Corporate volunteering

Women’s History Month 2021: An interview with Sohini Karmakar

Women’s History Month 2021: An interview with Sohini Karmakar

This Women’s History Month, we bring you the latest conversations shaping gender equality and women empowerment through the lens of female thought leaders. We had a conversation with Sohini KarmakarLead Corporate Citizenship Specialist – APJ, Citrix India. Read as Sohini shares her thoughts on what the fight for gender equality looks like in 2021, in the workplace

Let’s start with you Sohini, tell us a bit about your education, your role at Citrix, and a prominent event in your life that influenced your career.

A: I finished my master’s and M. Phil in Cognitive Science from Jadavpur University, Kolkata. I then went on to complete my 2nd master’s in International Family Studies from the Tata Institute of Social Science, Mumbai with course credits from the University of Nebraska, USA, and University of Newcastle, Australia. I joined Citrix 2.5 years back to lead our CSR initiatives for India. Eventually, my responsibility was expanded to include Citrix APJ locations as well.

Before joining Citrix, I spent 7 years working in the non-profit sector as a corporate fundraiser. During that period, I got the opportunity to understand project implementation at the grass-root level. I worked on aligning projects with clients’ interest areas and thereby worked towards achieving measurable program outcomes. Reporting on these projects with all the essential compliance elements has given me a thorough understanding of the CSR space. Moving towards the other side of the table was a logical transition for me.

What are the biggest challenges that you’ve seen women face in a corporate setting? How have these challenges changed during COVID19?

A: I strongly feel that the under-representation of women at any decision-making platform or in the leadership composition of any corporate poses the biggest challenge. Just look at the Indian legislation where historically, women’s representation is less than 10%.

The pay gap, gender-based discrimination during career growth, harassment at work, and skewed work-life balance are other major hurdles that most women face every day. All of these challenges got aggravated during the COVID-19 crisis. Foremost, the age-old concept of women as the primary caregiver for the family has taken a toll on their work-life balance during the pandemic.

The retail and hospitality sectors where women are over-represented were also badly affected. A lot of the jobs done by women in these sectors cannot be done remotely. Re-entering the labor market has always been a challenge for women.

Post the pandemic, women are again left with lesser bargain power in the job market.

Can you elaborate on the most impactful project that you’ve led as the Lead Corporate Citizenship Specialist-APJ? What initiatives did Citrix plan for this women’s day?

A: When your day job is to curate meaningful community outreach projects on the ground, it is so difficult to pick the most impactful project. I am always on the lookout for grass-root level initiatives that have a clear roadmap, SMART goals, are sustainable and replicable, and have touchpoints with every single beneficiary.

Talking about projects supporting women’s empowerment, a few recent initiatives come to my mind.

One such initiative was our recent collaboration with The Pink Foundation, where we partnered with 100+ ‘Masterjini(s)’ or women mask makers from marginalized communities. Citrix supported its venture of creating 10,000+ masks that are made responsibly, are environmentally safe, and also reusable. This initiative resonated with us as it created livelihood opportunities for marginalized women and also produced beneficial end products that are in high demand today.

Apart from this, Citrix is also extending support to women through a month-long employee pledge campaign that encompasses numerous initiatives. Through the campaign, Citrix employees work towards:

  • Uplifting women facing any form of domestic violence or distress,
  • Supporting the rehabilitation of acid attack survivors,
  • Sponsoring education for erstwhile orphaned or abandoned girl children, and
  • Focusing rehabilitation efforts on trafficked victims.
What can we do to empower more women to come to the forefront and lead the change?

A: Education and equal opportunity are key.

Education directly impacts gender equality, promoting equal participation for both genders at socio-political and economic forums. Equal opportunity on the other hand needs a more in-depth amendment at the institutional level.

From an organization’s standpoint, we must bring systemic change by using influence and position to address the under-representation of women in decision-making positions.

Assess the processes and programs to identify and prevent unconscious bias. Promote a more inclusive company culture to attract, develop, and retain talent. Bring in a personal change where every single team in the organization commits to increase their awareness of diversity and inclusion – thereby creating a safe place where we all belong. These changes cannot be attained overnight, but a focused approach will bring about the change.

The battle towards gender equality feels more fruitful when we have both men and women supporting it. Do you want to give a quick shout-out to a man and woman you know, who have done incredible work to support equality?

A: I am 200% on board with this. The question here is not replacing the environment but working towards an inclusive and fair playing field for women in a working setup.

I have been fortunate enough to work with an equal number of men and women leaders. All of them have inspired me in more ways than one. It is difficult to talk about just one person each, but here is a quick shout-out to two incredible leaders who shaped my journey.

Rakesh Singh, (VP-GM-Citrix R&D India) and Gayatri Kunjithaya, (VP- HRBP at Citrix India) are two leaders who have given me incredible support in championing programs and initiatives to build a superior organization. They have supported me in tapping the power of diverse and inclusive workforces by:

  • Aligning sponsorships with identified opportunity areas and strategies to increase the representation of women in business.
  • Sponsoring Women’s Inspirational Network-Employee Resource Group (ERG) to build an inclusive organization, educate allies, and foster diverse talent.
  • Launching storytelling campaigns, speaker series, and courageous conversation workshops to promote a culture of inclusion.
  • Spearheading numerous mentorship programs.
  • Redesigning core HR processes to incorporate bias mitigation techniques.
  • Offering learning opportunities to grow skills related to D&I opportunities.
Do we need more women in leadership roles? Why do you think so?

