Women aspiring to become corporate leaders might feel as though they're driving down a path with poor visibility and the risk of failure, but the key is to stay the course and push forward, according to Arundhati Bhattacharya — often cited as the most powerful woman in India .
"One thing I would tell women is that they must take up the challenge. Very often, we anticipate a lot of problems and therefore, we don't take the lead. And I think that we are shortchanging ourselves if we don't do that," Bhattacharya, chairwoman of the State Bank of India (National Stock Exchange of India: SBIN-IN) (SBI), said.
Bhattacharya is the first woman to head India's largest bank and the first chairperson in the bank's 211 year-old history to have their term extended past retirement age. Forbes named the banker the 25th most powerful woman in the world, and the top-ranking Indian woman, in its annual round-up last year.
Speaking with CNBC, Bhattacharya likened the rise to the top to a nighttime highway drive.
"It's like a car on a dark night travelling on the highway, and you can see only up to a certain point … so you feel that you'll fall off a cliff. But as you go ahead, the road opens up and I have found that happening time and again. So I think, you know, for women, it's very important to stay on the course," she said.
As for facing down sexism in the workplace, Bhattacharya advised on the importance of creating a reputation for delivering results early on in one's career as a preemptive mechanism.
"When there are good postings available, the people who choose who is to come to that particular position, they will always have, at the back of their minds, a fear that if I take a woman, she might prioritize her family over the job and therefore, not be available at times when her presence is required. So I think, early on, you need to create the reputation (for yourself)," Bhattacharya said.
Finally, the SBI chairwoman cited teamwork as something that allowed her to make it to the top of the corporate ladder.
"I do believe in teamwork and I think it's very important, especially for a woman, because if you don't have a good team, then you cannot step out if you need to," Bhattacharya said.
"I also try to surround myself with people who are more intelligent than I am and that really helps in giving me better solutions," she added.
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