Neelam Dhawan was in the US on an assignment for HCL in 1989 when she had her first child. She was so enthusiastic about her job that she was back to working within seven days of having her baby. It helped that HCL allowed her to work from home.
“I never thought of quitting a job. I had always had ambitions of working and I was passionate about what I did,” says the managing director of Hewlett-Packard (HP) India, a company whose estimated revenue last year was over Rs 30,000 crore.
Long breaks after child birth is one of the biggest reasons for women falling back in their careers and the reason why there are so few women in the top management of companies. Dhawan says breaks need not be career-restraining, so long as women who take breaks keep themselves updated during the months they are away. “Our industry is changing so quickly that if you do not keep yourself updated, you will become dated. You have to have seriousness about your career. You can’t say things like family will be first. You have to set aggressive career goals for yourself.”
Dhawan, who holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from St Stephen’s College in Delhi, and a Masters in business administration from the Faculty of Management Studies in Delhi, today has countrywide responsibility for HP’s revenues and profitability in India and ensuring the greatest leverage from the company’s services, personal systems and imaging & printing businesses. Prior to taking on this position in 2008, she was MD of Microsoft India for three years.
Dhawan says she also benefited from her early work environment. “I was lucky I started when the IT industry was small. The industry grew rapidly, so we also grew quickly.”
She had a great mentor in HCL founder Shiv Nadar. “He encouraged me. I learnt a lot from him – how to take risks, how to take decisions.”
She says mentors and networking are essential for success, but admits these do not come easily to women. “Women are very good at people management, especially within their family; women are the ones who keep in touch. But they do not do much of that outside the family. So in the work environment, it’s the men who are far better at networking and finding mentors.”
But she says the environment is now very conducive for the emergence of women leaders. The IT industry is very open to women as employees, and more so now as it struggles with quality talent. It has flexible policies on timings at work, it allows work from home, and it ensures high levels of safety and security. “Men’s attitude can be demotivating some times, but I don’t see resistance to women among managers.” Dhawan is convinced the next few years will see a huge change. “Women started taking MBA and engineering seriously from the second half of the 1990s. So it’s a matter of time before we see many more women leaders,” she says.