Rupali Veerkar, AVP/Head HR Bitwise Inc

Rupali Veerkar’s story on how often women need to prove themselves.

Rupali,  tell us about your journey, share of challenges how did you overcome them that shaped you to becoming one of the known women leader in HR fraternity, now Head HR AVP at Bitwise Inc

I started my career in Human resources after procuring a Masters from SIBM,Pune. Did I always want to pursue a career in HR? I guess my passion for people, personality traits of compassion and empathy, strengths in terms of building positive relationships and being a good listener led me to a career in HR coupled with the fact that HR runs in the family
My first stint was with a manufacturing set up when HR was still called Personnel Management.  Back in the day not many women worked in the Industrial Relations field and I was very fortunate to have the first such opportunity. This set the foundation of my HR journey. Learning to manage the generational differences and balance the employee expectations were the most critical lessons learnt.
From there I moved onto to the IT Domain and handled the Corporate HR function in Tata Technologies for about 3.5 years. After that I joined LT Infotech which is now LTI where I spent most part of my career.  I spent interesting times at LT Infotech since this was around the time the IT sector was booming and the company was growing too. The HR function was transforming. The leadership didn’t just look at HR as an Administrative function but as an enabler to Business. We graduated from reporting metrices to presenting forecasts which helped the business take decisions. I handled the Business partner and Location HR Head responsibilities, launched many OD initiatives for the organization and led a number of change management initiatives. Understanding the customer requirements – be it leadership or employees and aligning the HR agenda to these requirements was always the key to success.
We toyed with several ideas when it came to employee engagement and used technology to aid the cause. Some worked, some didn’t.  Challenges have been umpteen – some you work through while some you work around. The pertinent challenge in HR is when the ROI doesn’t always translate into numbers. Personally, I have had my share of setbacks, but have always viewed them as a chance to learn and grow. Also, there will be many situations in your life that will make you want to quit but we should continue to find reasons to stay. We need to have a good set of mentors who believe in you and continually push you to go the extra mile and aim higher.
I have always been blessed with a great team to support me, excellent colleagues who have been a pleasure to work with and stakeholders who have been appreciative for all that you do for them. Sometimes I’d find myself to be the only woman in the meeting. But that did not stop me from voicing my opinion or sharing my thoughts.
I now help power employee capabilities as Head-HR at Bitwise Solutions
It feels great to have seen the field of Human resources move from merely being an administrator to a support group to now a Strategic Business Partner.

Describe what does #SheTakesTheLead means to you?

It could mean a lot of things like women taking the lead at work, coming forth and leading the troop, not second guessing or hesitating while taking on lead roles or calling the shots. But what appeals to me most and what SheTakesTheLead really means to me is that women lead the way for other women as they help them steer their corporate journey. This has to be a top down approach. We unfortunately don’t see alot of that. We are pitted against each other; it is almost as if we are waiting to see who drops the ball. The ugly truth is when a woman becomes successful, she is lesser liked by people of both genders. But that doesn’t happen to men. It is sad.
When women, who understand challenges associated with their own gender better, take deliberate efforts to lead her kind, she is not just helping the other grow, she is growing herself too.
I firmly believe every woman leader-be it at any level of leadership must take it upon themselves to extend a helping hand and reach out to a fellow woman peer or subordinate as they scale the ranks.

If you look back three years, what developments have posed the most important new challenges to talent leaders?

The ecosystem is constantly evolving and changing, and this poses a lot of new challenges to the talent leaders viz. – Managing the demographic changes at the workplace, Bridging the widening skills gap both Technical and Soft skills, managing the changing expectations of the employee and the customer and Challenges with engagement, productivity and employee experience. And last but not the least building an Innovation Culture. The only way ahead according to me is to explore approaches to invest and develop in the home grow leadership, lay emphasis on the build model instead of the buy model.

Conventional wisdom says that women hit a “glass ceiling” as they advance that prevents them from reaching senior leadership positions, the biggest obstacle that women face is the first step up to manager thus more women getting stuck at the entry-level? How much do you agree to this why?

