With strong determination, women can achieve any milestone in life
Published on : Tuesday 08-03-2022
Darshana Thakkar, Founder, Transformation – The Strategy Hub.
What was the inspiration that prompted you to pursue this career path?
I am the eldest child among six siblings. Our parents are just SSC pass, but their passion for giving higher education and independent life to all of us is a great source of inspiration. My two maternal uncles are engineers that attracted me towards engineering. While I completed electrical engineering in 1993 from Gujarat University, I was the first female engineer in my whole family.
The real struggle started after I got the degree. Being from a business community, entrepreneurship was my dream from childhood. But for a girl from a rural area – Kapadwanj in Khaira district of Gujarat – things were not favourable to embark on an entrepreneurship journey. The only option was a job, but despite having distinction in engineering, most companies were not even calling me for an interview and there were not many industries in the area. The only option was to move to cities like Ahmedabad or Vadodara, but without any reference, it was very difficult. Finally, after a gap of one year, I was fortunate to find a relevant job in a small company with the reference of my maternal uncle.
Can you recall your early days – say the first few days at work – and anything you would like to mention about that?
Yes, those days are memorable. In my first job, I was appointed as a supervisor in a company that manufactured electrical devices and panels. The company had two separate premises in the adjacent areas and I had to take care of production at both the units. In one unit, the people I was supervising were a mix of male and female workers, so I was quite comfortable in managing the same. But in the other unit, all the workers are male. I had to test the panels, do troubleshooting, etc. With the grace of God, all the workers were very much co-operative and helpful.
During that time, the Konkan Railway was under development. Our company had received an order to manufacture all the control panels and signalling panels for the whole project of all the stations of Konkan Railway. I had already invested two years in working with the company and had pretty good control over managing all the activities of production and planning. A senior railway officer had visited our company to review the progress of signalling and control panels of the Ratnagiri station in view of a ministerial visit for the inauguration. I continually worked for almost 12 to 14 hours per day for the whole week to meet the deadline. For me it was a proud moment while he visited and appreciated my efforts and dedication to work. He was astonished to see how a 21-year old girl managed production deadlines and explained the different stages of the project.
For a woman, it is a matter of finding the right balance between the jobs and managing the home – how do you handle this?
That's the pain area for every working woman in the world. Even in the western world, women also have higher family responsibilities than men – so there is no need to think about this in India.
It was initially relatively easy as I was with my uncle and aunt. But after marriage, a real balancing struggle started. With blessings, my husband and in-laws are pretty co-operative. My mother-in-law handled almost all the household in the initial few years. But after a few years, she was suddenly paralysed, and I was really in an embarrassing position with management of working life, household, hospitalisation and caretaking. That was the transformation of my life, and I have become more robust than ever before.
What challenges (or privileges) do women stereotypically face, based on their gender?
I am feeling proud of my womanhood. After years of experience in different phases of life, I realised that women are much stronger than men in all aspects. With strong determination, women can achieve any milestone in life and multitask in a much better way.
As far as stereotypes, it is there even today. Our whole society is male dominated. At many places in my career journey, I heard several times both directly and indirectly from people: Why are you taking challenges in working in the business operation of an engineering company? Stay at home and enjoy life. One of my subordinates had once commented, why are women working in such management positions in the male-dominant engineering company?
Have you ever missed a career opportunity or promotion due to gender?
Of course, many times. After 5 years of experience, one of my juniors in college had managed to arrange an interview for me at a continuous process plant in south Gujarat. But unfortunately, being a woman, I did not get the opportunity to prove myself. After an experience of over one decade, I lost an opportunity for promotion for being a woman and received a performance appraisal increment of half my male counterpart. I understood from reliable sources that the view was, there is no need to give her more as she will not go anywhere. Even after investing 20 years in the industry, in 2014, I learned about the vacancy of a departmental head in one of the reputed large organisations. I didn't even get invited for an interview and later learned that because of poor experience in the past, the company was not interested in hiring women in management positions. So I decided to write to the director of the company. After that, I received the call for an interview, but did not get the opportunity to prove myself.
Are workplaces today more sensitive to gender issues than a decade ago?
