What I have learnt as a woman

Saturday, 26 July 2014 - 12:10am IST | Agency: dna

Three successful women, Schauna Chauhan Saluja, CEO, Parle Agro Private Ltd.; Devita Saraf, CEO, Vu Technologies, Businesswomen Of The Year Nominee; and Shinjini Kumar, Director, PwC India share their insights

Make things happen
I graduated from the University of Southern California and worked as Director of Marketing at Zenith Computers before becoming an entrepreneur at the age 24. From the outset, we wanted to be different; to bring unique technology to the country. So, we dabbled in multiple technologies and found success in displays. Today, we have the largest range in televisions after Sony, Samsung and LG.
Leadership is gender neutral and depends on talent, capability and sometimes situations. Being a woman in the world of business, I was allowed to make mistakes and ask more questions than my male counterparts. The biggest challenge for a young woman in a man’s world is the difference in energy levels. Men have more physical energy and can put in longer hours without burning out. The rest depends on the industry you work in and your personality. As I am a decisive leader with vision and discipline, it’s easy for my male subordinates to take orders from me. 
My biggest role is being the custodian of the company’s vision, whilst giving people a chance to align their careers with it, so that we grow the business in the direction we want, and fast. I don’t micromanage, but I’m against mediocrity and laziness.  I don’t want to lose enthusiasm and energy (my assets) with experience and age. I don’t work with people or companies if there is no mutual respect. Kindness is more important than confidence, intelligence and personality; it is your kindness that will make people want to work with you.  

Reaching the peak of success has not been easy. Focusing on constantly outdoing ourselves has been tiring, but it keeps us in business and ahead of the competition. People surprise you—it’s better to have motivated, positive employees of average-intelligence than some genius who may ruin your company culture. Everyone deserves a fair chance at winning, and its my job to create that platform.
Being nominated Businesswoman of The Year, makes me feel more pressured to make Vu, the No.1 technology brand in the world. I desire to be different, rather than to be the best. The success mantra I live by is that however far you’ve come, you can always go further. During adversities, I allow myself to wallow and vent for a while. Then I snap out of it and take action. I stay calm during panicky situations. Even on the dullest day, I do not wait for things to happen.  I make them happen.

Devita Saraf, CEO, Vu Technologies, Businesswomen of the Year Nominee 2014

Take it easy
I have learnt to take things easy. Our generation has seen its share of churn in society as well as in the workplace. I figured it would be really tiresome to have expectations or preconceived notions, and decided to just let go. This helped me focus on the positive and progressive things that were going on. If someone passed a sexist remark, I would wonder whether I had heard correctly or misinterpreted, rather than make it a big issue. I’ve also learnt that surrounding yourself with younger people gives you a sense of progress, even in the midst of gloom and doom. 

Some day your children will grow up; they love you, but they will also learn to respect you for the choices you make. My parents worked in different places, and growing up we kids spent a lot of time on our own. The time I spent by myself, with books (often too advanced for my age), is still precious to me and forms the core of my learning. My mother was not always around to manage my life, but her broad principles have stayed with me. I tried doing the same thing with my boys. 
You must deal with labels. Growing up with girls, I was the ‘smart but plain’ girl. Ironically, I was ‘pretty but not smart/not hardworking’ soon after that, when I joined a workplace. In retrospect, these labels helped me focus on my perceived weaknesses, so I tried to look better and later, to work harder. It was only when I went to grad school in US that I realised how liberating it was to just be myself. Now I find that labelling is simply peoples’ way of coping with differences and can often be damaging to diversity and talent, so I consciously fight it.  
The biggest lesson I have learned is that in the end everything is about people. That offers some great perspective!

Shinjini Kumar, Director, PwC India 

A 20-point success plan
1 Start Early: If you want to achieve something, start thinking about it and working towards it NOW. There’s nothing like ‘too early’. Develop your passions early. When you’re young, you’re fearless, you’re open to change, you’re free from worries and most importantly, you’re forgiven when you make mistakes.
2 Create your own luck with perseverance, tolerance and team work: Nothing is impossible, when a dedicated team pursues a goal. 
3 It’s Alright to Fail: But remember to dust yourself off and get back up after you fall. Don’t get stuck.
4 Find your own Way: There’s no point going somewhere others are already going. Walk the path less taken, or your footsteps will never be seen.
5 Question Everything: This helps find answers and keeps you open to new possibilities. It invites change.
6 Keep learning: Never stop learning, you’ll grow old faster. 
7 Workout: I’ve learnt that to keep the mind and body working constantly you need to do some form of exercise… 
8 Socialise: Meet lots of different people, you never know what can happen. You can learn something from anyone. Don’t be afraid to surround yourself with people smarter than you. This is a great way of challenging yourself to grow.
9 Pick and choose your battles. 
10 The most important asset to invest in is “yourself”.
11 ‘Thank you’ and ‘sorry’ are some of the most powerful things you can say.
12 Prioritize tasks depending on their impact.
13 Being fair, honest, trustworthy, generous and respectful will take you a long way. 
14 Quality is of the utmost importance: If that fails, it really doesen’t matter how good your product/idea/invention/creation was.
15 Get a dog: It will show you the simple pleasures of life.
16 Money is important: But knowledge and hands on experience are invaluable.
17 Sometimes people who say the least have the most to say.
18 When you give, don’t always expect something back.
19 Over prepare, over deliver!
20 As Dr Seuss says, “You have brains in your head, you have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own, and you know what you know. You are the person who’ll decide where to go”.

Schauna Chauhan Saluja, CEO, Parle Agro Pvt. Ltd. 

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