Roshni Nadar Malhotra on Building India’s Future

Roshni Nadar Malhotra

“At HCL there’s only one thing more important than brains. Guts.”

That’s the message displayed across an advertisement from HCL Corporation’s first nationwide campaign in 2005. The HCL Enterprise which started from a garage in 1976 is today a $7.5 billion global organization employing 120,000 people across 32 countries. The HCL Enterprise has presence across varied sectors that include technology, healthcare, and talent management solutions and comprises three companies—HCL Infosystems, HCL Technologies, and HCL Healthcare.

Now at the helm of that enterprise is Roshni Nadar Malhotra, executive director and CEO. Young but unafraid, she took over as CEO the age of 27 after her father, Shiv Nadar, founder of HCL, appointed her to the role in 2009. As the leader of HCL Enterprise, she is responsible for strategic decisions regarding the overall direction of the organization.

While there’s no question the organization has done well under her leadership, it’s the achievements in what she calls her own “entrepreneurial ventures” that really tell the story of her work at HCL. Passionate about building a stronger pathway for women’s leadership, social mobility, and inclusive education, she has spearheaded a multitude of initiatives and programs within the HCL group companies and the Shiv Nadar Foundation (for which she’s a trustee). Programs that prepare the next generation of women leaders in the larger organization, and the next generation of nation builders in India’s classrooms.

For her work, Malhotra was awarded the Lewis Institute Community Changemaker award by Babson College in 2017. The award is annually bestowed upon individuals who have set something in motion to create positive change. She also has been honored with The World’s Most Innovative People Award for Philanthropic Innovation by The World Summit on Innovation & Entrepreneurship (WSIE), in partnership with the United Nations. Business Today, a leading business magazine in India, has featured her in its prestigious “Most Powerful Women in India Inc.” in 2016.

Here are two of the many ways the young leader has made—and will continue to make—an impact.

Building a Pathway for Women’s Leadership

While the gender gap in leadership still exists around the world, it’s particularly wide in India: In 2016, women held just 16 percent of top leadership roles in the country. That number gets even smaller at the very top of organizations: a 2015 study found that of 240 large Indian and multinational corporations, only 11 percent had female CEOs.

As CEO of HCL Enterprise, Malhotra saw the country’s problem reflected among the ranks of her organization, too. “Within the top 200 leaders of our company—out of 120,000 employees—we don’t have a single woman leader,” she said. “So we asked ourselves, if we want a female CEO in a decade, what steps do we need to take to get there?”

One step they’ve already taken: instituting a diversity committee at HCL Technologies, a leading global technology and IT company and also the largest employer within the HCL Corporation. Malhotra is a director on the board of HCL Technologies, and sits on the diversity committee along with her father. Her father’s presence and buy-in was critical, she said, to moving things forward. “He needs to drive this.”

That leadership commitment to addressing diversity in the workplace is a pillar of HCL Technologies’ strategy. Another pivotal pillar: enabling women’s leadership. This pillar takes shape through programs like ASCEND, which delivers support programs, peer mentoring, and coaching at all levels to provide women with the opportunity to learn and exhibit transformational leadership. A newer initiative also connects members of the board with women leaders from the company for quarterly lunch meetings, enabling the leaders of the company to meet with and coach women in the talent pipeline who are “potential stars.”

HCL also is working to break down another barrier for women’s leadership in India: returning to the workforce. Nearly half of all Indian women leave the workforce between junior and middle management levels. “These women get married, have a family—it’s why they leave,” said Malhotra. “We have to plug the gap and bring them back without treating it as lost time.” HCL Technologies plugs the gap by providing programs geared toward this population, including flexible working hours and work-from-home opportunities.

Nation Building

In addition to her work with HCL Corporation, Malhotra is the driving force behind VidyaGyan, a leadership academy for the meritorious, underprivileged, rural students of Uttar Pradesh.

“The steppingstone for building a great leader is getting a great education,” said Malhotra. The academy aims to nurture future leaders from rural India who can act as catalysts of change for their communities, villages, and the nation.

Since being established in 2009, VidyaGyan has two campuses in Uttar Pradesh, and is one of the most successful models of rural leadership development in the country. The limited seats in the class are highly coveted—thousands of students vie (“Last year 200,000 students applied,” said Malhotra.) for 200 spots available each year—and with good reason: the first batch of VidyaGyan students graduated from the academy in 2016 and are now pursuing their higher education at some of the best colleges and institutes around the world.

Malhotra envisions VidyaGyan to be an aspirational platform and a beacon of hope for underprivileged meritorious students to dream big and achieve even bigger. And, VidyaGyan is one of just many educational initiatives and programs led by the Shiv Nadar Foundation. The foundation has established the SSN Institutions, today among the top private engineering colleges in India, the interdisciplinary Shiv Nadar University, the progressive Shiv Nadar Schools, the iconic Kiran Nadar Museum of Art and the innovative Shiksha, a technology-led intervention in rural education to eradicate illiteracy from India.

“The work we do is driven by our conviction to drive meaningful transformation by harnessing the power of inclusive education,” said Malhotra. “We believe in depth, not breadth—at any given time, we’re only touching maybe 10,000 students. A lot of people say that we could be touching so many more lives, but you can’t touch that many lives if you’re trying to make a leader.”

Posted in Entrepreneurial Leadership

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