at many different ventures be it interior designing or setting up of three well reputed schools as part of the Brigade Foundation.
7. As a female leader, what has been the most significant barrier in your career?
I have been ambitious and career oriented all my life. I have the backing of my parents and the support of my husband and in-laws. With this the case, there are no barriers. The only barriers are the ones I can potentially create for myself.
8. How good are you at planning your day/week/month? How much do you believe in planning and how much do you leave to destiny?
I am a planner. Every hour of every day is planned and scheduled (unless I am on holiday). Scheduling and planning ahead is crucial for good time management. When you need to get a dozen things done every day unless you plan and schedule them in, it is difficult to be efficient. I believe in controlling the things I can, and riding the wave when I cannot!
9. How do you balance work, other passions and life responsibilities? Is there such a thing as balance? Was it always like this or did you change over the years?
The only way to do it is to schedule time for yourself to pursue a hobby or passion. I have two young kids aged 6 and 2 years and they demand my time. I am unable to always give it, but when I am with them, I try to be as present as I can. With work, I make sure to put in the hours and handle all responsibilities as efficiently as I can. I keep the meetings short and to the point, don’t take long lunch or tea breaks and prioritise the work in order to meet all deadlines. I believe in focussing on the need-of-the-hour. Most of the times work takes the forefront but if there is something important that comes up family related – I attend to it on priority because nothing is more important than the responsibilities of a mother.
10. What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders?
The world is your oyster. Do what you love and are passionate about. There will still be a lot of hard work and work that you don’t always enjoy, but if you pursue things you are naturally inclined towards, success will follow.
11. Do you experience resistance when you are leading men?
Sometimes it can happen. I don’t blame anyone for this. It has to do with generations of social conditioning that will take time to change. But by and large, I have not faced any overt resistance. I think if you speak sense and add value to the conversation and organisation, people will listen to you – male or female.
12. Any advice you would like to share with young women entering a male-dominated profession?
If you are in a male dominated industry just focus on your job, not on gender. Get the work done. Be a solutions-oriented person who is invaluable to the organisation. Go and seize the day!
13. Describe your leadership style. What factors impact a woman’s ability to lead others? What are the benefits to having women in leadership roles?
I’m a very straight, transparent and to-the-point kind of person. I believe in hiring the right people for the job and giving them the freedom to go and execute. I get involved only when there are problems or issues to be sorted out. In general, I like people facing roles and enjoy developing relationships with external stakeholders. Not just women and men, every person has a different leadership style. But as a leader, 80% of our job has to do with managing people, and getting work done through people. So, whoever you are, you have to be good with understanding and getting along with people. For this a high social and emotional quotient is required, and I think women generally score higher on EQ.
14. What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership? Has there been any significant barrier in your career?
I think the lack of support from near and dear could be the biggest barrier, especially when it comes to looking after kids. Again, there are larger socio-economic reasons for why women drop off from the work post marriage and having kids, leading to fewer women in senior management and leadership roles. But that is slowly changing.
Women are re-joining the workforce once their children are older which is a wonderful thing. I have been very fortunate to have parents who have always wanted my sister and I to have a career and be financially independent. I have a supportive husband who shares the load with me when it comes to the house and kids. I have supportive in-laws who are both doctors and are proud of my achievements at work. In fact my mother-in-law got her PhD in her late 50’s. I’m surrounded by strong, smart career-oriented women and feel blessed for it.
15. How can women tackle differences of opinions at a workplace?
Differences of opinions are bound to happen. That is the point of diversity and having a diverse workforce. If we all thought the same, there would be no scope for healthy arguments and different points of view. The point is – we must keep arguments healthy – fact based and work based – and not allow them to get personal. I am of the opinion that either you convince the other party or get convinced yourself. If neither work, try to see if there is a middle ground to work with. Its all about finding workable solutions.
16. How do you push for systemic change around ideas that are new or not that popular?
I think part of leadership is to be able to convince people to see your point of view and vision. Having data backed evidence for what you are saying or proven examples of why something has worked before helps but if you are doing something for the first time, you have to convince using sound logic. Again – I am of the opinion – you either convince others or get convinced to move forward. I like to have numbers to back my point of view so its easy for people to get convinced about why we need to make a certain change or move forward in a certain way.
