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”