Meet Lakshmi Balaji – Chartered Accountant/Trainer/Author
Highlights about Lakshmi:
- Chartered Accountant
- Founder, QLEAPS, Business Transformation, Equities Research & Training Firm
VN: Please tell us about your profession? – A brief introduction highlighting your designation and role at current organization and rest what you feel could be valuable.
I am a Chartered Accountant, Trainer and Author. I am the founder of QLEAPS, a Business transformation, Equities Research & Training firm.
VN: What’s the #1 attribute that helped you get where you are in your career?
Perseverance is the most important reason I am here today. It has helped me define my choices and help my customers to the best of my abilities.
VN: What were or are the biggest challenges you faced going back into the workplace after children?
When I worked at a regular job, shortly after my children were born, the immediate challenges were in managing the activities and different thinking styles required between personal and professional life. I remember the first day of my work in Internal Audit at a big firm, when I was trying to understand where to begin. My manager stopped by, looked at my struggle, and simply started a flowchart on a board. That kicked me back into my business mindset and I immediately set out to work. Our family relocated frequently during the initial days of our children’s lives. As a result, I had to don the role of grandparent, aunt, uncle and friends, at home. I had to reinvent my career many times, depending on the opportunities available in each city. Time management was my biggest challenge, and doing it well was my savior. I am still a learner, I should say.
VN: How do you manage your family life while pursuing your career?
For this, I am fortunate to have a spouse who supports me in everything I do. His unstinting belief is the reason I am here today. We have together carved out a shared space in the time we spend as a family, no matter how busy his travel schedule is, or how busy our business constraints get. Right from watching a cartoon that my son likes, to impromptu Chai sessions at a jungle Dhaba, we make the best of every moment we spend together. My kids are my sounding board for ideas, and they are my most honest believers and critiques.
VN: What accomplishments are you most proud of?
From a woman traveling on Mumbai trains for a regular job in 2004, to an independent business founder, it has truly been a metamorphosis. I have been blessed to meet many interesting career/family women bubbling with positive ideas and energy. Bringing out this energy in others charges me up. I feel this is a shared accomplishment, one that women can uniquely harness. I am equally proud of being able to raise a fearless entrepreneur daughter and a son who is as much a rational thinker as a spontaneous wit. Being successful as an independent business woman, creating positive energy around women empowerment, and nurturing my children to be their best selves, are priceless to me.
VN: What has been the greatest challenge(s) in your career and how did you overcome it (them)?
Being a person with multiple interests, prioritizing and managing the many interesting ways in which I can move forward is an important challenge. An Organizer and a Daily Journal is indispensable for my personality. I also read much more than I write. Carving out time for that passion is really critical to me.
As an entrepreneur, to be seen at par with men in terms of acumen and execution continues to be an important challenge. Knowing myself and understanding how my customer can benefit from my expertise helps me focus on the results. Humility and service mindedness have been key in making my customers successful.
VN: When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
What pushes me forward is the realization that I am here to dent the universe, and that my efforts matter. For me, it is not “what will tomorrow be?” as much as “I will make the tomorrow that matters to everyone around me”.
VN: What are the challenges to female leadership?
At the outset, I should say that women are beginning to see wonderful opportunities today. But our best times are ahead of us. Our capabilities are not fully perceived. There is surely an undercurrent of angst around women in leadership. While there is a lot of encouragement and mentorship today, there is much needed in active sponsorship of women’s career growth. Most times, we have to be our own protagonist. By actively sponsoring women to roles where men have been the default choice, we can change this. My daughter is a motorsports entrepreneur. This could not have happened in any other age. But it is happening, today. More will surely happen, as we continue to work on it.
VN: What are some strategies that can help women achieve a more prominent role in their organizations?
It all comes down to becoming an active participant in changing the perspectives around what a woman can do. First, we need to be self-aware, know our strengths and challenges. We need to stand for whatever we do best. We need to use our personal power – be it our EQ, our parallel thinking, or our ability to manage many different roles, or any other unique traits we possess.
VN: Have you encountered any gender specific challenges or obstacles in your career?
Yes, definitely. Until I have built a relationship with my customers, it was less about “what needs to get done” and more about “what can she do well?”
VN: If you had the power to change one thing in the corporate world for working mothers, what would you change?
First off, corporate world is indifferent to gender or any other classification. What matters are results. However, today, a woman’s role is quickly judged based on how well she balances her work and life, more than a man’s. The one thing I’d wish to change is the culture of judging a person by how much time they spend at their desk/office versus how much of their promise they deliver. As long as the results are delivered with quality and compliance to the corporate world, allowing a woman (or a man) to work in a way that best balances their work and family is the most important change. At this juncture, I would like to thank Virago Network for this giant leap they have taken in being a catalyst to women empowerment & their professional growth.