17. Have you ever been so discouraged you wanted to quit? Any examples?
I think right after I had my 2 children, I took only 4 months off after each child. Work did get hectic soon after and I wished I had more time for my kids. At that point in time, I felt like I wanted a longer break, at least a year off. Apart from that I haven’t felt like quitting, but I have definitely felt the need to take a break. In those times, I do take time off and go on a holiday with family to recharge my batteries!
18. How do you encourage women to not give up?
I think each of us need to have a strong “Why” to do what we do. I have a strong reason as to why I am working or pursing a certain goal. What do you want to do with your life and “why”? What is your next goal and “why”? When the “why” is strong enough, you will do it and continue pursuing it even when things get hard.
19. What are some of the ways you stay grounded and take care of yourself?
I exercise daily. I love the adrenalin from outdoor activities. I train for triathlons. I want to be an iron-man. My exercise is my “me-time”. I value and cherish this greatly as it helps keep me sane and grounded. I think clearly when I exercise and am able to think through the day’s achievements and disappointments with an objective mind. It is my form of meditation
20. How can we stop gender bias?
It starts at home. It’s what we teach our kids. It’s how we treat our kids. Parents have a huge role to play in raising their sons and daughters. Especially our sons. It’s what we read to them, how we respond to them and how we encourage them to believe in themselves and go after their dreams no matter the gender.
21. What would you do to make women more empowered in their work places?
We have created many policies to encourage women in the work place. Brigade has been regularly recognised as a Great Place to Work for Women and also as a Safe Place to Work for women. There is constant thought and action about encouraging women in the workplace. We have constructed projects that are completely women led. The team has comprised of women only lawyers, architects and engineers. Our board of directors is 30% female – one of the few in the country and globally. This was done much before the law came in place to have at least one female director on the board. We have 3! The most important thing is for women to speak up to get their voices heard. And of course, stand up for other women!
22. Define a great leader—what are some traits you think great leaders possess?
There are certain leadership qualities I hope to emulate from various people.
• Barack Obama – The ability to remain calm and composed in a crisis situation
• Rafael Nadal – The ability to take the good and the bad in one’s stride and having a never-say-die attitude.
• My dad – The ability to think multiple steps ahead in the game of chess called life
• My mum – The guts and chutzpah to go after my dreams
23. What’s one leadership lesson you’ve learned in your career? Any success mantra?
Don’t be quick to jump to conclusions. Check facts, check assumptions before making a decision
24. What are your future plans?
I currently oversee the Brigade’s hotels, offices and retail malls along with Innovation. My focus going forward will be on bringing cutting edge sustainable technology to the real estate industry.
– By Namita Gupta
The “Human” behind the Star
Born as Shefali Shetty, the talented star Shefali Shah opens up about her life, her passion for cinema and more
Critically-acclaimed actress, writer-director, artist, self-confessed foodie, Shefali Shah opens up in a candid interview with Provoke Magazine. She has worked with actors like Amitabh Bachchan and Anil Kapoor and her recent release called Human on an OTT platform has been the talking point of every Indian household. Here’s more on the other side of Shefali that you don’t know yet.
Please tell us about your growing up days. Where did you study? What was your dream career in your childhood days?
I’m a Bombay girl and studied in Arya Vidya Mandir School. I had a very protected childhood as my father is a Shetty and my mother is a Gujarati and my grandmother is a Maharashtrian. I lived in a cosmopolitan colony so it was a mix of various regions, cultures and experiences and all of them were wonderful. I wanted to be an air hostess or a neuro surgeon, infact acting was never on the horizon. Acting just happened instantly. I didn’t know what I wanted to do then.
How did you make your television debut and how did movies happen after that?
When I was ten years old one of my teacher’s husband was a play writer. He and the director wanted me to be a part of it. I had never thought about it and had never done any acting assignments in school. I played the lead in a play which was highly appreciated and there was a long gap after which I again started doing inter collegiate plays and then moved onto doing professional Gujarati plays. Then came television and movies. All of this just happened. It wasn’t a planned career. Whether it was a play or a serial, it came to me. For the longest time though I was doing theatre and television, I didn’t realise it was my career. Then one day I realised I get paid for a show and this could be my career. I did not realise my calling until very late.
