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Sushmita Das on Making Your Voice Heard in A Room Full of Men

All little girls have dreams, and while we often mistake this dream to almost always involve a knight in shining armour and a big fat Indian wedding, Sushmita’s story throws light on the many other dreams girls have and should be encouraged to have.

Sushmita Das, Vice President – Legal Solution, at Exigent Group talks us through her journey in the last fifteen years at the workplace. A lawyer who strongly believes in technology as a great enabler, not only giving legal a chance to be innovative but challenging her inner self each day to be innovative and confident to see the real transformation unveil within and around her. Having started at the bottom, at the very first rung of the ladder, she talks about how much more that journey teaches you when you have to start right from scratch.

Journey of self-love and tips to build self-confidence:

Sushmita, now a confident, successful leader, doesn’t disregard the fact that it wasn’t always like this for her. In her early years, she spent hours, days and even weeks obsessing over people’s judgement on how she looked, behaved or something she did. She admits that women are often more sensitive to such judgment and so was she. Over the years, she has built a stronger defence and more importantly adopted a set of habits to turn to when a situation of the kind arises. There were two that stood out for us and that we would recommend to our readers. The first was the suggestion to get yourself a mentor, you can turn to for advice, as previously suggested on the page by Radhika. Sushmita has created for herself, a circle of mentors she can count on, one of which include her current GMD, a strong lady she looks up to and another is someone from her professional community who she turns to for a different point of view, a great friend and a fine gentleman. The other suggestion she makes which is more a shift to make in the mind, is to listen to what people say, retain what you think is worthy to use as fuel for change and then drain out the rest. At the end of it, what you think of yourself must matter more than any other opinion.

Personal branding:

Talking about your self-image, Sushmita throws some much-needed light on the importance of creating a brand image for yourself. With increasing discussions on personal branding, this was a subject we were happy to dwell deeper into. Sushmita put it so simply when she said that you may work for a large organisation today and another one tomorrow, but your personal identity is something you will carry with you everywhere. And she had no qualms in stating that her personal identity is hers alone. She is grateful for her relationships but at the end of it all she has been given this one life, and it is crucial for her to create and enjoy her own identity first. And we agree with Sushmita when she says that this isn’t selfish, she isn’t hurting anyone by choosing to focus on her self-development. To make this possible, self-reflection and self-evaluation are a consistent part of her habits.

The little woman in the room syndrome:

What Sushmita rightly tries to convey is that this journey of self-development is an ever evolving one. You get better at dealing with situations with experience, but the situations don’t ever disappear in totality. She shared with us a past incident she faced with an external party at work where voices were raised because a male ego was hurt. This escalated to the extent of the deal eventually losing its significance. This challenge wasn’t new to Sushmita. She openly talks about what she refers to as the ‘little woman in the room’ syndrome. This basically highlights the several situations where women are made to feel small, often due to few inflated male egos. She doesn’t shy away from accepting that sexism still very much exists in various workplaces. And while some elements are more obvious like the gender pay gap, things like the little woman syndrome are emphasized lesser without numbers to back it.

Earning employee loyalty by providing flexibility:

That being said, Sushmita admits that she has been very lucky with her organisation, Exigent Group, which has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to women empowerment. Their CEO and GMD believe in real transformation, efficiency and having smart people in the journey, with Exigent GMD, a lot of project leads, vice presidents and associate directors being female and at the driving seat. One of the ways they have been able to achieve this has been by providing flexibility. Sushmita herself worked from home for a long time after she delivered her baby. Flexible models were put in place with limited hours a week in the office and eventually she moved to a complete remote work model, only being judged by her performance. Sushmita underlined something so important out of this way of work, that we think organisations must really lend an ear too. She spoke of how when today she sometimes has to work longer hours or weekends, she does it happily and voluntarily because she values the organisation to that extent. Her gratitude is how her organisation earned her loyalty and it didn’t happen overnight, it has been eight years in the making.

Talking of remote work, Sushmita brings in a fresher and kinder perspective to the subject. She talks about how when we move our lens to the women who come from families with not enough privilege, this could be a big boon. She tells us stories of the days she travelled by train to work with several other women where she met women who were travelling from Karjat to Mumbai (Fort area) for work daily. These women would only reach home by 11 pm and then cook food again because they are innately caregivers. Their only me time would be in the trains where they even celebrated their anniversaries and other special occasions. Imagine saving this long daily commute time and how much it could add to their day.

Sharing her wisdom and love:

That’s truly what we loved most about Sushmita. Through her journey to financial independence and success, she doesn’t walk alone. Having learned the value of having your own identity, she helps anyone in her circle or even her path, to try and achieve the same. Whether this is about pushing her Mum-in-law to create an online cooking channel, motivating her sister to move her teaching online in times of COVID or even helping her house help draft the right messages and market herself to get more work and grow. Of course, as a leader, she extends exactly this support to teams as well. And maybe that’s what Mrinalini was talking about when she said women will bring so much empathy to the workplace. This filled our hearts because this is exactly what we want to do with Pink Thread – collaborate, not compete.

The power of faith:

We have faith that this empathy will not be lost in the digital world. Even though we spoke with Sushmita over the phone, her positivity resonated through and through and we left the conversation feeling uplifted, which is exactly how her colleagues confirm they feel in her presence. And to Sushmita, that is her biggest win. Sushmita’s life hasn’t always been a bed of roses. She has moved from her birth town in Kolkata to Bangalore and most recently to Mumbai, only to be welcomed by the pandemic. She lost her father a week before her daughter was born and thus couldn’t see him for the last time since he was in a different city. Right after, the doctors told her that her daughter was born with a microtia in one ear. It was actually when she was at her lowest that Sushmita decided that no matter what her difficulties, she would simply do her best and never give up. That’s a motto she lives by even today. We are happy to report that not only has Sushmita’s attitude brought her professional success, but her faith and unconditional support from her family members has resulted in her daughter growing up to be a chatterbox, healthy and happy. In fact, today, she is Sushmita’s biggest strength.

We will leave you with the beautiful words Sushmita left us with:

‘At the end of the day, if you have done your best and you can sleep soundly, that’s all that really matters.’

More power!

Sushmita Das is the Vice President, Legal Solutions at Exigent Group, a Global Partner for Legal Outsourcing Services to corporate lawyers, law firms and corporates of all sizes.

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