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Identifying High-Potential Talent & Mentors - Role of HR, Equality in Boardroom

New global Indian companies will need new kinds of globally-thinking HR directors, and this may be a good time for corporate India to re-assess and re-train their own HR leaders. Staying on the “learning-curve” is the true-test of a best performing and best practice company and this must translate into having an HR director who continues to remain open to new ideas, learning, and growing with the new definitions of HR. Some of the best HR directors in Indian companies – who are to be found in Infosys Technologies, Wipro, Satyam Computers, Dr. Reddy’s Labs, Mahindra & Mahindra, TVS Motors, Reliance Retail, GE India, Agilent Technologies, Ford India, Pfizer India, Citigroup India, and so on – are benchmarking with global HR directors for perspectives and responsibilities.

In fact, the corporate HR function is being quickly redefined as a broader ‘strategic workforce management’. HR directors must be encouraged to work more closely to align with other department head in the company for an inclusive dialogue – including the CFO, risk-officers, ethics counselors, information-technology engineers, corporate communications – instead of being the sole designers of company hiring, training/ coaching/ and personal policies, as this will be in the best business interest of the organization. By assuming the pivotal role in an integrated approach to developing the leadership skills of high-potential women executives and the organizational initiatives that support their advancement , HR can make a sustained impact in an area that’s long been on the corporate agenda but has had limited traction. The key is to focus not on traditional HR programs or policies, but on the subtle business practices and perceptions — of men and women executives — that inhibit high-potential talent to provide wins for all. It’s a chance for HR to be a visible catalyst on the issue and play an increasingly important role in an organization’s success.

Here are some specific activities in that regard:

* Identify mentors and sponsors for high-potential women. Research indicates it’s more important for a woman to have a sponsor throughout her career than for a man. Yet according to a recent survey 89 percent of highly qualified women don’t have a sponsor and 68 percent lack mentors. That means they don’t have the personal support of sponsors who can share the company’s “secrets of success” and who can advocate for them as opportunities arise. One of the most impactful things we’ve seen is when high-potential, mid-level women partner with male mentors who are willing to support them and show them the ropes — the unwritten rules of success in the upper echelon of leadership. There’s little that’s more effective at changing corporate culture than highly visible male leaders helping advance women, acting as a “voice at the table” and creating opportunities for them


* Help women and their organizations see themselves through a gender lens. Reassess leadership-development curriculum to arm women with the language, strategies and confidence to lead change from within, particularly with regard to networking, negotiating, projecting their personal brand and leading change in their part of the organization

* Challenge business leaders to think outside the box and point out subtle biases during succession-planning conversations. When leaders can’t identify specific reasons a promotion should go to a man instead of a woman, it’s an opportunity for HR to step in and ask probing questions about what the role requires and what attributes are key. During talent discussions and succession planning, HR can be exceptionally influential in challenging people around assumptions and in encouraging them to take some risks in advancing women. And that can mean redefining the ways a role can be executed, not just putting a woman in a position and letting her sink or swim.

* Assess the effectiveness of your company’s women’s network. Expanding a women’s network is great for building relationships among women in your company, but if senior women drop out because it is no longer relevant for them, you’ve lost valuable experience-sharing and mentoring opportunities for the up-and-comers.

HR can facilitate network activities so there is relevant value for all levels in the organization, while keeping the identity of the larger group. Companies that are choosing to step back and reframe some of the business practices that disproportionately exclude or impede women are finding that these same barriers are getting in the way of everyone in the organization. HR is in a unique position to be the catalyst for change. Like the conductor of a symphony, HR leaders can ensure everything’s working in concert: identifying the individual skill-building needs of a company’s promotable executives while assessing whether an organization’s business practices enhance or inhibit the advancement of high-potential women. In other words, HR executives can integrate individual and organizational change. By doing so, HR can help solve a long-standing business problem, strengthen company leadership and help give their company a distinct competitive advantage.


Get Yourself Out There So how to get more women on corporate boards? There are multiple solutions, from mentoring female talent to providing networking and other support to help them rise. If you want more women on boards, we must first have more women in senior management positions since most directors come from this group. While male CEOs often continue to serve on boards after retirement, senior women executives, with a couple of notable exceptions, tend to "retire from the corporate scene altogether". On its part, Board Agender expects to launch next year a database for companies searching for suitable women board directors.

