In a male-dominated corporate world, Sujaya Banerjee finds solutions for the many problems festering in modern day India.
She is founder and CEO of a consulting firm, author of a highly-regarded management book Switch – How 12 Indian Companies Managed Change Successfully, and the face behind three not-for-profit agencies that work for women’s empowerment.
Sujaya Banerjee has never let age or prejudices stand in the way of her aspirations and at 50, claims she has miles to go.
With 27 years of experience in the human resource function at Godrej Industries, Shell, British Petroleum, Lowe Lintas and Partners, British Gas and Essar, Sujaya started Capstone People, a new-age consulting firm that enables clients to build workplaces of the future.
Sujaya was born and raised in Mumbai, the third of four sisters, and was exposed to the world of entrepreneurship and business at an early age. Her father runs restaurants in the city and her sisters are entrepreneurs too.
She completed her graduation in commerce and industrial psychology, after which she pursued her management degree from NMIMS, specialising in Human Resources. On the challenges that companies face when they attempt any change, she says it is difficult to maintain focus. As changes take place, team members concentrating on the change easily lose track of the primary agenda.
The second, she says, is way more personal, having faced it herself. The corporate world, Sujaya says, is very male-dominated in India, and it takes far more of an effort for a woman to establish her name and find credibility in the industry than it does for her male counterpart. This leads many women to falter on their way to the top.
She adds societal mindsets and mental models are the biggest barrier to women empowerment and leadership.
With her heavy involvement in empowering women in the worksphere, Sujaya has some relevant opinions on the same. She says feminism means the ability to come into oneself, having the power to make choices and viewing oneself on an equal platform as men and commanding respect on the same level.
When it comes to women’s empowerment, she believes organisations can do far more to improve the involvement of women in the workplace by creating separate cohorts for them.
"We constantly hear that diversity is not a problem in the workplace considering how diverse India is as a nation but I believe that despite this, we need to be more accepting of different cultures and general differences amongst people and promote inclusion of various groups of people," she says.
Sujaya believes improvements in such fields are unfamiliar territory for Indian companies, simply because they haven’t seen such steps being taken elsewhere and hence don’t have a perspective on the same.
She adds women leaders can be cultivated identifying cohorts of women who have already successfully managed some important personal transitions and putting them through a structured development programme to prepare the high potential women leaders.
She quotes an example of her previous company, where she wasn't considered for a position on the Board until a 2013 Act, which made it compulsory for companies to have at least one woman on their board.
According to her, this example serves to show how society, as a whole, needs to consciously bring women under the spotlight by creating a supportive environment.
Being herself deeply entrenched in the entrepreneurship and business world, Sujaya’s message for budding entrepreneurs is,
"You must take that leap of faith and do it. It's like being a trapeze artist- letting go of that one trapeze and before you clutch onto the other one, there's a feeling of nothingness, which is very exciting and quite like participating in an adventure sport."
She believes it is a must for one to let go of their self-imposed restrictions and inhibitions and challenge themselves to prevent running into a rut.
Specifically for women entrepreneurs, she encourages them not to view startups as a 'part-time job' or a side-business, but throw themselves into creating a full-fledged company and revel in their achievements.
As part of her consulting, Sujaya also offers progammes to help women prepare for opportunities in the future.