What have been some of the biggest highpoints of your journey so far?
I have been very lucky to have been a part of some incredible projects and working with some big production houses and directors. Satya was a cult film and so was Monsoon. From then on it just grew. I didn’t have a manager or never approached anyone for work. Good work just came my way. I just picked up work that excited me. There was no structure or plan to my work pattern, but everything I did has left a mark and I’m so happy for all of it.
What are your other passions and hobbies?
I’m a student of cinema so I like to enjoy everything. I love reading and painting and also like to write and cook. I love doing interiors too. I also run a restaurant called Jalsa, which is not just a restaurant but an experience of celebration with friends, food, fun and family.
You’re also acting in a movie called Jalsa? Tell us more.
I have finished acting in Jalsa directed by Suresh Triveni, the director of Tumhari Sulu and it has Vidya Balan and me. It will be released on Amazon Prime soon.
What is your vision and dream in this field that you have made a mark for yourself in?
My dream is to do many more projects that are exciting, gut churning roles and to keep growing from here. After Delhi Crime and Human things have changed for me and I’m finding brilliant characters and work coming my way. My vision is to grow manifold, not just in Hindi but also regional cinema and international cinema.
You recently made a mark in Human, on an OTT platform. How was the experience and how tough was it playing such a dark role?
Gauri Nath’s role wasn’t an easy one to play. I listened like a lioness and decided to play her like a deer. I knew if I played her like a lioness from the beginning, it would have been a safe home runner. I decided to take an unconventional route. I’m so glad that it’s been accepted so well and has got rave reviews. It was a character that could have let me fly as much as I wanted to and I did that. It was very consuming and exhausting, but a fabulous experience.
What is your view about films in the OTT world of today?
The entire visual art arena and particularly Covid times when theatres have been open on and off, it’s a great platform where you can watch at the convenience of your home. Earlier you could miss a film that would release on a Friday and didn’t get good reviews, but now it’s out there for posterity and you can watch on your own timing anytime. Even as an actor it has broadened our horizons to indescribable limits. It’s a brilliant platform and you’re not bogged down by conventional requirements of a typical Bollywood film. As a student of cinema I can watch world cinema and that’s very enriching.
Any memorable fan message you’d like to share?
I get a lot of love and respect from my fans and I feel very grateful for it. It’s all very overwhelming and humbling.
Would you like to recall your time working with Amitabh Bachchan?
I was completely in awestruck of him. It was a dream acting with him. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.
What kind of a person are you in your personal space? How do you like to spend your me-time?
I have this image that I carry about that people feel that she’s a strong and powerful woman and serious. But I consider myself to be wicked and goofy, but I’m real and brutally honest and vulnerable as a person. I believe in love and falter and fall and put a band aid and start walking again. It might seem strange and unbelievable but I also have self-doubts and I’m extremely critical of myself. I like to vegetate on holidays but my mind runs at a really fast pace. It’s always constantly working. I’m always watching content on OTT and thinking something. I’m an insomniac and my brain doesn’t stop.
How often do you like to take holidays and your favourite holiday destinations?
I wish I could take it all the time and could only travel. I would always choose destinations close to a water body, a beach or a lake or a waterfall. Cities don’t excite as they’re all the same and plastic unless they have nice museums. I love nature and would want to explore a lot of interiors in India or internationally.
Are you looking to act in any movies from the south Indian cinema?
There’s such amazing content being made in south Indian cinema and I would love to be a part of it.
What are your future plans and projects?
I’m not good at planning and I like the unpredictability of it. I feel plans come true only if there are multiple factors that align together. I’m currently reading a lot of scripts and I’m sure I’ll sign up something exciting soon. There’s an amazing slate of ready projects releasing this year. Human released in January and there’s Jalsa coming out soon. Then there’s also Darlings, Doctor G, Delhi Crime 2 and there’s 3 of Us ready to release too.
