Gender parity is the key to creating equal-opportunity workplaces and helping all employees live up to their potential. Women have the capability to take on any role, given the right training and development opportunities. The main reason the gender ratio remains skewed across sectors and organisations, especially in leadership roles, is that societal biases and hurdles often hold women back. Employers need to take conscious measures to remedy not only factors like the gender pay gap, but also overlooked issues like casual sexism at the workplace.
People Matters interviewed Gracy Tavamani, SVP, HR, Admin and L&D, Kinara Capital, on gender parity, the challenges that women leaders faced during the pandemic, and other important traits we need in a leader today. Tavamani oversees the strategy and execution of the HR, Learning, and Administration functions for Kinara Capital. She has been instrumental in scaling the talent base from about 50 employees to more than 1,000 in less than five years. She leads a diverse HR team at Kinara Capital that is responsible for talent acquisition for both the head office and field positions, resource management, employee engagement, employee relations, and performance management. She also leads a separate Admin team that provides a myriad of services and operational support companywide. Edited excerpts:
What were some of the key challenges that women leaders faced during the pandemic?
The pandemic was a completely unforeseen circumstance which adversely impacted everyone across the board. However, one key difference lies in the fact that in our society women are considered the primary caregivers in a household, and the brunt of familial responsibilities falls squarely on their shoulders. During the pandemic, most women in the workforce found themselves struggling to strike a balance between personal and professional responsibilities, and many women leaders were not immune to this. The other challenge that the pandemic presented was keeping the workforce safe, motivated and engaged. This was especially difficult during the first wave, as we adjusted to the switch to working from home. But now that the crisis is behind us, the empathetic style of leadership that women leaders typically bring to the table is being valued very highly as a way to restore the confidence and motivation of employees.
As a female leader, what are some of the biggest lessons learned so far?
I have learnt a lot of valuable lessons in my journey as an HR professional as well as in the capacity of a woman leader. First and foremost, I learnt to believe in myself and stand by my convictions, since that is the key to successfully communicating your point of view, and motivating others towards a common goal. Another important thing that I have learnt along the way is the need to create an inclusive and welcoming safe space for individuals, irrespective of social or gender identity, at the workplace. Perhaps the greatest lesson I learnt in recent years is to be agile and adaptable in the face of changing circumstances. While the Covid-19 pandemic put the process in hyperdrive, long before the crisis hit, the digital transformation was well underway. Keeping pace with these changes is the key to successfully navigating even the most difficult of circumstances.
What, in your view, will be the top challenges in the coming decade for female leaders?
While there are far more opportunities for women in leadership roles than there have ever been before, there are still certain social and psychological barriers that they are up against. But the conversation surrounding women leaders is changing slowly but surely, and we can look forward to even more women finding their feet in these roles going forward. In the next decade or so, the top challenge for women leaders will be battling preconceived notions and biases against women handling complex roles, especially in traditionally “male-dominated” industries like technology and finance. Productivity, quality and efficacy of their leadership style is another area where women are questioned, especially when they occupy top management roles. These notions are likely to continue influencing the mindsets of people for years to come, and the ongoing efforts to dispel them will have to be sustained in order for women to be assigned the responsibilities and get the credit they deserve.
What are the most important traits we need in a leader today, male or female?
A leader should be resilient, compassionate and passionate about what they do. They should know how to keep the team motivated and focused on the larger goal. They should also keep their team inspired and consistently deliver their best. In addition to this, a true leader is one who is always open to suggestions and makes the employees feel heard and appreciated. Part of their responsibility is to help others develop their leadership skills and take ownership, in order to build cohesive teams that benefit from their guidance, but can continue to function independently as well. Adaptability is another trait that is extremely important in a leader, especially in these volatile times. The more agile the leader, the more easily the organisation can transition and adapt to changing circumstances and demands.
Which strategy worked for you to achieve success at the workplace, especially in male-dominated roles or industries?
Succeeding at the workplace as a woman is often a combination of personal ambition and skills, and a great support system at both the personal and professional levels. Part of the responsibility lies with the employer to ensure that women can achieve their professional goals in a secure and supportive environment. At Kinara Capital we have built an inclusive work culture, from an unbiased recruitment process to helping all employees hone their abilities through skill-building training and mentorship. We also have a women-majority management team, and our women employees look up to them as mentors and role models, which inspires them to chase their own dreams.
There is often a lot of noise that women need to tune out in order to stay focused on succeeding, especially in “male-dominated” fields. A supportive work environment goes a long way in opening doors for women and ensuring that they can achieve their personal and professional goals.
Can you share some of the programmes and initiatives for Kinara Capital’s women employees to accelerate their career growth?
Being an employee-centric company, Kinara Capital focuses on building and enhancing the capability of the workforce. We consistently design and implement training modules for our women employees, to hone their knowledge, skills and behavioural abilities. Our yearly training calendar is designed based on various factors. We have done a gap identification exercise through a survey for all employees and focussed discussions with the Business Heads which has helped us to figure out key skills required for a particular role. Then we deploy the necessary training solutions and periodically assess the skill level of the employees to ensure that the module has been successfully applied. This consistent skill-building and knowledge enhancement process is combined with personal mentorship by our management and support from leaders at each level. Together, these initiatives help our women employees accelerate their career growth.
Are there any specific policies or upskilling courses to empower women employees in your team/ organisation?
Kinara has a dedicated Learning & Development team that is tasked with identifying the areas where employees need to be trained, and then design upskilling courses and training modules accordingly. These resources are then made available to employees on an app-based exclusive platform for regular training and development. Through this knowledge platform we are providing equal access to training and upskilling to all employees, be it men or women. Aside from this, we are very focused on mentorship for women employees. We have created a Women’s Club to encourage more engagement and open dialogue for women employees to learn and advance in their careers. Many of our department heads are personally involved in mentoring and encouraging women employees to keep learning and growing. They serve as great examples of what women can achieve with the right skills and environment, and we want the rest of our employees to be inspired to follow suit.
As we approach the International Women's Day, what would you do to #BreaktheBias?
Kinara Capital has been breaking biases since its inception. Starting with our CEO and CFO, who are both women; and our women-majority management team, we have set an example in the “male-dominated” financial services industry. Our track record has established the fact that it is not only possible to run a socially responsible fintech company with women at the helm, but also to do so profitably and achieve great milestones along the way. We have built an equal-opportunity workplace where all genders can thrive, and encourage women to take up roles across locations and designations, to achieve their full potential. I would like to #BreaktheBias by reiterating that women are not limited to only certain types of jobs, they can take on any challenge. As we approach the International Women’s Day, I’m pledging to continue breaking barriers for women in the workplace and in entrepreneurship by providing support, access and mentorship.