Women have to help themselves as well if they want to advance in the world of business just as much as men do, think you’re ready for the C-Suite whether you aspire to the CEO, CIO, or COO position. The following tips will help you market yourself in executive circles, develop an influential network, and reach your leadership goal sooner.

• Know the right people and take advantage of your connections. This does not mean that you should use people to get what you want. It does mean that you should find people in the company, or outside of it, that have the experience and influence to help you get where you want to be. A mentor is an extremely valuable asset. So when you are talking to your office buddy, keep in mind there are people at work who you can talk to that will actually further your career. You are there to do a good job, not to make friends. So decide who you need to know to further your career and then get to know them. Introduce yourself and express your interest in their field.

• Express yourself and let the people in charge know that you are interested in moving up. This is a great way to ask what is necessary for you to attain the new position. Don't be demanding, but ask directly what you need to do to get to the next level. This will help you be prepared when the promotion is offered in house.

• Another aspect of getting a promotion is working outside of your comfort zone. You will need to do jobs that you may not be prepared for or feel you have enough experience for. You will need to work long hours and sacrifice some personal time. All of these things will be worth the effort if the promotion is really where you want to be. You will clarify your goals when it means giving up some comfort for quality.

• Be willing to take responsibility. You would be surprised at the number of adult professionals who still refuse to take responsibility for their actions. This means taking credit when it is due to you and taking responsibility when something you do results in an error. No need to shame yourself or get dramatic, but do admit to your mistakes. The important thing is that you see that the situation is repaired so when you admit to the mistake, your positive actions will counteract any negative impression.

• Be an overachiever. You cannot stop working when you have done enough to get by. When you want a promotion, you need to perform above and beyond expectations. Be a quick learner and work well on your own.

• Finally, see the big picture. You need a broad understanding of your organization in order to be considered for other roles. You will need to know more than just your particular department's importance in the overall profit margin and corporate culture. So spend some time getting to know the history of the company and ask people in other departments to lunch where you can learn about their world in the company.

Conclusion During the last decade or so the leadership styles in corporate India have undergone a sea change in terms of an increased level of forthrightness and a sustained emphasis on inclusive growth—and authentic leadership today is more result-oriented than process-driven. Since leadership is no longer as hierarchical as it used to be, it becomes increasingly important to appreciate individual strengths and put the concept of board and workplace diversity in practice. In light of the emergence of a need for self-actualization, democratic leadership revolves more greatly around people rather than merely evolving strategic decisions. Thus, organizations will see better results if the intrinsically diverse leadership qualities of their women executives are brought to the forefront, by offering them social support to strike a judicious balance between their families and careers.

While multinationals have created a conducive atmosphere that has facilitated women taking on leadership roles, corporate India is gradually following suit to provide a more ‘inclusive’ participation for realizing the potential of the special attributes women leaders are gifted with -- such as compassion, sensitivity, creative and conflict resolution capabilities, drive to manage time more efficiently, interpersonal skills and inclination to focus on capacity building while managing personal aspects which affect professional lives – a key measure to facilitate organizational longevity. This holds greater significance given the fact that organizations today are competing in a global market place. The passport to effective leadership across both genders sits in the creation of a blend of the best management and organizational leadership styles and qualities brought forward by both men and women executives – a sanctum, where each style supports and supplements the other to develop a holistic yardstick for leadership.

In today’s global economy, Corporate India needs talent in order to be competitive. Generally, women as managers are underutilized in corporate India. To advance women in high profile roles, support by top management is essential. Promoting diverse management practices and opening doors to women in top management—through proactive human resource policies and programs—is one way for Indian organizations to expand their talent pool and, ultimately, their leadership pipeline. As highlighted by the Indian women professionals, specific success factors—a good education, mentoring, family support, strong communication skills and life-long learning—are essential for Indian women managers today. While traditional Indian cultural viewpoints are slow to change (and not all women want a career in management), positive change for women in the business world in India is moving forward.

Contributing Writer: Natashaa Kaul from Ahmedabad. I am a student of " Doctoral Programme in Management" at Nirma University, Ahmedabad [email protected]

Note: The opinions expressed in this article are that of the writer. is not responsible for the independent views of the writer.

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