– By Namita Gupta
Of People & Podcasts
From being the national head of GCI, the PR Division (The Grey Group), leadership positions in large companies from both her own life and her personal project, MoodyMo – Mohua Chinappa’s life and career have enabled her to meet, understand, collaborate, network with and befriend a variety of people that most of us will simply never get the chance to.
This is the maturity and empathy she brings to her role as the host of The MoodyMo Awaaz Podcast. The MoodyMo Awaaz podcast is unlike any other in India: providing a platform for the interesting, revolutionary, ambitious, driven, rebellious, unheard or underappreciated people we should all know about, in their own words, raw and unfiltered. Mohua recently launched her book.
When you began your career many years ago, did you ever imagine that you would have a leadership role in this profession?
Yes, I was always very sure that I would lead a team.
What were the challenges and how did you overcome them?
The challenges were mainly from the external world of clients and never within the team. I overcame my challenges by studying and reading up extensively before most client meetings.
Do women in your profession have a hard time getting ahead in their career?
I think women in all fields struggle to be taken seriously. Also, they face gender inequalities, salary disparity, and many such situations. Though, it is only getting better with time as women are beginning to demand and seek equality at workplaces. The system too is recognising the gaps and it’s only getting better.
Who inspired you and why?
My mother. She remains my greatest inspiration. She was never fearful nor did she cower when faced with challenges. Her progressive views on gender help me surge ahead in life.
As a female leader, what has been the most significant barrier in your career?
To be taken seriously. To be able to be paid for creative work with honour and respect. I do think female leaders in small creative businesses face this challenge on an everyday basis. This must change.
How good are you at planning your day/week/month? How much do you believe in planning and how much do you leave to destiny?
I am meticulous about my day and week. I plan my work-life weeks in advance.
How do you balance work, other passions and life responsibilities? Is there such a thing as balance? Was it always like this or did you change over the years?
I love what I do. I never feel burdened with my work. Therefore balancing responsibilities is not something I view as a hindrance in my life. I wrote my debut book Nautanki Saala and Other Stories in hospital corridors, as I took turns to be a caretaker for my ailing parents. I find my peace in my work.
What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders?
Own yourselves unapologetically. Please be fair and remain humble.
Do you experience resistance when you are leading men?
Yes, sometimes I do face resistance. They tend to get aggressive, but I don’t let that deter me.
Any advice you would like to share with young women entering a male-dominated profession?
Let your knowledge and work be so good, that your gender is invisible.
Describe your leadership style. What factors impact a woman’s ability to lead others? What are the benefits to having women in leadership roles?
My leadership style is very non-hierarchical. I treat my team with love and respect. Sometimes as women our family duties, as a mother or as a wife comes into the way of our career track, so please invest and create a support system, so that your career goals are not compromised.
Women in leadership roles are as effective as men. But I do believe that we need more women leaders who will create work environments where #metoo or #kutoo will never happen ever in any workspace.
What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership? Has there been any significant barrier in your career?
My shift in cities, keeping in mind the family commitment as a wife and joining my husband with each of his job change, has been a significant barrier in my work life.
How can women tackle differences of opinions at a workplace?
With intelligence and knowledge of the subject.
How do you push for systemic change around ideas that are new or not that popular?
You continue to voice the new ideas consistently without giving up on your beliefs.
Have you ever been so discouraged you wanted to quit?
Yes, I have been discouraged but I never considered giving it up ever.
How do you encourage women to not give up?
If you love what you do, you figure things out. Also do keep the overheads low so that you can sustain the finances for a longer period till it settles.
What are some of the ways you stay grounded and take care of yourself?
I don’t forget from where I started, which is a very middle-class upbringing, this keeps me grounded, as I know the struggles first hand.
I do take care of myself by travelling, drinking a glass of wine on a weekend, and never forgetting to follow my favourite designers for new styles.
How can we stop gender bias?
By becoming very good at what we do
What would you do to make women more empowered in their work places?
I am conscious of being an equal game player in my organisation. I don’t let anyone feel lesser than the other, irrespective of gender.
Define a great leader—what are some traits you think great leaders possess?
A great leader must walk her talk. She must have empathy, emotional intelligence and be able to do business with fairness and a vision that envisages growth for her employees.
What’s one leadership lesson you’ve learned in your career?