A: In today’s professional world, business leaders and members of the HR community are putting a growing focus on employee experience. As we augment employee experience, we need more women in leadership roles to create safer and more inclusive workplaces and provide more flexibility and leadership opportunities for employees.

At Citrix, we are constantly working towards creating a ‘Culture of Belonging’ where we each feel that we fit in, feel confident enough to take calculated risks, and are empowered to contribute as self-development and drive the future of work.

As a means to contribute to social causes, how effective is virtual volunteering in your opinion?

A: This might be debatable, but in my opinion, I disagree with the fact that the concept of giving back is based only on altruism. When I choose a project, be it for monetary contributions from the company or employee engagement initiatives, I try to tie it with a tangible outcome. If I get to define the narrative – how my contribution (money, time, and skills) will create an impact in someone’s life – the mode of giving, be it physical or virtual wouldn’t matter that much.

Of course, in today’s remote workspace scenario where one is constantly walking the tightrope of work-life balance, I need to be aware of the mind space that my employees are in. As long as they have an answer for how the one hour they spend volunteering will help someone (to write a better resume for a potential job opportunity, for example), they are game.

In this growing digital environment, virtual volunteering brings skill-based opportunities across geographical locations, offers flexibility in the level of involvement and time commitment, and most importantly is accessible for remote or physically disabled volunteers.

It is equally beneficial for the non-profits and the causes as they get access to professional volunteers across the globe. Non-profits can offer opportunities mapped to the skillset of volunteers, save on operational cost, and have a sustainable alternative during major socio-economic disruptions like the pandemic. The impact can also be tracked in real time.

This is a win-win scenario in a remote situation like this. I must say, Goodera does a tremendous job in aligning this intent and need by curating virtual volunteering opportunities for corporate volunteers.

From a business point of view, Citrix is constantly working towards delivering a consistent workplace experience for the global employee population for now and for the future. Virtual volunteering resonates very well with our company objective, in this regard.

The corporate workforce represents a big part of the population. What power do you think employees hold in bringing about meaningful change?

A: Research shows that today’s workforce is more aware of the impact of their actions. Their decision to join a new organization or to continue working for the same company comes after they weigh in multiple factors. Hence it has become imperative for corporates to drive their values up-front at all touchpoints.

For example, it is important to have a business objective that aligns with your company’s sustainability and community outreach policies, all the while continuing to innovate and provide long-term benefits for the customers/consumers.

The company’s objectives must showcase its commitment to building a diverse workforce. It should also promote social inclusion by encouraging diverse suppliers (businesses owned by an underrepresented group/person).

The onus is on us to leave the next generation of the work population with a better environment to work in.

This International Women’s Day, what is the message that you would like to give out to young women who aspire to break the glass ceiling?

A: Once someone jokingly said to me, You know, only rocket science is rocket science. Nothing else is. It left a profound impression on me.

It is okay to question the status quo. Be brave to do so. Always saying ‘yes’ is not very impressive/rewarding in the long run. As the wise say, the only bad question ever is the one that was never asked.

It is okay to fail – it is proof that you are trying something new.

Practice what you preach. It is very important to walk the talk. As the other way is not sustainable. If you are not true to yourself, your integrity becomes questionable.

Never go unprepared for your meetings. Your sincerity will never go unnoticed.

Lastly, do not take anything for granted. It is important to value opportunities, people, and relationships. It is a great investment.

Tell me three stereotypes associated with women in leadership that you want to change.

A: As Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, “Women belong in all the places where decisions are being made”.

To own a seat at the table, women are still forced to continuously justify their worth.

When it comes to fighting the decades-old notion of balancing family and work, women are still expected to downshift their careers for the sake of their families.

Even after juggling numerous responsibilities at home and work, there are still questions about our decision-making ability.

I wish these would change.

What is that one skill that you would like to pass on to fellow women colleagues not as privileged as you?

A: Find yourself a mentor. It does not require privilege. All you need is aspiration and intent.

Mentors act as a sounding board for unfiltered opinion, serve as a trusted advisor, a disciplinarian, a network builder, and a motivator. A good mentor will give you a reality check when you need it and help you unravel your true potential.

Any concluding words?

A: Be kind to yourself. Take that coffee break. We all deserve it😊

The fight for gender equality has taken on a new form within the corporate space. As women become more confident about their work and their freedom, men can support this change by being equal contributors and encouraging women – both at home and work. As Sohini rightly said, the onus is on us to leave the next generation of the work population with a more inclusive and diverse environment to work in.

Do you want to make a commitment to driving gender equality and inclusion at your workplace? Goodera can help you. We have specially tailored a list of 15 interesting virtual volunteering opportunities for corporates, with the help of our strong non-profit network.

If you want to create virtual volunteering programs for your employees to contribute to gender equality impactfully, talk to us and get started with the opportunities of your choice. We’d love to have you onboard the goodness journey.

Accelerate your journey towards gender equality this Women’s History Month with Goodera!

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