Reach Out: Five roads, one journey
Ideally, the length of the Reach Out program should have been 16 months or at least 12 months
The program had the right amount of stimulation both from a relationship building perspective and the kind of people they put together
In our March 2015 issue, we wrote about how five companies had come together for a unique diversity initiative called ReachOut. This time, we feature the journeys of five women from each of the companies and what was it like for them to go through the journey.
Five companies—American Express, Tata Group, Microsoft, PwC and PepsiCo—joined hands last year for a very unique initiative called Reach Out. About 30 top women leaders—high performing or high potential leaders, leaders with influential roles and are working at one to three levels below the C-suite—took part in the 10-month program. The program comprised of Peer Learning Circles, Group Workshops, Leadership Dialogues and Online Communities. In the March 2015 issue, we had looked at the program in detail and wrote on what the leaders, who took part as mentors and sponsors, thought about the program.
In this story, we take a look at the journey of five women from the five companies through the entire 10-month program: Their thoughts, their learnings and their key takeaways.
Puja Batra, Director Legal-Business Support, PepsiCo India
When I was told that I was nominated for the Reach Out program, I initially felt that it would be a larger than life program. It was only when I started meeting the other women involved in the program in April 2014 that I felt that this is real. The agenda and the schedule of the program was very well thought out and pretty packed. It helped us to figure out if we were ready for the next level, no matter what level of experience everyone came with–from 10 to 30 years. Initially, I was skeptical about the program, but as I progressed I found it to be thoughtful, engaging and got a great deal of learning from it.
We started with Peer Learning Circles. It showed us that as individuals we tend to have different perspectives on a topic. Then, there was another session where the senior leaders talked to us about ‘What women want’ either through conference calls or in face-to-face meetings. They talked to us about what you should be looking inwards for, how do you reach the next level, what are the blind spots and how do you address that. While the involvement of the top leadership definitely adds value to the program, if the people at the ground level were not committed to it, then it wouldn’t have worked. Hence, it was great to see high levels of commitment from everyone.
The person who is going to mentor you is the person who will make a difference in your professional life irrespective of whether he/she is from your company or not. My mentoring experience was okay. I had two sessions with my mentor, one on call and the other face-to-face.
It would be a good idea to continue the program, if all the stakeholders continue to have the same level of commitment as this edition. Maybe they could look at expanding the program to include more companies, especially FMCG and software companies as it would give a healthier perspective on what’s happening in your industry, but dedication to each individual would be a challenge. As the program finished, I told my PepsiCo team that I would like to share my learnings with others. Hence, we have identified three to four people who could reach out to me with their thoughts and issues. In short, appreciate what’s been offered to you. Be thankful for every opportunity you get. What you make out of it is on you. Your gender is not an impediment.
Renu Basu, Global Vice President – Sales, Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces
It was It was one of the most remarkable initiatives that the five companies put together. I have a lot of gratitude towards the Group for being a participant The most powerful element of this program was the conversations with the senior business leaders ie the leadership dialogue. Secondly, the five workshops that were conducted on —Sponsorship, executive presence, self-awareness, developing tomorrow’s leaders, authenticity—really gave an in-depth view on relevant topics. Through the Peer Circles, I imbibed a lot of learnings from others through their respective journeys. The 10 months have created certain transformations in me to equip me to do my job better and to manage myself better through other people’s interactions as well. It is a great initiative and I really benefitted from the experience.
It would have been great if the program had been a little longer than 10 months. Given our schedule, it became difficult for me to attend one or two programs due to other business commitments and travel. Ideally, the length of the program should have been 16 months or at least 12 months.
Coached by D.Shivakumar
I was coached by D. Shivakumar, the CEO of PepsiCo India and was elated to have the opportunity to have interacted with him. In the first session, he gave us valuable tips on how to build high impact teams, how to focus on sponsorship and innovation. The second session focused on how to handle change management and I used that in my job. He is inspirational , a very positive person, extremely humble and unpretentious. The good part about him was that he kept you involved by sharing his real-life experiences. He is a voracious reader and keeps in touch by sending you summaries of the books he has read. For me, mentoring followed by the workshops were the best features of the program. The closing session in February was also fantastic.
