"If your dream role doesn't exist, create it": Priyadarshini's journey to D&I Lead at Tata Group

Priyadarshini’s career trajectory itself can be best described as diverse, and it thus comes as no surprise that she holds the title of Diversity and Inclusion lead at Tata Group.

How did the story begin?

She grew up all over, both geographically and metaphorically. While she was born in Delhi, her parents lived in a very small colony in Orissa that doesn’t even appear on the map. Larsen and Toubro have a factory there in which her father was hired and spent the rest of his career. The uniqueness of where she grew up was that the same school was home to the child of both the bus driver and of the General Manager. Her roots were thus already to accept people who were different from her without question. It didn’t matter who her father was and just like in the ancient times, the mothers together raised all the children. There were times where she shared room with the tribal community and German collaborators all in one day. She grew up celebrating every festival with equal vigour and the concept of exclusion didn’t exist in her world. Until then, for her, inclusion was a matter of fact and not something we had to fight for.

She was also lucky to grow up with a father who instilled the belief in her sister and her that they must be financially independent by twenty-two and marriage and everything else could follow but the former was of prime importance.

How did she land a job with a title that didn’t exist when she started her journey?

Priya admits that when she started, she lacked a sense of clarity on the road ahead. All she knew was she had a BA in political sciences and did not want to pursue a Masters in Arts. Truth be told, she wanted to be a chef but that wasn’t a career choice that was encouraged in an Indian home especially at the time. She thus chose to work with NGOs for two years in Calcutta to gain exposure and perspective. This enabled her to save enough money to fund her first year at TISS. What we loved was that her father could in fact pay this fee, but she was determined to do it herself.

Human Resources was a choice she made since it came closest to her purpose of impacting people’s lives while still earning her fair share. That, and spotting the right ad at the right time. She didn’t particularly enjoy her first years of work which revolved around payroll, compensation and leave management but she stuck with it.

Pivot, pivot, pivot:

Things turned for Priya, when she moved to Delhi and got a job with Samsung. Six Sigma was taking off then, and Samsung was thus looking to create a team to build processes to make people more productive. She raised her hand at the opportunity and bagged the job. And this was her entry into the world of Organisational Development. She was excited by the idea of creating better experiences for people.

She didn’t take time off on the birth of her child either. Her job was hectic, and she was travelling the world but in 2006, she realised she had to change gear to prioritise motherhood. However, that did not mean she had to break, it only meant it invited a change in speed and direction. She embraced the world of entrepreneurship with consulting and did not run short of projects, but she wanted more.

Her passion for food was unwavering and time hadn’t dimmed its light. With her flexibility in consulting, she entered the world of food in 2014. The idea was brimming long before, but it took a while to materialise between everything else she was catering her energies to.

She is today, a renowned home chef and also enjoys the title of being among the top 30 contestants in MasterChef India! Whoever told you, you can only choose one field of interest, was lying.

Priya’s tryst with D&I began in 2010 when the conversation of diversity and inclusion had just begun. Her first taste on the subject was with Cummins, where she is grateful to learning everything from them since they were already ahead of the curve. After this, she worked for a few good years with Mondelez, and now with Tata Group.

Why is the percentage of women in the workforce decreasing?

  • The number race: Organisations today run a mad race to reach the number mandate for issues such as gender diversity which ends up often negatively impacting both men and women. For instance, many women don’t want to then be associated with these programs.

  • It’s all in the mind: Priya believes that the biggest change needs to start with the mind.

We are not doing enough to change the self-limiting beliefs of women such as that they need to have kids before thirty or be the prime or even single nurturer to their child.
  • Women need to be empowered to ask for what they want and deserve both at home and at work. We also aren’t doing enough to train men to handle the new power equation which is why they often struggle dealing with women’s success.

  • The law: Equality isn’t being pushed enough by the law either. While we have had some policies such as six-month maternity leave, it hasn’t worked. Instead maybe having four months of it but making sure there is one month of mandatory paternity leave would have a more solid impact.

Has COVID been a boon or a bane for women in corporate India?

Especially at the beginning of the pandemic, when house help wasn’t available anymore, women struggled with work-life balance. However, Priya believes the impact of this wouldn’t be long lasting and things will find their way back to pre-covid normalcy with the help returning.

Another downside has been the increase of domestic violence which of course has much longer lasting psychological impact.

There is also no denying that women have lost more jobs than men, but this is because they hold more non-core functions and that by itself is more frightening.

As with a lot of other issues, the pandemic has only highlighted already existing problems and women not holding enough core roles is a big one.

The silver lining though is that the flexibility of remote work will allow more women (and men) to enter the workforce. Organisations now have access to broader talent pools.

Words of wisdom:

A conversation with Priya is enough to know she revels in deep thoughts and searches for meaning in all she does. In fact, she flaunts seven tattoos, each of which have a deep meaning behind them,

and give her strength. She also enjoys the habit of penning her thoughts or favourite lines in a book as she spends her days. We are leaving you with two of our favourite ones:

‘You need to get lost to discover beautiful paths.’ ‘Become your best friend first.’

More power to this amazing woman, who isn’t afraid to colour outside the lines!

Priyadarshini Gupta is the Diversity & Inclusion Lead at Tata Group, India's only value-based corporation. She has 20 + years of experience in Human resources with a passion in Diversity and Inclusion, and has successfully established D&I agenda's in two large multinationals - namely Mondelēz International and Tata Group.