I consistently strive to be better than yesterday.
What are your future plans?
To write more books. Grow my podcast. Empower my employees and leave a legacy for them to uphold, earn more money than me and grow individually as leaders.
– By Namita Gupta
The Secret Mantra
Divyashree J became an entrepreneur at 22, while studying engineering and today runs a successful flourishing business clocking Rs 5 crores yearly turnover
It’s no more a secret. Divyashree J completed her undergraduate education at Visvesvaraya Technological University (VTU), Karnataka, graduating with a Bachelor’s in Computer Science Engineering and discovered her passion as an entrepreneur in the natural haircare space during her time as an engineering student. Divya continued on her path in IT and worked at IBM before switching full-time to her role as co-founder, alongside Ashith.
Beginning a legacy of Secret with just `2500 and 2 litres of hair oil she bought labels for a rupee, and packaged and sold the bottles. Without any family business background or guidance, at 26, she now manages a team of 15, overseeing everything from sourcing to production to supply and expansion. Committed to cruelty-free and vegan practices, Divyashree translated values from her personal life into pillars of the brand.
How did the idea of Secret hair care range come about? In a place that’s already flooded with a big hair care range, what apprehensions did you have entering it?
Secret Haircare was the unexpected outcome of an accident, really. When I was an engineering student living away from home, I faced hair problems (hair fall, dandruff and split ends)—no thanks to my hostel life plagued by toxic water, stress and bad diet. My best friend Ashith’s mother sent us a package from heaven (made with ingredients from God’s Own Country). This handmade hair oil based on a family recipe alleviated our symptoms within a few months’ of regular usage. This is when Ashith and I realised that the products marketed as ‘organic hair care’ and ‘natural’ weren’t really what they claimed to be, after all. We wanted to find a way to share our homemade magic concoction with everyone who needed it. We believed in our product enough to take the plunge. At the time, we did not have high ambitions or plans to expand this far. We simply wanted someone somewhere to have their dream hair.
At an age when your other friends must be having fun, you must have spent all those hours working. Didn’t you feel you were missing out on all the fun?
I found happiness in working for something I created from scratch. When I gave it my all without any pressure or boundaries, I didn’t feel like I was working. The sense of fulfillment I feel from having developed a brand ground-up is liberating in itself. I urge everyone to start something of their own once and enjoy the freedom, joy and hardwork too.
What were the challenges and how did you overcome them? As a female leader, what has been the most significant barrier in your career?
It was a bit daunting to enter the business space without any business background or support. Starting a new venture without experience is always challenging. But with my partner’s support and a bit of perseverance from my side, I have been able to make it work. There have been some gender-based barriers that I have been faced with along the way. For instance, a lot of my work involved me, on the ground, coordinating with various vendors, such as farmers and small sellers. And here and there, some would be reluctant to cooperate with me because of their prejudices. Even in the educated circles, women are not generally seen as those with great business acumen. I have learnt to chip away the glass ceiling bit-by-bit everyday.
How good are you at planning your day/week/month? How do you balance work, other passions and life responsibilities?
I usually plan short-term, i.e. on a weekly basis. I believe a strategy or plan can work better if adjusted according to the changing market trends. As a businesswoman, I think better planning leads to better destiny. However, the risk factors are always there; this outcome may be called destiny. I like to think of myself as a free-flowing individual. I go where my mind takes me. Like I mentioned before, I need not draw boundaries between work and play. Because I enjoy what I do to make a living; not many people are as fortunate. I allot my time to what my mind and body need at that moment.
Describe your leadership style. What factors impact a woman’s ability to lead others? What are the benefits to having women in leadership roles?
I believe in two things—participating and delegating. I trust the opinions of my team members and arrive at the best possible solution after collaboration. Furthermore, delegating tasks always helps with achieving deliverables on time. And we get the best outcomes from those with the best skillset for a particular task.
How can we stop gender bias?
We have to stop limiting ourselves because of gender biases because that is how gender bias can truly be overcome. When we are good at what we do, it ultimately doesn’t matter who we are. Eventually, your efforts shape you. Remember why you started, and accordingly strengthen your mind and resolve so much that prejudices don’t stand a chance against you.