Need more physical touchpoints
There should be greater emphasis on regular interaction within the cohort of 30 participants. As far as the organizers were concerned, they did the best that they could. They did set up Yammer, but there was an opportunity to improve participation. The program in the future could be extended to include middle managers and should have more physical touch-points through regular interaction. In addition to that, a few more sessions with the mentor would have been useful. I would definitely like to focus on having a more structured sponsorship of women in my company. What I took back among other learnings was the importance of success vs. likeability, building high impact teams, how to focus on leadership, handle feedback, what are the attributes to look at when recruiting people, how to make time for people and how to focus and manage change.
Rashmi Upadhya, Associate Director-Strategy Practice, PwC
When I first got the email, I was caught unawares as I didn’t know anything about it. I went in with no expectations at all, which is one of the reasons why the program really worked for me. The kickoff went really well, especially as it allowed me an opportunity to get to know the others. There are three parts of the program that worked really well for me. Firstly, a lot of thought was put into the program and it was backed by research and data. People who were organizing or moderating the sessions clearly knew what they were talking about and were happy to share their knowledge with us. Everybody was committed to our personal growth and development. I could sense that they were investing a lot of time and energy to ensure that we took away something from the program.
Secondly, the content of the program and its scheduling was also done very well. the kind of information that was being shared was very pertinent for me. The topics of the several workshops that we attended were very relevant for us as an audience. It was something that I could identify with and at the end of the program I was enriched by the learnings from them.
Thirdly, it had the right amount of stimulation both from a relationship building perspective and the kind of people they put together. I didn’t realize that there was so much to learn from people who are just like me—how they went about problems they faced in the daily life, how they handled professional growth and personal life. There was a great deal of learning that came from spending time with these guys, people who are at the same level as you are, some probably with the same kind of background that you have. That was very unique and I really enjoyed that.
One of the major highlights of the program for me was the workshop on self-assessment, where we used the tool called Hogan Assessment. Most of us present for the workshop were at levels in our companies where we manage large teams. Leading and mentoring are two areas that I have been working on for the past two to three years. The tool creates a lot of awareness about you as a person and it helped me understand myself better. As a result, I was able to manage my team in a better way. So, this time when my Upward Feedback scores came back, I was pleasantly surprised to see that it had gone up. It also made a huge impact on my team as it helped me create the high performing team environment. It helped me to understand what are my lag areas and what do I need to do in order to work on them.
A lot of learning also came from listening to how people managed their time. As a woman and a professional, I have a family and a four-year-old. I’m in the consulting background and hence travel a lot. Clearly, time is a premium for me. So it was interesting to see how the other women managed their time and their daily routine. My mentor was Kim of Pepsi. It worked very well for me. Because she was not from my company and there was no agenda in terms of impressing her, it worked very well. We could build a very strong rapport from Day 1. The conversations were candid and open and she was very receptive to us.
The program should be a little longer—probably 18-24 months—as it will give us enough time to cement the relationships that we create. It would probably be useful to have a stay-in as part of the kick off session over a two-day period. More physical interactions would help us to get more out of the workshops that we have to attend. For different kinds of teams, different kind of themes would have been ideal. The program helped me understand what gravitas or executive presence is all about. It got me thinking in terms of areas I could work on that would make me more impactful in my presentations and meetings.
Anupama Mohindra, Vice President-Finance, American Express
I would like to define my experience both in professional and personal terms. Professionally, it was very inspiring as you rub shoulders with high potential women who are from a diverse range of companies and handle significant portfolios at senior levels. It was really great to see how these women made it to the top, especially in male-dominated fields like finance and marketing. Normally, when we talk about women in senior positions, we think about the likes of Chanda Kocchhar at the CEO level. This program ensured that companies have started looking at the next level of leadership.
The Peer Circles were a great forum and it helped me to think about what I learnt from others and how I could bring that back into my own organization. We were working as a cross-functional group, where we got so many different perspectives. The sessions helped me to think of what I could do for my own organization. Individually, you get knowledge on the latest trends and professionally you get to learn so many new experiences.
