Perspectives from ISB

Believe in Yourself

Poornima Bushpala, PGPMAX Co’19, Director Tech Risk, Loblaw Companies Limited, has all through been in industries known to be male dominated. She has, however, overcome the challenges with deep understanding and smart maneuvering.

A computer science graduate well equipped with coding and relational database skills, Poornima was drawn to financial services and enjoyed it. She gradually moved into the risk frontline that gave her the experience and the confidence to interact with senior leaders and understand their priorities. Women most often find it tough to access the upper echelons of the corporate ladder in Risk not because they are not technically competent but because they are not able to influence the leadership with the stereotypically “male” personality traits of assertiveness and competitiveness. Being from business, Poornima was at ease using business lingo and used it strategically to build relationships and connect with stakeholders. Managing different leadership styles, handling varied personalities, and negotiating office politics consume enormous bandwidth and calls for maturity and competency. None of it is easy and getting it right is a challenge initially, but persistence helps get noticed, and recognized, and heard, she says.

Support is Critical

PGPMAX, according to her, enhances credibility when people see you investing in yourself. When she decided to do the programme, she talked with her bosses, her family, and ISB as all were critical stakeholders in the decision. It took her a month to negotiate, to understand, to get the requisite support, to weigh in her chances, especially because she had an eight-year-old daughter to take care. A previous organisation she worked in did not have a structured methodology to give platform to women aspiring to grow and learn, and here she had one. She says she was fortunate her husband and her parents stood solidly behind her decision to pursue PGPMAX. There were ten other women in her cohort and everyone had a different issue to grapple with.

To overcome challenges, one must be determined and set the mind to overcome them. Poornima had several professional challenges to surmount within six months into PGPMAX. Managing work and studying alongside isn’t easy but Poornima found ways to manage. For example, she clubbed her international immersion with a business trip. Despite her busyness with studies, she also made her presence felt by communicating continually and engaging with her team. What worked in her favour was a supportive eco-system, understanding colleagues, and policies and backups. Wherever she didn’t have, she asked for and got it.  

The Value You Bring to the Table is Important

Poornima never thought of herself any less than the other VP or Director sitting at the table. People do not judge you by your gender, she says. People observe what value you bring to the table irrespective of your gender. If you are a woman of knowledge and education, you must present yourself confidently. Poornima had to tolerate unsavoury language and unfavourable attitudes, but she swept them aside and trundled along confidently. She expressed herself with confidence and made herself heard.

Doing PGPMAX does instill confidence and Poornima substantiates this with a personal incident of her US visit when she was the lead chair addressing a team of risk professionals. “When you present yourself confidently backed by a strong brand, people tend to listen to you because people appreciate your investing in yourself. Confidence is about believing in your own skillsets. It’s about how you feel inside and how you respond to a challenging situation. When I made the transition between countries, I knew I could do it.”

Leadership Challenges

As a leader, the core values and culture you drive set the direction. When Poornima moved to Canada in the role of Director Tech Risk, she was among the many ethnicities there. Being a coloured South Asian posed challenges, but the way she reciprocated and communicated made a difference. She observed people; she learnt their ways. According to her, the higher you go the more you must observe people and read their behaviour to ascertain what triggers them, what motivates them, how they react to situations and challenges. “It’s then that you adjust yourself and make your presence felt as a leader to whom people look up for direction. It’s then that you start being trusted.”

Poornima’s word of advice to the batch of PGPMAX women is that they should know what they want in their life and their career. Anyone ambitious and career-oriented would want to do ISB. “If you have the aspirations to grow, everything will fall in place. Please do not wait. Answer that call to action.”

Author: Poornima Bushpala, Director (Tech Risk) – Loblaw Companies Limited Canada, PGPMAX Co’19

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