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 Poonam Choudhury, Talent Acquisition Leader at GE Power, Asia Pacific, as she talks about her biggest career learnings, why one has to constantly upscale to stay competitive and relevant, why the representation of women at the leadership level is dismal, and importance of celebrating diverse mindsets.
There’s enough empirical evidence that the representation of women at the leadership level is dismal. Reports say that this diverse workforce oscillates from 30-35% in mid-level to 15-18% in senior level to 8% at CXO level and finally 1% at board level.
Q: How has your extensive hiring experience across different industries and in diversified functions helped you define your leadership path? What has been the most career-defining moment that you are proud of?
A: My experience so far has given me a chance to collaborate and partner with many exceptional people, candidates as well as People Leaders. Leadership traits are agnostic of the industry or function. It has helped me to develop empathy and inclusiveness, be a better listener, appreciate differences and reward the deserving.
In my early career when I was a recruitment coordinator, my manager took a long haul and encouraged me to manage one account of the critical businesses. The initial nervousness slowly made way for learning the ropes of the game and striving higher and better. It made me believe that I can do it. Investment in your people and taking calculated risks are my biggest learnings.
Q: Do you think there are equal opportunities for women in your field or is there still a gap that we need to bridge? What has your experience been like?
A: Over the years, I have observed that it’s been a leveller in my field, there are numerous examples to look up for women leading from the front. What matters is the grit and skill that each woman comprises. One has to constantly upscale to stay competitive and relevant. It doesn’t come for free. My experience so far has been a true reflection of the values that each organization stood for – no discrimination with job scope/responsibilities, talent promotions/pay packages – as a gender-neutral, empathetic, and meritocratic workplace.
Q: Since you are responsible for C-Suite hiring for India, can you cite reasons for a skewed gender representation at the leadership level even when the workforce is evenly split at the entry-level?
A: There’s enough empirical evidence that the representation of women at the leadership level is dismal. Reports say that this diverse workforce oscillates from 30-35% in mid-level to 15-18% in senior level to 8% at CXO level and finally 1% at board level. There could be multiple reasons leading to this staggering outcome particularly in industries like Heavy Engineering, Power and Energy, Infrastructure, and EPC.
Women are dramatically underrepresented in the technical field and have a small ratio of 28-30%, of which many drop out in the career journey due to family-related obligations, marriage or motherhood, mobility constraints, undervaluation of women’s effectiveness as leaders, microaggression, etc. To balance this incongruence at the top level, it has to be a bottom-up approach of starting with the enrolment at schools/colleges leading up to a continuation of jobs with family and children.
Q: In your experience, do women lead fundamentally different from men and where are the most significant differences?
A: Men are from Mars and women are from Venus -they both bring in their diverse beliefs and perspectives and this makes them unique. Leadership is contextual. It’s wrong to say that men’s leadership skills are more powerful or impactful than women’s skills or vice versa. We need to look at the complementary and supplementary skills that each brings in inherently. It is about celebrating diverse mindsets which fosters agility and the ability to view things through an unbiased lens.It’s wrong to say that men’s leadership skills are more powerful or impactful than women’s skills or vice versa. We need to look at the complementary and supplementary skills that each brings in inherently. Click To Tweet
Q: Is there one piece of advice you wish somebody gave you at the beginning of your career?
A: I wish someone advised me on taking up a hobby since it is as essential as any other professional skill or certification. We need to destress and the best way to unwind amidst incessant hours/ days of work is to pursue a passionate pastime. A game of tennis or playing with colours on the canvas or doing salsa – just pick any, let the mind relax and be at ease.