Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Covid-19 taught us crisis leadership: Arundhati Bhattacharya

At the recently concluded gender equality summit held by Salesforce, a diverse lineup of speakers discussed the role of technology, why women also need to be building it, and leadership

Anubhuti Matta
Published: Aug 3, 2023 04:04:51 PM IST
Updated: Aug 3, 2023 04:15:39 PM IST

Covid-19 taught us crisis leadership: Arundhati BhattacharyaArundhati Bhattacharya (extreme left), CEO and chairperson at Salesforce India, in a conversation about leadership with co-panellists at a gender equality summit held by the company.

“In every situation, your style of leadership will change,” said Arundhati Bhattacharya, CEO and chairperson at Salesforce India, at a summit hosted by the cloud-based software company.  
 
The annual gender equality event was recently held in India for the first time, with several in-person and online attendees. The speakers included a diverse lineup of women in leadership across industries such as Genpact’s CIO Vidya Rao; Rucha Nanavati, CIO of Mahindra Group, and journalist Faye D’Souza in addition to other leaders from Salesforce.  
 
Bhattacharya, who was one of the panelists at a session on leadership lessons, spoke about changing gears and leadership styles.  
 
During the pandemic, when Marc Benioff, the chair, CEO, and co-founder of Salesforce, offered to send PPE kits to India, she recounted telling him, “India is self-sufficient and is exporting them at one-third the cost of China. It’s not PPEs that we need, we need oxygen.” She added, “He arranged for three plane-loads of oxygen concentrators to be delivered to India. That is crisis leadership.”  
 
Covid-19 taught us how to face a crisis, she said. “But what it didn’t do was teach us how we could get back from crisis into normalcy because, at that point, empathy takes over everything else," Bhattacharya added. “So, once the crisis is over, one needs to rethink the leadership style, and those who have been able to reinvent can be called successful leaders.”  
 
Good leaders are those who can see the future by looking at a few data points. “They have to be visionaries,” Bhattacharya said. A visionary is not only someone who can forecast the future, but they should be able to understand these data points and fill the gaps. “If you’re going to be able to envisage what the future is going to hold for you, then you’re in a position to bring your company to a stage where it will be future-proof and future-ready,” she said.  
 
The second step to being a good leader is to be able to explain that vision to the team. “It will make the team buy into the leader’s vision,” she explained.  
 
And the last step, she said, is to give the team the space to operate. “By doing that, as a leader, you’ll have many allies, a lot more brainpower, and you’ll have attained your vision for the company,” she said.  

Also read: I've matured more as a leader: Arundhati Bhattacharya
 
At another session on what the AI revolution means for women, Genpact’s Rao stressed the importance of equal representation of women in technology for multiple reasons.  
 
First, she said, “Everything we do today requires technology and the consumers of it are also women. If we are not on an equal footing building technology, we’ll have a very biased world and that’s one of the key reasons.”  
 
The second, she said citing a report, by 2030, there will be at least 1.1 billion jobs impacted by technology.  
 
“If that is the scale we’re talking about, we better have not just men, but also the other 50 percent made up of women to contribute in making it,” added Rao. And the third, and the most important, “If women enter the workforce and don’t find people representing them, would they want to be a part of it? Hence we need women in this space,” she said.  
 
However, to be able to be a part of the tech revolution India is witnessing currently, it is important that women also remain in the workforce.
 
“Try not to give up. It is easy to step away from everything because things aren’t working your way,” said Rao as a piece of advice to women. "It requires grit and determination to stay. The current time is far easier than the times we came from when there weren't many opportunities for women in tech. Now, you [women] have a support system, and building skills is easier than before. So, grab the moment.”  

Also read: Opportunity parity, not pay parity, is the burning issue in our country: Bala Deshpande
 
But being a part also means thinking about bringing about a positive change.  
 
“On the one hand we have all this technology, but it’s important that we use it in the right way,” said Parul Jain, vice president of engineering at Salesforce. "For instance, while building the large language models, we can ensure that it is ready to take inputs from all races, genders, ethnicities, and even languages. The point is to ensure that there are no biases and to continuously enrich these models with newer information that is representative of everyone."  
 
Hence, it is not just about building these models, Jain said. “It is also about asking how we can leverage it in the right way, so that it is fair and just to all.”