Yes, comparatively more sensitive, thanks to the gender equality movement of the last few years.
First, which women's 'cause' needs to be challenged and changed?
A woman has tremendous in-built capabilities. Little nurturing is sufficient to shape her career. Many sources are at the tip of the fingers to her in this digital era for career development. The critical change I recommend is in people's thinking in society. Men and women are both equally responsible for the transformation of women's life. Both men and women have to change their thinking towards their career aspirations.
Are there areas at work that still restrict women when it comes to leadership roles?
Yes. Very few women are in leadership roles. It's not apparent in metro cities. But Class B cities like ours are facing higher challenges to get leadership positions.
The number of women CEOs and independent directors is significantly less. Despite having MCA (Ministry of Corporate Affairs) guidelines for women director appointments, actual independent women director positions are not being filled in many organisations. I have been an MCA certified corporate director for the last two years and am still facing challenges in getting suitable assignments.
Many corporates are not promoting women to higher positions despite having better performance. Small and medium industry sectors have this restriction with a higher percentage. They are still resistant to assigning women to leadership positions, especially in manufacturing. Inequality in the pay package is also considerably high. The compensation and financial requirements of the women are still considered secondary.
What women-related myths or taboos need to be broken?
In my career experience, I faced many situations where people judged the woman without even meeting her or allowing her to prove herself. The blind comment very first comes about extended working hours, traveling, etc.
Do you have a mentor or a role model? If yes, you may state briefly how it inspired you.
Not exactly. But few of my seniors played an important role in shaping my career. My immediate superior, Mr R C Desai, Mr Vijay Kumbhai, and Mr Aamir Syed, supported and inspired me a lot during my career. The most crucial role in choosing my current entrepreneurship journey was played by Mr Takao Yamamori San. He is the Japanese operation head and my immediate superior during my tenure at Anupam-Mitsubishi Industries. He inspired me a lot to start my current entrepreneurship venture.
What would be your message to the youth who are just starting their career?
I believe that I am fortunate to have perfect parents. My mother played a crucial role in teaching me and inspiring me to become self-dependent, and my father supported me a lot during my education to get up early in the morning. He often gave up on his sleep to ensure that I woke up on time for study. My parents and my (maternal) aunt have placed the foundation stone of my career journey.
Even in the second phase of life, my in-laws and husband have also supported me in achieving career milestones. It is only thanks to my husband's support and inspiration, I was able to start my business.
I want to give a message not only to youth but also to their parents. My advice to all women is to stick to your goal until you achieve it. Of course, there are many obstacles on the way to pursuing your dream. The most important thing is to dedicate yourself to what is important and ignore small hurdles that are not so important.
My advice to all men is to support all women around them. Women in your family are as capable as the women at your workplace or friend circle. Never underestimate/doubt her capabilities. Just support and give her a little freedom; she is competent to do things that you have never imagined.
All parents and in-laws support women in your family to pursue their dream.
Describe yourself, or your aspirations and dreams in 3 words.
Determination, Dedication, and Diligence – the only words that lead to success sooner or later.
Darshana Thakkar is MSME Transformation Specialist and Founder, Transformation – The Strategy Hub. An Electrical Engineer followed by MBA – Operations with rich industry experience, Darshana is an expert in transformation, cost reduction, and utilisation of resources. She has invested 25 years in transforming Micro and Small Enterprises. Her rich experience in resolving pain areas and real-life problems of SMEs helps organisations achieve quick results. Her expertise in managing business operations with limited resources helps clients transform their business practices from person driven to system driven with existing resources.
Darshana has helped many organisations to increase profitability and achieve sustainable growth. She is passionate to support the start-up ecosystem of our country. She is associated with CED, Government of Gujarat as a Business Function Expert in the Entrepreneurship Development program, as faculty for industrial subjects in the Second Generation Program (SGP), and as a start-up mentor and member of the start-up selection committee in the CED incubation centre. She is a certified corporate director registered with IICA and the Ministry of Corporate Affairs, Government of India. Apart from this, she is an author and publishing her blog, article, and case study related to the MSME industry. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org