As part of our Leading Women series, we want to highlight the professional challenges and career aspirations of the women we work with here in Asia.
In this feature, Priti Shetty, Head of People at WeWork India, shares her self-development insights and thoughts on how organisations can support women’s careers, especially during this pandemic period.
Stuti Pathak, Senior Consultant at Michael Page India, speaks with Priti Shetty, Head of People at WeWork India, who shares her career journey.
Q: Who was the first woman you looked up to, and why did you want to be like her?
I think like any little girl, it had to be my mom. She was really kind to everybody, immensely patient, and just so generous and authentic.
So, she was my first role model. Other than that, I tend to observe traits from different women I know, who are part of my life, and then try to look for inspiration from them. And I look at how I can imbibe a few qualities from them.
So, some of the qualities I admire are tenacity, resourcefulness, or just a quiet, silent determination that a lot of women possess. And then, most importantly, that ability to achieve goals despite all odds, these are some of the traits that I look up to creating.
Q: Have you become more risk-averse or risk-seeking as you progress in your career?
Definitely more risk-taking as my career has progressed. Risk for me is more about opportunity and less about danger.
I think about the worst thing that can happen and play out that scenario in my head. And if I feel that that’s something I can manage, then the risk can’t be that bad.
So, if you look at my career experience, the benefits or opportunities that I’ve seen have far outweighed the risks, so the chances that are taken, for example, after a very long stint in financial services, I went in for the opportunity with Flipkart.
And then, I joined WeWork India, and these are all very deliberate choices that I made. Because I wanted to diversify my career and my experience. So, I have been more risk-taking with the years.
Q: What are some moments of self-doubt you have had in your journey? How did you manage it?
You know, without sounding arrogant, I don’t experience self-doubt very often nowadays. I try to operate from a position of curiosity and exploring.
I have now spent my 22 years in the profession, and I know I have the experience behind me. And I’m also confident of the kind of energy that I can bring into a team or conversation. So, I think about it this way. And I think that if I fail at something, I always can try again, but when I try, I try as if this is the last chance I’m getting.
So, I think about failure that way. And in my head or wherever I think of a plan B, it just helps me feel safer. And maybe take more chances or just go for it.
Fortunately, I have had people in my life who have believed in me. As I’ve progressed in my career, I have deliberately sought alignments that provide me with that autonomy; that space to grow and evolve into one such space.
My manager and peers have provided me with the psychological safety that I needed to make tough calls and ask uncomfortable questions. And honestly, I’m very grateful for that.
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Q: What is one lesson or story you can share from your experience that is unique to being a woman?
My biggest learning has come from being a mum. I learned so much from my daughter every single day, the clarity, the honesty with which kids look at things is so refreshing.
And she is also my biggest strength. She is my sounding board on many occasions because she comes from such a different vantage point.
Motherhood often reminds me of what is really important, not just in life but also at work. And I carry that back to my work decisions.
I think about what are the goals and priorities that are most important? How should I be spending my time at work? And how do I nurture the next generation of talent? So, these questions, when I address them, help bring the right level of focus to my work as well.
Q: What do you think will be the biggest challenge for the generation of women behind you, and how can organisations ensure support to overcome such challenges?
Yeah, I think the pandemic, and this extended work-from-home period have definitely forced women across the world to make some tough choices between their careers and personal priorities.
And I believe that providing flexibility and helping women find boundaries between work and their personal life will help us bring women back into the workforce.
I’m proud to work for a company that enables this journey through many of the products we offer. Apart from that, I think feeling a sense of belonging and feeling invested in, is important for women, especially in the hybrid working environment that we are operating in today and will be operating in the future.
Workforces will be distributed; they are going to be global; we are going to be working across time zones, right? Therefore, organisations need to build a culture that helps women reach their potential through policies and a network of allies, sponsors, and mentors that they can count on. They need to offer formal leadership development and experiential opportunities for women to test themselves out and move out of their comfort zone.
And finally, I think health and well-being, not just physical health but also mental well-being, will become focus areas for companies supporting women through various stages of life. We just can’t ignore that biological differences exist, and women do have responsibilities beyond work.
And that’s something that organisations need to accept, acknowledge, and offer policies that enable both aspects of a woman’s life.
Q: Why do you think empathy plays such a big part in leadership, and why has it just emerged as a discussion?
Our experiences of last year serve as a great reminder of how companies have to stand together in solidarity with the workforce in our fight against this virus.
And the need for empathy is always amplified whenever there’s uncertainty and unpredictability in the environment around us. That’s where empathy has to play out in daily interactions between a manager and a teammate or between a leader and the workforce.
And I think when you’re framing policies as leaders, we need to think empathetically about how this is going to land. And finally, I believe the pandemic, and the emerging hybrid and flexible work models that we’re all talking about, are going to require empathy.
So that work-life balance happens, managing boundaries and driving performance and productivity becomes easier. We no longer live in a world where everyone on the team is operating from the same space at the same time, and that magnifies the need for empathy.
Empathy will be required to drive results and outcomes with the same level of rigour that we were doing before the pandemic. So, empathy is, you know, absolutely number one on the list of leadership capabilities and skills that we should be looking for.
Q: What strategies can help women achieve a more prominent role in some male-dominated industries?
Hiring more women in strategic roles and senior roles is imperative. This automatically leads to role modelling. It automatically gets younger women to aspire for and apply for management positions.
So, hiring more women has to become a mandate. Ensuring that women are heard and valued; when any type of demographic is in the minority, it’s easy to lose sight of their perspectives and needs. So, we need a high level of self-awareness towards inclusion from the most senior leadership. And we should build that culture of inclusion in our day-to-day decision making.
At WeWork India, we’ve got an active employee resource group called Women of WeWork India. The goal for us is to empower women to reach their full potential.
So, we’ve done a lot of initiatives around helping with financial wellness, sharing inspiring stories of women, enabling networking between our women, and then highlighting women role models and just spreading awareness. You know, all of this collectively leads to a more inclusive environment and more inclusive, day to day behaviours.
Q: What is the one piece of advice you would give to your 10-year-old self or your daughter?
The first piece of advice is to be brave, take those risks, and not try to be perfect.
The second one is that you can have it all. I think, you know, we’ve always been told that as little girls, or as young women, we have to choose, we can’t have it all. But I think we can have it all. It’s about finding the right environment and the right people in your life who can enable that for you.
And finally, I think it’s about holding on to your dear friends, making the time through your life to nurture those friendships and relationships because they will be your biggest supporters in the years to come. So yes, that’s something I tell my daughter, and that’s something I will tell my 10-year-old self.
This is one of the many stories in our Leading Women series. For more inspiring stories of women breaking conventions and taking the lead in the Asia Pacific, visit the official Page Executive blog below:
Leading Women: The fight against uneven expectations
How to manage performance reviews during the COVID-19 pandemic
The value of mentorship and sponsorship, and what it can do for your company