The duration of the program could have been longer because we lost two to three months in the warm up to the other participants/people involved in the program. While the 10-month program was good, it would have been better if it had been extended by another 3-4 months. It is more difficult to keep up the connect in external programs unlike the internal programs where you can still catch up with people outside of work. The program would have been more effective had there been more face-to-face interactions.
I was mentored by D. Shivakumar, the CEO of PepsiCo. It is probably one of the best features of the program. We were very well prepared and so was he. He had gone through our bio-datas and knew what background we came from. He’s very humble and straightforward and gave us some really practical advice. When you are working with your own verticals, the coaching and feedback becomes limited to some extent. You will hesitate because there is an inherent fear that when you ask for advice, the person may view it as a weakness. We had some burning topics on our minds and we just picked his brain on how he would have handled such instances. One of things that came across in our discussion was that women confuse likeability with success and that became one of the topics for Peer Circles as well. His advice: It is not success vs likeability; it is respect vs likeability. Respect is something that will come to you on a continuous basis and not come overnight. It is something that you have to work on with multiple stakeholders. Ultimately, it is the value that you bring to the table that matters. Whenever you represent a point of view, if you are not confident about it, represent it as a larger picture. Don’t say it as ‘I think this is how it should be done”. Rather say it as “While I was bouncing off the idea with a few folks..”. It would become the view of a group rather than an individual one and that might work in your favour. Sometimes, it is easier to seek advice from an external person than an internal person.
I have learnt a lot and that will reflect in my day-to-day behaviors. The change will show in how we are dealing with our teams, colleagues and our managers. Since we have women in our teams, I’m very happy to share my experiences, make them understand where we went wrong and encourage them as well. I even had one or two members to listen in to the Peer Learning Circle discussion. The future course of action would be to see how I can extrapolate my learnings to my team and the rest of the organization.
Haritha Kandalla, Senior HR Manager, Microsoft India
When I first heard of ReachOut, I couldn’t believe that five different organizations could come together for such an initiative. It was really exciting as these organizations are very well known for their diversity initiatives. The diversity of thought and experience that I had witnessed during the program is something that I was really happy to see. I would characterize the ReachOut program as the best experience in my professional life so far. As a woman, generally we think that we are alone when we face a number of hurdles. During the program, I noticed that there was a lot I could learn from other women. I got a sense of community from being with ambitious, fun, strong women. We need to stop thinking about what issues we face and instead think about how to do things differently.
When I look back, I think this program has taught me something about myself through the various workshops. Before going for the Peer Learning Circles, we would ensure that we research beforehand and ask provocative questions during those sessions. At the end of it, we would all feel very energized. We learnt about diverse kinds of leadership and researched on topics, busted some serious myths like ‘are my looks getting me ahead?’ What ranked high for leaders was the ability to remain calm and the need to maintain clear communication channels. In that sense, the Hogan Assessment was a really good tool that helped me understand about myself a lot better. The responsibility we as women carry is a big one and we have to be careful as we get branded really fast.
My leadership coach was Dr. NS Rajan (Group Chief Human Resources Officer, Tata Sons) and it was a very meaningful discussion that we had. One of the first things that Dr. Rajan said was - ask anything that you want and I will reply as candidly I can. Hence, we asked him every question that we had in mind and it was a very open, engaging and candid conversation. One of the best parts of ReachOut was the design of the program. The five companies pooled in-house resources and it was great to see a synergy between them. One question I would pose to leaders or mentors is how invested are they in women.
If there is a ReachOut 2.0, then companies must be willing to put in the time and the commitment for such an initiative. When you have a hungry set of participants, then the people should be willing to invest in the program. Most of the women who were part of the program are looking to settle in their careers. Companies need to understand that while programs like these help women, it is ultimately the culture that retains women at the middle and senior management levels. There is also a change of mindset that is required within women themselves and they should have a clear sense of what to do as a woman. Some of the skills that I personally picked up during the program were self-awareness, communication, the concept of gravitas, communicating a sense of calm and continuously making people comfortable in a dynamic environment.