What’s one success or “Secret” mantra you would like to share?
Can I share my mindset? Be consistent at what you do. There is no overnight success. And negative results are not the end. Your mind is your strongest possession; it never gets saturated. Positivity goes a long way. And lastly and most importantly, listen to your customers.
What are your future plans?
We would like to continue bringing our customers joy and giving them the best hair of their lives. Taking authentic Ayurveda to the world is on our vision board. We plan to expand our research and subsequently, our product line-up. Ultimately, our goal is to carry forward the ethics of natural, sustainable products.
– By Namita Gupta
The Pink Brigade
Tina Mansukhani Garg, founder and CEO of Pink Lemonade was one of the 13 women from across the world, to be chosen for the Fortune Global-US State Department Global Mentoring program. She enjoyed her time working closely with the founders of Airbnb and is also a TEDx speaker and is passionate about helping women return to a career after their break. Tina has a large team of women professionals working with her.
1. Where did you study and how did you start out at the beginning of your professional career?
I studied science in Pune to be an engineer, but always enjoyed the creative side of things, and wanted to be a writer and a marketer. I then went on to do my MBA in marketing, took up a few courses with ISB, including the 10,000 Women program and the Ambassadors Program. A few years later, I got the opportunity to start my own company and that gave me first-hand knowledge on setting up a marketing practice. I started off by consulting on two projects. In two years, I realised I had about seven engagements, and could not handle them as an independent consultant. I started putting together a team to help me, resulting in Pink Lemonade.
2. What were the challenges and how did you overcome them?
The biggest challenge I faced was finding the right and good talent. As an organisation, when you’re very small, you really don’t have a brand yet, and as a result, nobody wants to take any chances and bet on you. We started building Pink Lemonade’s culture very actively, looking into what people are expecting from their employers like learning, growth, challenge, and so on. We started spreading the word, as well as doing a lot of social and talent branding.
3. Who inspired you and why?
Tapan Garg, who also happens to be my husband, has been one of my biggest inspirations for how he conducts himself at the workplace, and how loving and giving he is as a person. There’s also Nirmala Menon for her entrepreneurship organisation skills. I also had a great time working with the senior leadership at Ernst and Young.
4. How good are you at planning your day/week/month? How much do you believe in planning and how much do you leave to destiny?
More or less, my days and weeks are planned. I have a calendar that I follow as much as possible, but as always, there are a few things from time to time that take precedence over what has already been set. Sometimes when things come up either for yourself, a customer, or someone in your network, then those do take priority, and I make time for them. I’m a big believer in destiny, and I feel like nothing really happens accidentally. I also do believe in serendipity, and a lot of beautiful things have happened to me, without any planning.
5. How do you balance work, other passions, and life responsibilities? Is there such a thing as balance? Was it always like this or did you change over the years?
I have always believed that there isn’t really a balance as such, because you’ve got to prioritise between work and life all the time. If there are life situations that demand your time, then work should allow you to accommodate for that. If there is a work situation that needs your attention then things should be arranged at home, in a manner that allows you to make time for work. Years of being in the industry have taught me this and a lot more. There come certain days when one requires some flexibility around things like this. And this is completely fine as long as people are doing justice to the work, giving the required time to the organization. My personal mantra has always been about using the weekends to do as many things I enjoy and thrive on like reading, meeting my friends, taking time to nurture some relationships and spending time with family. Another strong passion of mine is getting women back to work, which is very evident with the people we have at Pink Lemonade, and the opportunities we try and create constantly for women specifically. My spiritual quest has started to become a passion.
6. What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders?
Something I have noticed these past few years is that the degree of patience and ability to deal with failure is decreasing, not just in women, but men as well! The moment there is feedback given on anything, it doesn’t get accepted very well by the current generation. I also feel that relationships are not something that they invest in, compared to the degree that I have seen in the past. So my advice would be that at the workplace and in personal life, having a little patience is an important virtue, as things do not and cannot happen immediately. And things will also not necessarily happen to the level of perfection we envision or aspire. So with the time at hand, do good work, be good to people, nurture relationships you have built, and if the timing is right, no force can stop you. Be good to the people while climbing up, because these are the people that will help you move further. Otherwise, they also have the potential to massively pull you down.
