Maternity leave does not mean a dead end: Panellists at VCCircle summit

Women employees need to think of maternity leave as their right and not consider it charity by their employers, said panellists at the News Corp VCCircle Women Leaders’ Summit on Wednesday.

“We need to empower women in the workforce, to make them believe that they have an equal shot at promotion when they come back. Awareness and communication will bring this change,” said Archana Sasan, Vice President-India Legal and Ethics, Dell Technologies.

Does maternity leave affect a woman’s chance of being appointed to leadership positions? Panellists said that female employees need to realise that a break of six months to two years does not make a dent in a 30-year-long career.

“As women, you need to think a little long-term, that there will be life stages where you can’t do everything and [you need to] get into organisations that give you this flexibility. Women in middle managerial places are also in a great position to do this counselling,” said Kanchan Samtani, partner and managing director at Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

Sutapa Banerjee, former chief executive at Ambit Capital and independent director at JSW and IL&FS, said that sometimes overtly women-oriented measures can create a backlash. Hence, the management should extend the same benefits to men wherever applicable in order to create a level-playing field.

Discussing the making of a leader, the panellists mentioned that humility, self-belief and a motivated attitude go a long way in creating one, especially if it is a woman.

“Humility is a great resource for a woman. Assuming things about your customer is a huge issue. We are predisposed to be humble, and should use that in our entrepreneurial journey by knowing the customer better,” said Hardika Shah, founder and CEO of non-banking finance company Kinara Capital.

To a query from Prachi Windlass, director of India education at the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation (MSDF), on whether raising funds was difficult for women, Shah said: “Raising funding is difficult across the board. The bias is there. We have been taught to doubt ourselves way too much, and this needs to change.”

Adding to this point, Shivani Bhasin Sachdeva, managing director and CEO at India Alternatives Investment Advisors, quoted a study where the performance of women hedge fund managers was compared to a general index, and the results showed that women outperformed men by 2%. The reasons for the outcome were that men tended to be more overconfident than women when it comes to investments, while women tended to see things more holistically.

“A lot of us tend to want to be liked. It’s true for men, but truer for women. As women leaders, let’s be driven by things other than being liked,” Sachdeva added.

Windlass, who moderated the discussion, also said that MSDF–which invests in financial inclusion, education, and jobs and livelihoods–already sees the talent and value addition that many women leaders are bringing to entrepreneurship.

Separately, in a special address, Zia Mody, managing partner at AZB & Partners, mentioned that for a woman, being passionate about her work and developing skill sets for the same are paramount to becoming a leader.

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