Women in Leadership : Neelam Manwani
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I’ve often wondered about the book ‘Nice girls don’t make the corner office’ by Dr Lois P Frankel. The author cautions women that their careers could get sabotaged by “girlish behaviour” learned in childhood, such as working non-stop without a break, worrying about offending others, backing down too easily, explaining too much when asked for information or “polling” friends and colleagues before making a decision…
Just as I get concerned when women are stereotyped in the workplace, I worry when women in turn typecast the work environment and how they must change to succeed in it.
And then I look around at my own organization HCL with a sigh of relief. Looking at all our successful women leaders completely oblivious of such hypotheses as they go about their daily routine, I can quote Bollywood director Raju Hirani’s popular line without hesitation and declare: “All is well.”
Today I would like to profile one such woman leader in our organization. A woman who loves what she does and successfully integrates this passion and her own character into her work. While the narrative is about one, it is reflective of the many wonder women who work in our midst and who make our organization a better place with their unique nature.
Neelam Manwani was born in Hyderabad. In her formative years, she moved cities with her family every two years as her father worked at a transferable job in government. These transfers took her across India and the Middle East and gave her an opportunity to get to know a new city, live a new neighbourhood, go to a new school, and make new friends with every move. In the beginning, Neelam didn’t quite like leaving her comfort zone of friends so often. In hindsight, however, she believes it provided her with exposure and, therefore, adaptability to different environments. Most of all, it made her the person she is today.
At work, this grounding makes Neelam a fearless team leader. She challenges the status quo and adapts quickly to all things “new”. Having joined HCL as part of campus placements 15 years ago, she has worked with a varied set of technologies and customers; made horizontal and vertical movements – widely encouraged and accepted at HCL – and grabbed new opportunities that came along the way.
Yet the feisty young lady is also very sentimental and has always placed great value on maintaining relationships – despite her frequent moves through childhood. As a woman, she believes she is better equipped at building and nurturing relationships with her peers, direct reports and teams. She is convinced that she can be successful only if each one of her team members feels valued, appreciated and important, and has worked hard at achieving that.
Such emotional intelligence has only worked to Neelam’s advantage. Ever since her early years, her sentiments were paid back in equal measure with ready support forthcoming from colleagues and managers, whether it was for a critical project or simply for commuting while working late. On her part, rather than giving directions all the time, she tries to be supportive and encourage team members to take the lead, discuss options with her before arriving at a collective action plan.
Neelam is of the opinion that women who seek to be equal with men lack ambition! Fiercely independent, she believes that women are much more versatile, dynamic and adept at multi-tasking, which comes to them naturally as they play the multiple roles of executive, mother and spouse.
Neelam has lived this belief at work. Life does throw in many a challenge along the way but she works through them with resolve. Her motivation to think beyond the normal allowed her to evolve as an individual and kept her going even in tough situations.
According to her, no one can stop women from succeeding, but only if they believe in themselves, dream big, work smart and hard. “Listen to your heart. Be sure. Be strong. Stay focused. Keep up the spirit of a woman,” says she.
Now that you’ve had the opportunity to know one of the many amazing women leaders we are privileged to have at HCL, do you think Neelam is successful because of her unique qualities as a woman, or despite them? I invite you to write in about what you feel about women in leadership. Don’t you think they add an inimitable value to our workplace?
This post was originally published on Vineet Nayar's Scrapbook.