7. Describe your leadership style. What factors impact a woman’s ability to lead others? What are the benefits of having women in leadership roles?
I feel my leadership style is based on making connections with people, both personally and professionally. I would describe myself as a mother of sorts, who grooms them, trains them, nurtures them at the workplace, and even takes care of their overall well-being even outside of work. I will usually ask you to take on a task, guide you with what is necessary, and allow you to work on it. If the task is not completed, or you are facing a bottleneck, I give you a few more chances to try and close the task at hand. However, if tasks continue to be unfinished or not up to the mark, then there is a clear capability issue or a resistance issue, or something else, which is when I can become tough.
Women do try to empathise a lot more and try to understand, especially if there’s a woman on the other side that she must be struggling with a number of things. As long as people are truthful, open, and transparent about what their challenges are, I am always ready to help them and accommodate the requirements to meet work requirements. I think women bring to the table a lot of understanding, empathy, and the ability to partner with someone, and not just demand things out of them. And this is exactly how I lead as well.
8. How can women tackle differences of opinions at the workplace?
Differences of opinion at the workplace are inevitable, but it can be especially difficult for women who tend to get dismissed, are not taken seriously, or are blatantly ignored. I have always lived by the 3 As — Assertiveness, Awareness, and Amiability, and this has helped me a lot with tackling disagreements.
Being assertive in your opinions is extremely important, especially if you are right. Standing by your opinion or belief, and standing your ground, will make you be seen as someone who is confident in and knows her stuff. Having the awareness of the person/people you are talking to and knowing how to tackle them in conversation, will not only show your maturity, personality, and confidence, but also help you navigate the conversation well, have a productive conversation, have control over it, and deal with it in a peaceful manner. Lastly, workplace disagreements that turn ugly can have long-term consequences, and make things uncomfortable. Being amiable is extremely important, to keep these disagreements healthy, constructive, and peaceful.
9. How do you encourage women to not give up?
My advice would be not be so negative or take any drastic steps on the basis of a single experience. Women go through a lot of things including anxiety and depression, while also going through mood swings and pain due to things like our menstrual cycles. With all this, women should definitely plan to take care of themselves to in turn better deal with the compartmentalisation. Women also need to draw boundaries where needed so they can give themselves the time and space to heal, and the ability to overcome their situation rather than jumping at conclusions.
10. What would you do to make women more empowered in their workplaces?
Pink Lemonade has always been known as an empowered workplace because women at our organisation have louder, stronger, confident, and influential voices, more than what I have seen with most men. We have always been a place of work that stands for and by women, and have welcomed them with open arms. I am very passionate about create spaces and opportunities for women, and Pink Lemonade is really a testament to that. To continue and sustain this culture of an empowered workplace, I’d like for women to get support from our coaching and counseling services. I’d like them to be able to address the things that bother them freely and openly, be it at work or home, and to be able to set great examples as leaders who can inspire others.
11. What’s one leadership lesson you’ve learned in your career? Any success mantra?
The one thing that has worked the best for me, and is what I would like to say I am known for is my ability to connect authentically with people. We have been talking about radical candor at Pink Lemonade as we work to revamp our culture. Radical candor is a management philosophy centered around caring personally, while also challenging directly at the same time. I am working on training myself to have more open and transparent conversations with people, but in the right spirit and in the right manner. It is important to have conversations in a manner where the the other person is also able to absorb it, the way that is planned.
Another great leadership lesson that I’ve learned in my career is that not everybody works for the money. People have now started working for what the workplace means for them in the larger scheme of things. Most definitely money is important, but it is also important for organizations to ensure people have a good time at work, learn a lot, get access to opportunities for growth, and get the opportunity to be in the frontline. It really makes a difference and they stay because they feel connected to their peers and leaders. It is really on me if someone does not have a good time at work and I need to be doing something about it, and making time to fix it.
