Hire Women Leaders, Create Career Opportunities For Them

by Preeti S    Feb 26, 2015

Sejal Gulati

Setting up the Time Inc global in-house center in India was a dream come true for Sejal Shah Gulati. As the Managing Director and President of Time Inc. India, headquartered in Bengaluru, Gulati says managing a global in-house is challenging, yet enjoyable.

In this exclusive interaction with CXOtoday, Sejal talks about her role in building the right talent pool and encouraging innovation in the organization. As she strongly believes diversity is vital for business growth, she feels organizations must encourage and create opportunities for women leadership.

Excerpts

Time Inc India is a subsidiary of Time Inc headquartered in US. Is it easy being a global in-house center or what are the challenges you faced?

I think the GIC is incredibly important because it is accredited to the home company in the US. It helps leverage globalized talent. The difficult part of building a GIC is to ensure every aspect of the parent company needs to be integrated into the company and that includes the initiatives integral to the larger company. Setting up a GIC takes a little longer than going for traditional outsourcers.  We have to get the right people and there is a need to educate them on our business. But for me, benefits far outweigh the time taken to set up.

How easy or difficult it is in terms of acceptance of your innovations or ideas?

We encourage employees to work as owners, or as shepherds for the brand and the company. They are encouraged to think about how they can help the business grow. That is where innovation comes from.

We constantly come up with new ideas, some work, others don’t. What is important is the acceptance of the fact that that if it doesn’t work, it’s OK, failure is OK, you won’t be judged on having an idea. A good idea is a good idea. We have some good ideas, lots of good ideas or some ideas whose time is yet to come, but we keep moving forward. We believe in learning from mistakes. Our employees embrace that and have a learning mindset.

A McKinsey report has linked diverse leadership with better financial performance. What are the vital drivers for increasing gender diversity at the top? Your tips to the C-suite.

Hire women leaders. One of my points of frustration in this part of conversation is that people say, oh, we have a pipeline of women. But you need to hire women at the top, not just mid-level.  Hire more women VPs, MDs. There are lots of smart people. There is no dearth of talent. Unfortunately, that is a bit of excuse. I refuse to believe it. Second, allow smart women to come back, when they decide to take time off for health, children or family.  Create opportunities for women to come back and focus on their career.

How important is diversity for a business?

Today, diversity is a business need because it reflects diversity in thinking and styles. Business today is evolving. It needs to be agile and nimble. One needs to have a different thinking and mindset to be able to compete. Having a diverse workforce is very essential. For me, diversity is more than gender. It is also about region and age. It is important to have a group thinking, where people will have new ideas, especially for the company in a transformational mode, as it helps move forward.

Many hurdles in corporate culture stand in way of women reaching top management. Your view.

It is hard for both women and men to reach the top level, but it is harder for women because of the obligations or societal prejudices that act against them as impediments. For me, it is the focus and aspiration, and seeing the benefit of it. To reach the top of any field, one requires a level of dedication and single-mindedness. It is like doing a long run and you hit a difficult part of the run, but you make a comeback and you will have a sense of satisfaction thereafter.

What are the leadership lessons you have learnt as a woman executive

It is very essential to start shutting out the noise of criticism. As you become successful, there will be more critics, and coming up with coping mechanisms that allows you to shut that noise out will help you move forward. It is hard, but important to move forward. Always be open. Know that what you are doing is the right thing and be open to feedback.

Secondly, I love mentoring women, especially those women I see are on the cusp of motherhood and work. Becoming a mother is transforming. Women need to tell themselves that they can do it. I often tell women that it is not easy, but it is worth it.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg says women attribute success to others, while men to themselves. What is your success mantra?

I did it all by myself (chuckles). Often women are conditioned to be inclusive, I don’t think that is a bad thing. But if it is something that needs to be acknowledged, do it. As it is famously said, it takes a village to run a community, to raise a family. I agree with Sandberg, we have to stand up and say I did it. We should own our success and be proud of that. There is no need to be embarrassed or ashamed. You can be authentic to self and still be able to share success.