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Lavanya Nalli: ‘Inclusion Is A Mindset

Lavanya Nalli, Vice Chairman, Nalli Silk Sarees, in an exclusive conversation with BW Businessworld, talks about the changes required in society, policy and most importantly, the mindset to achieve gender parity

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Q. Gender equality needs a strong focus in India. What are your views on this?
There have been many positive developments in recent years that have aimed to narrow the gender gap, for example, initiatives such as the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao programme, seek to advance the role of women within society and promote education for girls. Additionally, India has introduced a number of laws aimed at protecting women, such as the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act and the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act. Women in India are also better educated than ever before, with female enrollment in higher education increasing from seven per cent in 1950 to 42 per cent in 2018. These are encouraging signs of progress in recent years.

That said, women all over the world and not just in India, still face significant barriers at the workplace and are often subjected to discrimination in society. It is important for society at all levels, from policy-makers to corporates to communities, all the way down to the family unit at the heart of our societies, to continue working towards gender equality.

Q. What is your advice to regulators, decision-makers and industry captains on how to include women in the workforce and senior leadership programmes?
While there have been some encouraging signs of progress in gender equality in recent years, a multi-pronged and holistic approach toward a more inclusive society can bring us closer to gender parity.

At the policy level, one proven initiative is the implementation of gender targets for women's representation in politics and public sector leadership positions, as India has done for representation of women on boards. The Companies Act of 2013, which requires companies to have at least one woman on their board of directors with penalties for non-compliance, has helped to increase women's representation on boards in India. According to a report by Credit Suisse, women held 17.5 per cent of board positions in Indian companies in 2020, up from 5.5 per cent in 2012.

At the corporate level, companies can implement policies such as flexible working hours, equal pay, and leadership development programmes for women to support gender equality at the workplace. Furthermore, publishing numbers of women representation across leadership levels would allow organisations to measure and assess their own performance against industry benchmarks. There is also much benefit in having women role-models across multiple levels, and mentorship programmes aimed at women mentoring other women, to ensure that the ‘leaky bucket’ problem of women dropping out of the workforce due to other societal considerations and pressures, is lessened.

Q. What are the high points of your journey that have shaped the leader you are today?
I’ve had a long career across continents and I’m grateful to have had the experiences that I did, and the various leadership positions I held across diverse, high-profile organisations such as Myntra, McKinsey, Harvard Business, and finally back at Nalli.

Some of the high points of my journey include getting into McKinsey during one of the most challenging times in recent memory, during the mortgage recession of 2008/2009 when I was interviewing as a young business school graduate for an internship at McKinsey. Not only was I an international student but also had far less experience compared to some of my peers who were moving from high-profile finance jobs to consulting, or were former-consultants themselves looking to move back into consulting, as a result of the economic recession at the time. Those years at McKinsey were some of the most intense, but also some of the most rewarding of my professional career, because it was a highly meritocratic culture that valued performance over profile. I had access to smart, compassionate mentors who showed me the ropes and invested in my professional development. Those early years shaped my own view of the kind of leader I wanted to be and the organization I wanted to build as I progressed in my journey post-McKinsey.

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