12. What are your future plans?
Pink Lemonade has expanded to USA, UK, Delhi, North India, and we have also started two new verticals — Pink Lemonade UGC Studios and Pink Lemonade Employee Experience Labs. With user-generated content being 10X more relatable than branded content and UGC ads converting 5X times better, we have put together a team of regular people who love creating UGC-style content for informing, educating, and entertaining the audience. Pink Lemonade EX (Employee Experience) Labs brings you a host of interventions and activities designed to create an impact on your employee experience throughout the year. In the next six months, we are looking at expanding to Bombay as well. Our growth plans are also very aggressive. So we will be looking at getting more people on board who are enthusiastic and want to work at a cool organization like Pink Lemonade.
– By Namita Gupta
Caring for other Moms
An engineer and MBA graduate by qualification; Malika Sadani is the Founder and CEO of The Moms Co. – India’s leading company for toxin-free products catering to expectant and new mothers seeking natural, chemical-free products for their daily personal care regimen.
1. When you began your career many years ago, did you ever imagine that you would have your own startup?
Being someone with an army base, I shifted schools every two years. I have degrees in engineering from Pune University and Business Management from Welingkar Institute, thereafter I started working at Institutional Sales Division, ICICI bank. I never imagined to have my own startup. When I started working I thought I will build a career in Investment banking. But it was a personal struggle that got me to undertake this exciting journey and I absolutely love it.
2. What were the challenges and how did you overcome them?
Challenges are different at different stages of business. Initially, it was getting people to align with our vision. Since we are very conscious of our product formulation and have set standards, they had to adhere to our standards in a way that wasn’t done before. However, over the years, we have come a long way. People have now started believing in our vision of creating high-quality products that don’t compromise on the integrity of any ingredient or product we make. As the company evolves, so do our challenges.
3. As a female leader, what has been the most significant barrier in your career?
The most significant barrier has been the times when the partners and the suppliers felt more comfortable having business conversations with my male co-founder than me. There were various meetings where getting them to take me seriously was a challenge. But eventually, people started believing in my vision & passion. I have now reached a stage where I command respect because of what I have built and the work I have done. This has been my biggest challenge and victory at the same time.
4. How good are you at planning your day/week/month? How much do you believe in planning and how much do you leave to destiny?
I calendarise everything! When I started as an entrepreneur, I was confident that I will remember everything and could do everything without the need of noting it somewhere, but as the teams grew, it became difficult to keep a tab on everything. Now I add even the smallest event on my calendar. It takes off the pressure to remember a lot of things and helps me plan my day better. I also spend time every night clearing my emails and preparing for the next day, finishing some of the work the night before, it helps me get set for the day ahead.
5. How do you balance work, other passions and life responsibilities? Is there such a thing as balance? Was it always like this or did you change over the years?
Working with your spouse doesn’t leave much room for work-life balance. But I believe in work-life integration over work-life balance any day. It helps in prioritising things at home or work, as and when it comes.
6. Describe your leadership style. What factors impact a woman’s ability to lead others? What are the benefits to having women in leadership roles?
I like to lead by example. I like a culture where my team feels free to come up to me whenever they wish! When it comes to having women in leadership roles, the benefits are huge. The more people see women in leadership roles, the more it will be normalised and accepted. As more women-led business success stories come out, more women will be inspired to follow their dreams.
7. Have you ever been so discouraged you wanted to quit? Any examples?
I am a person who once decides on what needs to be done will find a way around it. My resilience never encourages me to quit. I feel once you put your head and heart into something and use your network of people, you will always figure out things
8. How do you encourage women to not give up?
The biggest issue with women is the lack of self-confidence and biases. With almost 40% women workforce, I ensure a lot of team and personal interactions take place so that I set them up for higher challenges and motivate them to dream big
9. How can we stop gender bias?
I am of the opinion that if each one of us continues to do our bit and leads by example, our collective victories will be a welcome step towards bringing gender bias down
10. What’s one leadership lesson you’ve learned in your career?
Focus on a few things that really matter and where I can make a difference. There will always be a lot of distractions and demands on your time but it’s important for you to learn to value your time and focus on the things that deliver the maximum output. For the rest, have faith that your team will deliver the best.
11. What are your future plans?
We feel we are still on Day one of building natural, safe and effective products. I am excited about The Moms Co.’s exponential growth in the future and being a part of many more households.
– By Namita Gupta