"I'm a Leader Who Happens To Be a Woman"

Today, 30 per cent of our workforce are women, 50 per cent of our new hire are women and they get promoted into next assignments at the same progression as men.


Sonali Roychowdhury joined American Multinational, Procter and Gamble as human resource manager in April 1998, says her LinkedIn profile. Today, she heads the HR at the same organisation. Roychowdhury recievd ‘Woman HR Leader of the Year’ title at BW Businessworld’s HR Excellence Awards. In an interview with Himani Chandna, vibrant and confident Roychowdhury says always focus on your competency, and not on your gender.

When you joined P&G did you ever think that it will be such a long and fruitful inning? 

When I started my career with the company, I did not think that it will be such a long innings with P&G but the opportunities kept coming. I found new ways to learn and grow within P&G. I still remember my first year vividly, I got the opportunity to work on a countrywide project that involved rolling out a completely new global program, working directly with the India CEO! 

I interacted with him daily from my second week in the company, we travelled together to all our manufacturing sites and sales locations, and I learnt more than I could have ever imagined. This was ‘early responsibility’ brought to life. How many of us get opportunities like this as a young, fresh MBA graduate? 

What are the key challenges you face in your role at P&G India? At P&G, we endeavour to turn opportunities and challenges into a competitive advantage for us. Some of them are 

• Grooming young talent into business leaders that will continue to grow the business in a challenging market environment 

• Maintain the ‘flat culture’ and ‘agility in decision making’ of a start-up in a large multinational • To preserve our organisational strengths and continue to innovate that will keep us relevant in the future.

With changing business models, how you keep up or balance the hiring plans? 

We’ve always had a longterm outlook on hiring and growing talent, which doesn’t change on a day to day basis. We plan and forecast for the medium/ long-term, and plan hiring/talent development in a way that balances the short term. This helps us tide over different scenarios and business models. 

What keeps you going when things get tough? 

Taking time out to selfreflect and be crystal clear in my mind on the way forward, so one doesn’t get bogged down by the challenges and complexities. Also, ensuring that I ask for help when it’s needed and disengaging every night so I can start each day with a fresh perspective!  

If not in HR role, what would be the next career option? Something related to either travel or teaching/training – or both! I consciously pursue both actively, and make time for it no matter how busy I am, as it allows me to look at life and career from a very different frame of reference. 

Three features of your top performers? 

Ability to drive results in all contexts, courage to always do the right thing, humility and willingness to always keep learning. 

What do you think about global HR policies such as email free days and meeting-free days? 

I feel any policy that enables productivity and efficiency is good as long as it is executed well both in letter and spirit.  

What helps you in unwinding yourself? 

The first one is travelling with family and friends. I try to see at least 2 new places every year. The second is fitness; as part of our Health and Wellness program at P&G, I exercise and play badminton regularly. It is a great program which not only lays special emphasis on training employees on health and wellness but also helps them to take active part in sports and other fitness activities. 

Taking care of HR of multinational, employees and students at campuses aspire to join P&G. How do you assure that you meet the expectations and stand apart in making HR policies? 

At P&G, we keep consumers at the centre of everything we do. We always start with the consumer in mind. For me as the HR leader, it’s the employees. We understand the expectations, design relevant programs, and deliver them in a way that makes sense for them as well as the company. We endeavour to stay ahead of the curve in terms of understanding emerging needs and ensure that we institute policies to keep pace with that. Testimonial to this is the fact that we started policies like ‘Work from Home’ and ‘Flex@ Work’ more than 10 years ago. In India, we were also one of the first companies to start a 6-month maternity leave, long before the industry followed suit.  

What makes your HR strategy stand apart? 

It starts with the business and is designed and delivered in partnership with our business leaders. This means a deep understanding of organisation levers that will keep our business and our talent growing for years to come. We believe in long-term talent development and building it from within. Our talent pipeline has produced leaders for P&G India, our global businesses, and even many who have gone on to become CEOs of major global companies. We are truly a leadership factory, and it’s a strategy and capability that attracts and retains outstanding talent. It is our competitive advantage. 

Being a HR woman leader, do you think women who manage to grow in the ecosystem should make the path easier for the ones after them? How you are doing so at P&G?

I think of myself as a Leader, who happens to be a woman! This is the same advice I give other women – always focus on your competency, and not your gender. All leaders, men and women, should share their journey, knowledge, and sponsorship with upcoming talent. In my career, I have seen the continuous efforts from our company to ensure that any belief that the glass ceiling exists is eradicated. The decision making in an organization should be based on two pillars – rewarding results and doing the right thing. If organizations can adopt those values, then both men and women can grow and flourish. As corporates, I believe it is our responsibility to ensure that if at all these barriers still exist, we are able to set-up remedial measures in place. In my ~9 years as P&G India HR leader, I have had the privilege to lead our journey on Diversity starting from base infrastructure improvement to talent development to driving inclusion. Today, 30 per cent of our workforce are women, 50 per cent of our new hire are women and they get promoted into next assignments at the same progression as men. 50 per cent of our sales leadership are women. Also, in an unprecedented move in the FMCG industry, we started up our Hyderabad plant with 30 per cent female technicians on the shop floor across shifts.

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