Leadership Development

Women’s Day Special: ‘Be open to opportunities & keep learning’ (Part 2)

As we continue to celebrate the spirit of womanhood this whole month in sync with #EachForEqual theme, we spoke with another woman in leadership role in this second part of the three-part blog series – Sandhya Hariharan.

Sandhya Hariharan is a Development Manager at SAP Labs India. She joined the European multinational software corporation just after graduating from college and has made it her home for the last 16 years. Her journey to her current role began from being a developer and then a scrum master, and hence she has always worked closely with software development, delivery and support teams.

She shared her story with us and also shared her inspiration, while inspiring many other women with her humble advice.

women's day #eachforequal sandhya hariharan SAP

Background:
Women in the Workplace report 2019’ by McKinsey found that even as 44% of companies in the US have three or more women in their C-suite, the biggest obstacle women face on the path to senior leadership is at the first step up to manager. For every 100 men promoted and hired to manager, only 72 women are promoted and hired! This results in more women getting stuck at the entry level, and fewer women becoming managers. Not surprisingly, men end up holding 62% of manager-level positions, while women hold just 38%! In the first part of this blog series we spoke with Heather Sullivan, Chief People Officer, Discord. 

Excerpt from the interaction with Sandhya Hariharan:

1. What in your opinion could be the cause for this disparity women face at the entry level to management?

Firstly, perception. The average time that any employee spends before becoming a manger would be around 8-10 years. A woman would have had maternity breaks by then and would need at least a minimum of 6-9 months to make a comeback. But even if a woman comes back with full vigor and puts in as much effort as she has always done, the working community / management does not immediately accept her.

So, to prove her abilities, a woman has to put twice the amount of effort she is used to, which is quite to impossible for her at that period of her life. However, I am glad to see companies like SAP, Google, GE, understanding these issues and providing the needed support in the form of policies and supportive leadership.

Secondly, her own guilt to manage work and family also brings her down. Support system at home and a very open team mind set plays a very important role at this time.

2. Mid-level managers are one of the key stakeholders in bridging the gender gap. How can they encourage and prepare women in their team for taking up a managerial role for the very first time?

A fear that mongers over a woman professional at an individual contributor stage of her career would be how would she be looked at when she takes up the role of a manager and starts acting as the role demands, irrespective of the gender of her direct reports. This is where the management can boost the new woman manager’s confidence by helping her overcome the biases and believing in gender parity.

A manager needs to have two important qualities:
i) Good rapport with every team member / stake holder and should be able to connect with them.
ii) Should be able to handle pressure when multiple tasks come to them at the same time.
(And, needless to say, she should have the right capabilities needed for the role 😊)

Women are naturally good in networking and multi-tasking, which turn out to be their strengths as well. These qualities when honed properly can be very beneficial.

3. How can having a role model or a mentor can help women in the workplace be more confident to face the challenges that come with assuming a managerial role for the first time?

This is a great thing to happen to any new managers, especially a woman. I have had the opportunity to have two great mentors, one male and other female, and could see and understand how each of them thinks and works. We could address our fears and problems with them and get mentored.

4. How can senior leadership support mid-level managers in inspiring and preparing women for managerial roles?

This is more of a responsibility of both the mid-level and senior leadership. Mid-level managers can see the various opportunities around them where aspiring colleagues can be a part of. Senior leadership can help the aspiring leaders in trying out these opportunities and vice-versa.

5. What would be your advice to the ambitious women, who might be held back by biases or stereotypes, but want to be a part of top leadership someday?

Keep up your good work. Be open to any opportunity that comes your way. Don’t shy away from taking up a challenging role or task. Keep learning.

6. Who is your inspiration or role model?

Sheryl Sandberg

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