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Heartening To See Discussions About Gender Equality: Apala Lahiri, President, Human Factors International

Human Factors International (HFI) is the world's largest company specializing in user experience (UX) design. Apala Lahiri, President of Human Factors International talks about women leadership, and gender diversity

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Human Factors International (HFI) is the world's largest company specializing in user experience (UX) design. Apala Lahiri, President of Human Factors International talks about women leadership, and gender diversity.  

What are the biggest challenges for women in leadership roles in media design?

They are the same challenges as in any other domain, I would think actualizing her leadership potential in her own unique style without having to follow a template for leadership that has largely been created for and by men and hence reflects different needs and challenges.

Also to recognize that the challenges faced are a result of systemic biases and not just about personal beliefs and agendas. The second arises from the first. This helps, to strategically battle the disease itself and not be disturbed just by the symptoms and people who manifest the symptoms.

What progress have women made in terms of being perceived as a leader and what more can be done?

There has been tremendous progress made in terms of being perceived as a leader. The major progress is that there is a generational shift in attitudes amongst both men and women. The old societal biases around gender roles are being displaced and for this to happen, families and other institutions have been silently playing a role to facilitate this change.

It is heartening to see that the questions and discussions about gender equality are centered around, ‘why don’t we have gender equality yet?’ rather than ‘why should we?’ Having said that, equal pay for equal work and more women in boardrooms are two ongoing ‘must happen’ agenda items!

What are the work-life balance issues for the women in corporate world. How can they find the perfect balance?

As is well known, share of responsibilities for taking care of home, family, children are perhaps still rather unevenly distributed for working women. Hence, intense, long working hours, hours of travel in cities like Mumbai do make work-life balance a big challenge for working mothers. Restoring balance is so dependent on the architecture of corporate policies.

Corporates need to replace archaic policies where needed and embrace practices that help provide more work-life balance for working mothers. Policies such a flexi hours, work from home, allowing mothers to bring children to the workplace are a must have and not just good to have.

Women are perceived to have a better EQ while men with better IQ. Do you think women leaders are better suited for some particular areas like HR?

In my experience this is about personality types, nurture and so on and hence these attributes cut across gender. It is as common to find a man with more EQ than IQ as it is to find a woman with more IQ than EQ and then also men and women who have an ideal balance of both! I don’t agree with the belief that there are particular areas better suited for women.

How can a woman achieve domain expertise in the technology sector to equalise gender diversity?

Technology has been a domain that has a long history of women pioneers and achievers, globally. Hence, we also see a lot of women in the technology workforce. Being able to forecast technology trends ahead of others and then armed with that knowledge of what lies ahead, to select a technology specialization of the future and equip oneself with knowledge and expertise needed for the specialization, will go a long way in keeping one ahead of the curve.

How has leadership shaped you as a person?

I think it has helped me understand the criticality of harnessing and balancing masculine and feminine energy in myself instead of looking at them as mutually exclusive energies. It has also made me an empathetic warrior ready to fight the ‘good’ fight, in situations when that’s what it takes. And, it has made me deeply understand and agree with Eleanor Roosevelt when she said – ‘No one can make you feel inferior without your consent’.


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gender diversity women leadership hr leaders