Ten Questions

July 21, 2013 11:31 pm

Women at Business School: Vasanthi Srinivasan

Vasanthi Srinivasan: "Invest and build networks over your career"

Vasanthi Srinivasan is the Indian Council for Cultural Relations chair of corporate responsibility and governance at HHL Graduate School of Management Leipzig Germany, which is celebrating 60 years of Indian-German diplomatic relations.

Prof Srinivasan has an MBA in human resource management and worked in the information technology industry in Bangalore for five years. She also has a PhD from the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore.

For the past 10 years, she has worked on diversity in India, focusing on what organisations can do to engage women more effectively.

1. When did you know you wanted to teach?

In 2000, I had to step in to teach a course for my human resource management professor at my alma-mater. I taught the course from a line manager’s perspective. My ratings were good, the students enjoyed the course and I was asked to come the next year to teach again. Two years later I joined full time and now, 10 years later, I often wonder how I could not have discovered that I enjoy being an academic.

2. What do you enjoy most about your job?

Students constantly challenge you; they provide you with new insight; they share their perspectives and I suppose this gives you an opportunity to find meaning in what you do. Several students remember you during their significant life journeys. They write to me about how my session impacted them and how thankful they are for what they learnt.

3. What would you do if you were dean for the day?

I would get all the faculty members to examine the curriculum in business schools and find ways to make it meaningful to society in a global context. We have crossed the threshold of sustainability and the ongoing economic crisis has shown us that there are no actors and bystanders in a global economy. All of us are equally perpetuators and victims of the economic system. How can we alter the manner in which we frame the thinking for the future? How do we do collaborative, cross-functional teaching? How do we ensure that we do research that will impact society? A day could alter the frame for the years to come ...

4. What is the best piece of advice given to you by a teacher?

My teacher in the seventh grade wrote in my school autograph book: “If you can’t shine like a star in the sky, try to shine like a lamp in the darkness”, and a professor at my university quoted Gandhi: “Be the change you want to see around you.” I think these two pieces of advice have helped me in good stead throughout my career.

5. What academic achievement are you most proud of?

I run a website for teachers who want to teach corporate social responsibility in India. It is called Teach CSR. The website was developed in 2007 when I was a British Council visiting scholar at the International Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility at Nottingham University Business School. It was an outcome of a project on mainstreaming CSR in business schools. Today the website has about 800 faculty, researchers and PhD students as members. It has an active community who partner with each other and share knowledge across India.

6. What is your biggest lesson learnt?

The biggest lesson that I have learnt is how important it is to be constructive while giving feedback to people. My first boss took about one and half hours to give me feedback on my performance, asked me about my future plans and supported me in finding my dreams. Since then, I prepare extensively for all meetings which require feedback.

7. What advice would you give to women in business?

My advice would be around three broad areas: invest time in upgrading your skills and competencies on an ongoing basis; invest and build networks over your career – personal, professional and organisational; be confident of yourself and play to your strengths, but constantly attempt to fix your weaknesses.

8. What is the strangest thing you have ever done when teaching?

We were discussing organisational behaviour in the classroom and suddenly I found there was too much cynicism among the students. This was an executive programme where we had executives from different organisations with 20 years of experience. I felt the class was going nowhere so I stopped the discussion, asked them to get into pairs and told them to take a walk around the campus and share two experiences where they had been able to positively influence an organisation. When they got back, they shared their experiences of successful change and then we resumed the class. I did not realise how empowering it was for the participants until they mentioned it as a key takeaway from the session. It was a funny because the break was for me – I was unable to cope with the cynicism and did not know how to handle the session.

9. What is your favourite business book?

Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. In a complex world, his three building blocks of systems thinking, mental models and personal mastery offer unique insights on how to create learning organisations. As I work with different forms of organisations, both in India and abroad, I find the book provides me with some new perspectives.

10. What is your plan B?

I would like to be an entrepreneur. These are exciting times that we live in. I would like to go back to school and work on some ideas for improving healthcare in India and other developing countries.

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