As part of our ‘Women in HR’ special interview series, we want to highlight the personal stories, professional challenges, and career aspirations of women leaders in Corporate India. In this story, All Things Talent speaks to Harini Sreenivasan, Partner at Semcostyle Institute India, as she talks about the role of Purpose in her career journey, her passion for creating happy teams and bringing out the best from every individual, why mentorship is a two-way street, and why it is important to look beyond gender equality to gender neutrality.
My career scope has been like those gaming apps where you choose your goal, keep running, and collect points along the way. I knew my purpose and kept running towards it. I am collecting my points by meeting people who give me strength. I think that my journey will go on and on as I keep redefining my purpose.
Q: Harini, you are a versatile leader and a well-known name in the corporate world with almost 25 years of experience. Can you tell us how you got to where you are today in your leadership position? Did you always know where you wanted to be?
A: At the outset, I am proud to acknowledge that whatever I am today is what people have made me. Very early in my childhood, I was exposed to visualizing long-term goals and was always encouraged to work towards them. The purpose was the only thing that I could see in front of me. I probably did everything that came my way without boxing myself into Job Descriptions and Designations. My careerscape has been like those gaming apps where you choose your goal, keep running and collect points along the way. I knew my purpose and kept running towards it. I am collecting my points by meeting people who give me strength. I think that my journey will go on and on as I keep redefining my purpose.
Q: You have been training and mentoring young minds to help them make a successful transition into the corporate world. Did you ever receive any form of mentoring as you moved along? Why is being a mentor such an important part of your career?
A: Of course, yes! Everyone needs a mentor. But it is important to understand that a mentor need not be someone older than you or someone to whom you report at work. At any point in time, one might be influenced by many and anyone whom you are strongly influenced and is able to leverage their life learnings to your own is a mentor. I have had mentors along the way and they have helped me decide what step to take next. But yes, none of them gave me solutions to my problems. Instead, they influenced me by living their lives.
I would observe and learn how they reacted to situations and responded to challenges. All these observations were like an atlas as I navigated around my world of work. I was able to relate the insights gained from them to situations that came my way. You might be surprised to note that some of my best mentors are a generation younger than me. Mentorship is like a relationship. It is a two-way street and has to evolve naturally
“It is important to understand that a mentor need not be someone older than you or someone to whom you report to at work. At any point in time, one might be influenced by many and anyone whom you are strongly influenced and is able to leverage their life learnings to your own is a mentor.”
Q: As someone who is a Behavioural Science and Neuroscience enthusiast, loves experimenting, and is passionate about People, how has continuous learning played an important role in your career and helped you move from leader to thought leader?
A: I did not make any conscious plan to move ahead in my career. I am passionate about creating happy teams and all my social experiments have been towards bringing out the best from every individual. I believe that inherently everyone is trustworthy and has good intentions. It is all about whether we choose to construct walls or build bridges. I have been learning formally and informally, by experience and by observation, by theory, and by practice. More than just learning continuously, I think putting the concepts to context each time, has helped me the most. Instead of eliminating any idea by saying, “It won’t work here”, my approach would be to see how it can be customized to my context. Learning without application is like cooking for someone else to eat!
Q: Can you please give us your favourite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
A: “Live in the present and shape the future, do not cast lingering looks to the distant past for the past has passed away, never to return”, said Mahakavi Subramanya Bharathi, Tamizh poet, philosopher, social reformer, and freedom activist. He was so ahead of his time that his works are still relevant. This quote is such a testimony to this in current times. In my life too, many a downturn came but these words shone like a torch for me to move on and deal with challenges.What I am very convinced about is that organizations do not create gender gaps by design. We tend to look at roles, responsibilities, salaries, etc. through gender perceptions. Over a period of time, these perceptions have clouded… Click To Tweet
Q: What are some patterns you’ve noticed over the years about women at work, and things they could be doing better to advance their careers?
A: Once again I can’t help quoting Mahakavi here. He said, “World will prosper in knowledge and intellect if both men and women are deemed equal”. Drawing inspiration from this I would look beyond gender equality to gender neutrality. What I am very convinced about is that organizations do not create gender gaps by design. We tend to look at roles, responsibilities, salaries, etc. through gender perceptions. Over a period of time, these perceptions have clouded our rational thinking.
If women and men were to approach responsibilities at work and home in exactly the same way, we may probably not be required to celebrate IWD and take the annual oath of gender equality. I would want to leave our readers with a thought if some women have made it big, isn’t that enough evidence to take charge and follow our dreams. Instead of celebrating them, let’s do what they did. Shed self-limiting beliefs and move on! Food for thought, ladies?