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Celebrating womanhood and women in the workplace – Kiran Mazumdar Shaw

Talking Cranes recognized International Womens Day – a date designated by the United Nations to celebrate women’s successes and achievements – by partnering with Biocon to mark its first ever International Women's Day celebration.

Talking Cranes showcased its commitent to women and leadership by creating an inspirational event ‘Aspire’. The highlight was a keynote address and performance by the world–renowed vocalist & Oscar nominee Bombay Jayashri. The event took place at the Biocon campus auditorium on the afternoon of March 5th, and featured a discussion panel of diverse women professionals sharing their stories, successes and challenges and answering questions from the audience.

Over 250 female employees participated in the event at Biocon, the Bangalore-based biotechnology giant founded by the pioneering female entrepreneur, Kiran Majumdar Shaw.

The 45-minute panel discussion focused on challenges faced by professional women. Panelists shared perspectives on a variety of issues, such as managing work-life balance on the road to success, being a team player, making their voices heard in a male-dominated environment, the value of mentoring and sponsorship, and the importance of taking risks without worrying about failure in their career paths.

In her stimulating keynote address, Dr. Jayshri used an energizing mix of music and conversation to talk about her own leadership journey. She spoke about the challenges she faced coming from a traditional background and needing to step up and create a brand identity in a very competitive field.  In her interactive session, Dr. Jayshri invited the audience to join her in singing a song to demonstrate that everyone has a voice with meaning. She reminded a rapt audience that a child will fall asleep to a parent’s lullaby, even if that parent is not a trained singer.

Dr. Jayashri likened successful teamwork to a group of musicians producing a melody. If an instrument is out of sync with the others, she said, as her enthusiastic young team of backup musicians demonstrated, the discordant notes affected the end goal – to create perfect harmony.  In the Q&A that followed, she responded to a query about reconciling career demands with those of her family. “Since I enjoy my work and set expectations with my family,” she said, “they've given me the space to pursue my dream. So I feel no guilt, because “when I am home, I am with them always” - a response that resonated with several working mothers in the room.

Moderator Nima Srinivasan, who runs her own market research firm Berylitics, opened the session with a spirited introduction to the panelists and expertly moderated the discussion and Q&A session. Some of the points made by the panelists:

On visibility
'To be heard, you must prepare. It’s not about your gender, but about your goals and how you articulate them.' Mangala Seshadri, SAP Labs

‘Contribute. People switch off if you are not part of the conversation.’ Seema Ahuja, Biocon

'No one will care about any book unless I know my list. It’s my job. So take your passion to every meeting. Never leave home without doing your homework.’ Jayapriya Vasudevan, Jacaranda Press

On mentoring & sponsorship

'The difference between men & women is that women have mentors and men have sponsors. Women need to find sponsors "who will go in to bat for them". A sponsor positions a candidate on the corporate career ladder.’ GN Shrinivas, Wamart.

‘Draw from your mentors and be ready to become one. That's the social responsibility for women leaders.' Seema Ahuja, Biocon

On worklife balance

The panelists encouraged the audience to prioritize their personal life when it was important and their professional life when it mattered.

‘Work is not a drudgery. Draw a balance between the personal and the professional.  You first have to fight that balance within yourself.’

‘Do no give up one over the other. Leverage the support you have at home.’

‘It's important to bring your kids on board. Kids are always proud of their mother’s achievements.'

The lone male panelist, GN Shrinivas from Walmart, made a compelling point about visibility. ‘If a person comes to the table with clear ideas that are coherently presented, you will be heard. If you come unprepared, you simply will be overlooked, and not because  of your gender.’

On gender bias

‘Gender is not a factor, it's the idea of gender that holds back women.’

‘Gender fades into the background when you believe in what you do’. Nima Srinivasan, Beryltics

‘There's a natural filter at work – a perception that a woman is there only until she gets married or pregnant.'

‘Go after what you want even if it means reinventing yourself.'

One clear takeaway from the panel discussion was that ‘women have to change the way they think and not blame men for it all.'

In her welcome address, Vijayanthy Margaserry (Head of Talent Mgt & Org. at Biocon) referred to Sulaba, an unconventional woman from the ancient Hindu text 'the Mahabharata', who in her debate with the philosopher king Janaka, succesfully establishes that there is no esssential difference between a man or a woman (on the basis of Hindu philosophical principles and her own unconventional life,) and that a woman may achieve liberation by the same means as a man.

It was a fitting reminder that gender should not affect what a woman wants to be in the workplace nor prevent her from achieving her fullest potential.

Discussion Panel 

Sudha Kidao, Managing Trustee at Foundation for Excellence India Trust, an NGO that provides scholarships to students from economically challenged backgrounds in India to study medicine and engineering.

Gayathri Krishna, Industry Leader and Associate Partner with IBM. Gayathri Krishna has over 20 years corporate experience. She launched Bhoomija Trust to showcase performing arts in India and abroad.

Jayapriya Vasudevan, Founder, Jacaranda Press, a literary agency which represents authors worldwide, with presence in Singapore, India, Singapore and the Phillipines.

Mangala Seshadri, Director, Engineering, SAP Labs in Bangalore is responsible for  the Mobile Analytics program. 

GN Shrinivas, Senior Director, Walmart Labs, leads the Global eCommerce team and is responsible for Engineering delivered for Global eCommerce from the India Development Center (IDC) at Bangalore - which spans ASDA.Com, SamsClub.Com, Walmart.Com and the new global platform. 

Seema Ahuja, Head of Corporate Communications, Biocon.












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