Women ‘pay it forward’ more than men do, Shachi Irde, Executive Director, Catalyst India

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Shachi Irde_Executive Director-Catalyst India WRC (1)Shachi Irde is the Executive Director of Catalyst in India, an organization rooted in research to expand opportunities for women at workplaces. Shachi has over 17 years of diverse experience working at firms like Microland, Spice Mobile, Wipro and Infosys. At Infosys, she was the Head of Diversity and Inclusion, before leaving at the helm of her corporate career to lead Catalyst in India and devote the rest of her career to the cause of working women.

We at HerStory caught up with Shachi Irde to know more about her motivation and drive.

HS: What are some of the lessons you carry with you from your childhood? 

SI: I was born and brought up in an industrial township. During my childhood, I was surrounded by people from diverse backgrounds. This was a defining experience for me. I learnt to appreciate the differences in language, cuisine, religion and culture. My friends circle had people from different states in the country and it was essential that each of us understood our differences and appreciated the importance of these differences. Hence, it was easy for all of us to be part of each other’s celebrations and sorrows. The common thread that bound us together was our school. Education was very important to us and as we had few distractions. Almost everyone in school competed to be the best.

After completing my graduation in Computer Science, I decided to pursue an MBA in Marketing, as I could not imagine myself being stuck behind a computer for eight to 10 hours at a stretch. It was my father’s encouragement that gave me the freedom to choose the field I desired.

Another important aspect of my childhood was that in a secure, free environment, we had the freedom to connect with nature and learn new things. This environment inculcated a sense of freedom to experiment fearlessly which helps me take risks and face challenges even today.

HS: Tell us about your career trajectory?

SI: My first job was at Microland as a marketing manager. This was in 1994. In 1996, I moved to Spice Telecom as their Senior Manager for marketing and sales. I stayed there for seven years. At that time, I must have been one of those few women who are overjoyed to land a job in sales. I enjoyed every bit of it, including client meetings, making proposals, negotiating and finally winning orders/contracts.

Then I moved to Wipro where I was introduced to HR. After spending three years at Wipro, I moved to Infosys.

In my career path, I have moved from role to role rather than from company to company. The hunger to learn and understand the challenges in different functions in an organisation is what has driven me to choose my roles and opportunities. In my career so far, I have covered front line sales, retail channel sales, advertising and marketing, backend customer service – loyalty program, business partner HR, employee relations and internal communications, diversity and inclusion (D&I).

HS: At the helm of your career at Infosys, why did you choose to lead a non-profit?

SI: My role in D&I at Infosys has really opened my eyes to the various issues women face and how much organisations are willing to do to retain the right talent.

I look at my role at Catalyst as one of being a “catalyst” in the true sense. My current focus is on building awareness among employers and employees on the importance of building an inclusive culture, creating awareness among women on the possibilities and building communities and networks thereby taking the mission of Catalyst–  ‘expanding opportunities for business and women’ — further.

I always rise to whatever challenges come my way and I am driven by the need to do 10 things in three seconds at all times. After 17 years of corporate career and climbing up the ladder, I feel my role at Catalyst offers me to be part of something much larger than myself, and something significantly important to impact the world.

HS: What are some of the interesting research findings of Catalyst?

SI: High-potential talent, who were themselves mentored, coached, or sponsored to advance in their careers, are more likely to  ‘pay it forward’  by developing the next generation of leaders, according to our Catalyst report, Leaders Pay It Forward. It’s interesting to note that as per the  study, more women than men are helping others move up the ladder.

Unfortunately, there aren’t enough women in leadership positions and women are being offered fewer career-advancing  ‘Hot Jobs’. According to a Catalyst report, Good Intentions, Imperfect Execution?, unequal access to  ‘hot jobs’  may be an underlying cause of the persistent gender gap at senior levels. This is reflected in one of our latest reports, Catalyst 2013 Census of Fortune 500 which showed that last year, women held only 16.9% of corporate board seats in 2013 and 10% of the companies had no women serving on their boards.

Our recent study of high potential women in technology in India revealed that gender pay gap widens by USD 6000 over a period of 12 years.

HS: Based on your personal experiences, how should one overcome challenges in professional career?

SI: Build strong relationships from Day One. Through my professional career whenever I had a big challenge, it was always the case that a relationship that I had built over time has come forward to help me. So I would advise women to focus on building strong relations early on in their careers.

Also specifically, women should talk it out. Whatever issues are bothering you, find someone to discuss it with. Of course, be selective when it comes to sharing this information.  But always keep a set of peers, managers, mentors and friends who can help you stay the course of your professional journey.

HS: What drives you?

SI: I don’t give up that easily.  ‘If someone can do it, then why can’t I?’ is a question that drives me. I am a very curious person, I am constantly figuring out how to do new things and learn from other people.

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Varsha Adusumilli

Varsha Adusumilli is AVP Partnerships and Marketing at YourStory. Varsha is an alumnus of BITS Pilani Goa Campus, and has interned with Amazon.com and Samhita.org before joining YourStory full-time in 2011. Feel free to drop in a note to her at varsha@yourstory.in