VN: What is your definition of success and/or your mantra?
Success is how fully you have used your potential to live your best life. It is not always about happiness. It is about how gracefully you can handle adversities or advantages. “Whatever you do, make it matter”.
VN: Which Female Leader(s)/Entrepreneur inspire you the most and why?
Indra Nooyi inspires me the most. Her strength and undaunting spirit as someone who balances her life, family and career, symbolizes character to me. Smt. Nirmala Sitharaman is another inspiration for me. Her composure and stature while she holds enormous power is an inspiration on how to be humble and effective.
VN: What are your thoughts on the glass ceiling? Does it still exist for women in the workplace? And if so, how can women professionals navigate that?
The glass ceiling does exist, although it is being chipped away slowly. As long as a woman’s assertiveness is seen as arrogance, her competence seen as a threat, and other misconceptions continue to exist, her contribution will be limited by the process of the culture. In my opinion, this is simply an unequal estimation of potential. Man and woman were made to complement each other. Diverse thinking is now a necessity and we need all manners of men and women’s style of thinking to better our society.
My thoughts on this is: Be proud of your power and different thinking style. Avoid becoming vulnerable to pressures. Most of all, do not encourage people to think you are a victim.
VN: If you could go back to when you were just beginning your career, what advice would you give yourself?
“Lakshmi, look beyond the definitions that you give about yourself and that the world gives about you. You are far more powerful than what you think you are”
Incredible Things Happen When Women Support Women in the Workplace
“Keep Aside Competition and Nurture Collaboration” ~Mani Mukhija
Our minds have been trained to compete against each other since there used to be a scarcity of opportunities at the top as compared to the number of aspirants. This mindset has been residing deep within our unconscious mind which is not ready to change. We have tried this strategy over years now. Hardly a few women could be successful with this competitive approach while the majority of women lagged behind when it came to making it up to the decision-making table. There are so many researches that prove the number of female representation in the board rooms is very less as compared to men.
Knowing that the competitiveness has created barriers for women in the workplace and there have been impediments to their professional growth, it’s time we keep aside competition and nurture collaboration.
The time has changed. There is neither a scarcity of opportunities nor the lack of talent pool in the industry. So, why compete against each other? Why not follow a more tactical approach to raise ourselves while lifting other women up.
Until now, we have been trying to fit-in the men’s club at workplace where we could never feel belonged and could never form an equation of parity. This has been the biggest reasons we lack representation of women in the C-suites.
So, here are some of the ideas to support women professionals in the workplace which in turn will help them grow professionally:
Build a strong network
Trying to fit-in the men’s club at workplace hasn’t worked in any ways to improve our professional growth & status. Women have been made to justify their capabilities at each rung of the ladder while men easily get to the higher positions since the decision-making tables are male-dominated and the unconscious bias tend to follow the trend to give preferences to a male over a female.
However, this in any way doesn’t mean or prove that women are less capable than men in any ways. We just need our own club where we our valued, respected and heard. Forming or joining a women-centric network can help exchange viewpoints and seek advice and support for other women who have faced and tackled similar issues. This sure empowers to grow together.
Virago Network is one such junction where women connect and carry the feeling of sisterhood along the networking journey. It’s a newly launched platform and can be imagined like ‘LinkedIn for Women’ where women professionals connect to support and uplift each other. Remember, we’re better together by all means!
Celebrate the differences, raise one another
No two women are alike in personal traits and professional qualifications. Then, why not benefit from our differences by sharing our traits and experiences with one another to raise ourselves. We need to give up on the competitive attitude. Rather start to respect other’s talents and learn from each other. Researches have shown that women are underrepresented at the top. If we knit strongly together to form a pack, we can eliminate gender inequality in the workplace. We need to also build a circle of trust with one another and have each other’s backs when in need. We need to hold each other’s hands to empower and uplift our societal and professional status and gain parity in the workplace because United We Stand and Together We Win!
Keep Aside Competition and Nurture Collaboration
A true leader is someone who is a great team player first. If you want to grow as a leader, be genuine to your goal and work towards it. You first need to be a supportive team player and a mentor. A true leader is one who leads by example. So, amplify other women by collaborating within the network by providing professional advice and support. Nothing can be more gratifying than making the sincere efforts to help change the place of women in the workplace and bring gender parity by helping each other grow together. Remember, we need our supportive network because it is important for our career as well as mental well-being.
The message to the women professionals is that they should not underestimate the power of women supporting each other at work. When women lift each other, they model the respect and opportunity they wish to see. And the change is bound to happen!
-by Mani Mukhija