Isn’t it funny that we associate women to be better at people management, handling emotions, multitasking and there is enough research to prove that yet we have less women managers than men and it only gets negatively skewed as we move further up? I wish I could say that the glass ceiling is a myth but I’d be lying if I said that is doesn’t exist.
In one of my past organizations, we did a study to the business to showcase that we have been hiring boys and girls fresh out of engineering college in almost the same ratio. And girls seemed to do better than the boys as well. Yet two levels up, the ratio seemed to tip in favor of the men thereon. What were we doing wrong? Honestly nothing. It wasn’t by design.
Why does this happen? Though we claim to live in 2020 and have definitely come a long way, we still have to do much better when it comes to defying gender stereotypes. Though things have been changing, it isn’t changing at the pace we would like it to. We cannot alienate our corporate lives from our personal. Both of them have a bearing on each other as much as we would like to keep them separate. The glass ceiling was often also interchangeably referred to as the “mommy track”.  While the government, labor laws and companies themselves have tried to mitigate issues arising out of women who decide to go the family way, it takes a lot more to get rid of the unconscious bias it comes along with it
And all of us including women are guilty of it. If a woman is aggressive at work, she is considered bossy. If a man is, he is an achiever. It isn’t rare to see that women are assumed to be less of risk takers and better at softer aspects while men would be the choice when it comes to finalizing deals and putting a number to it. Haven’t we all at some point “assumed” things or “associated” things about someone because of their gender.
Assuming women will be less committed to their work since they have just got married or have a sick child to take care of or a PTA meeting to attend or simply because they will miss their kids and may not be so aggressive at work as they used to be are all biases we unconsciously succumb to.
I’m sure no one deliberately decides to promote a man over a woman for these reasons, yet they play a crucial and silent role. It has been more than 50 years women have entered into the work force, ofcourse the number was miniscule back then. But the fact that in this day and age we are still having conversations around equal pay, glass ceiling all goes to show that women do find it hard to break into the “boys club”.

With years of experience at leadership position What do you think – What Women want in the workplace for them to grow to take on leadership roles?

The first step, in my view, is to acknowledge that there is a problem. When less than 20 percent of your corporate leadership positions are held by women and it hasn’t changed much in the last ten years there is definitely a problem. The more we talk about it, the more it will be taken care of. Companies are making conscious efforts to be more inclusive.  The gender pay gap conversation is no longer a hush hush conversation.
We thankfully find exceptions but not as many as we would like. So firstly, we should go ahead and “celebrate” them. All those women who have made it to the top need to be celebrated and given an extra pat on the back.
They say it takes a village to raise a child, I’ll say it takes the same village and more to help her achieve her goals. And not because she is not capable of doing it herself but because she takes on a lot more apart from work as well.
Women would love to have a supporting leadership, flexibility and trust from their bosses that they can get the stuff done.  They want the same opportunities to be presented and “assumptions” to be thrown out of the window. Because they know they can get the work done well enough but the assurance that their bosses trust them takes away the added pressure while they deliver.
When accommodations are made for women at work, don’t treat it as a favour. Nope! No one likes that. And never hold it against them. Give them that equal opportunity along with flexibility (I’d say to both men and women) and see how they work their magic.
Like I mentioned before, women need to lead the way. The more women at the leadership position, the more there will be. The more we show women they can lead, the more women leaders we will have. Have support groups for women at work, have sessions and to hear her voice. Make policies that are parent friendly too (note I haven’t said mother friendly or women friendly) especially for the returning new parent. Don’t hold the break women took to nurture their child against them. They haven’t lost their skills in all those years they chose not to work.  In fact, encourage programs that help them transition easier into the work force. Make sure there is enough women representation during hiring, promotion and other important decisions and not because they will blindly hire or promote a woman. But representation  helps bring perspective. The balance was always tilted in favor of men for long, so setting the balance right will not happen automatically.  We need to slightly push to make sure the scales hang in balance.

One of the report’s say, 6 out of 10 Women 4 out of 10 Men are emotionally stressed having 0 to 2 yrs of experience, but as the experience grows 8 out of 10 Women 4 out of 10 Men emotionally stressed, In your opinion what could be the reasons for this increasing emotional stress in Women with higher experience.

In general, both men and women go through the cycle of life – marriage, kids etc but the impact it has on their lives is completely different.  Why? Sadly, we are all consciously or unconsciously conditioned to adhere to certain gender stereotypes and it takes twice as hard to overcome these obstacles for women if they want to work. The choice available to women and men often differ.
The choice for women is either to work or not work. If they choose to work, it comes with a lot of guilt especially after they have had children. Add to that the pressure of losing out or taking a step back once they are on the family way. Women often settle for roles lesser than their calibre simply because it may offer flexibility.  Even when a “better opportunity” is presented to the woman she often has to consider the impact on her family life. Do we see a lot of men do that?
The choice for men is about roles, skills, opportunities.
The day men and women not only share the load of the “second shift” equally but consider themselves equally accountable for it, we will have lesser stressed women at work. When career decisions at home are mutually decided and talked about, we will have lesser stressed women at work. When we stop thinking that a woman’s career is secondary, we will surely have lesser stressed women at work.
The conversation has started and that is great. A great start but as they say miles to go before Women’s day conversations only celebrate women achievers and their stories instead of still accounting for their corporate struggles.

 

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