BW Most Influential Women: Rashmi Urdhwareshe - The Challenges Of A Perfectionist

Soft spoken, un-assuming lady having iron nerves! Rashmi Urdhwareshe has played a key role in shaping various aspects of the Indian automobile sector, making her one of BW’s Most Influential Women

Rashmi Urdhwareshe, Independent Director on the Board of various Automotive Companies, Former Director of ARAI (Automotive Research Association of India) & Former President of SAE India (Society of Automotive Engineers India)


Q. What are some of the high points of your journey and lessons learned that you believe have shaped the leader you are today?

I am known to be a perfectionist. Apart from being a lady boss, being a perfectionist poses higher degree of challenges to the colleagues! I soon learnt several good management techniques to offset the inherent shortcomings. It greatly enabled me to build better and stronger teams. As a leader, my colleagues respected me to a great extent for my expertise, excellent management techniques and above all, my value-based leadership. I became the first person to have risen from ranks to take the topmost position as Director of ARAI (Automotive Research Association of India). I had the greatest advantage of closely knowing each any every person, and every brick of the institute. Accepting me as a leader came therefore naturally.

At every stage of climbing the organisational ladder, I had followed a common approach of honest introspection and preparing for the new role. It involved upskilling, re-skilling and changing the focus to re-align with organisational and national level objectives. Developing a broader vision also enabled me to be more humane and humbled. Inclusivity in thinking and in spirit is what is the crux of my leadership style.

Q. How do you drive diversity and inclusion, gender parity in your own organisation?

As a CEO of an R&D organisation, I successfully deployed women empowerment policy at all levels. Women were enabled and encouraged to develop strong career plans, which are supported by suitable enablers for a better workplace. This helped in increasing the employment ratio of women substantially within 5 years.

I believe in leading by example and take all efforts in mentoring young professionals, especially women, at the start of their careers. I took up a special project as personal mission and as a part of this, authored a book “Women at Engineering Workplaces”. This book was published in year 2021. I was President of SAE India (Society of Automotive Engineers India) during 2020 to 2022 and during this tenure, curated several Proficiency Development Programs in niche technology areas for young professionals and Leadership Development Programs for women engineers.

In the personal capacity, I committed herself to education for girl children and contribute by awarding them financial assistance and scholarships through various primary schools, which are known to me.

Q. Share one anecdote of a challenge you faced, particularly for being a woman working professional, and how you overcame this.

At beginning of work career, I became a part of team consisting of young engineers. I remember my 2nd year annual appraisal! I was 6 months pregnant, and my condition did not allow me to partake strenuous lab and field tests. My immediate supervisor had put adverse remarks in the appraisal form, which I thought was very insensitive. I took it up with the higher authority and finally the reviewer was compelled to change his comments to more fact-based conclusion. I was then given a suited work profile till I resumed normal routine.

In due course, my upward progress in the corporate ladder was quite spectacular. In the otherwise male dominated automotive sector, my emergence initially as an organisational, then national level and later international level expert was very significant. It was purely on account of my acquiring specialised skills in automotive technologies related to vehicular safety, emissions, green fuels, electric mobility and many more. People around me know me as a soft spoken, un-assuming lady having iron nerves!

The job and roles that I was required to handle, involved deep interaction with corporate sector, government ministries, international R&D experts, and fellow R&D institutes for collaborative work. My being a woman just remained incidental and my leadership gave me my true identity as a person, who did not see the glass ceiling, leave alone breaking it!

Q. What is your advice to regulators, decision-makers and industry captains on how to grow women in the workforce and senior leadership positions?

Diversity and inclusion are the steps towards establishing workplaces that enable individuals to participate with full heart and abilities. Not just gender but other distinguishing factors such persons with physical/ mental disabilities, ethnicities, economic and social differences must be kept in view for creating empowered workforce. Decent work, fair and just environment, equal wages, social security measures, occupational health and safety are some of important steps towards bringing in women in the mainstream industrial growth. Skilling of women in the traditional, new, and emerging areas would be important in positioning women in taking up higher roles.

Organisations should ensure that individuals are oriented to the gender sensitivity and to address the basic requirements. Having taken the already proven path, organisations, with systematic approach, can build strong culture within themselves to nurture women participation and empowerment at all levels.

A NASSCOM HR survey indicates that a whooping number of women employees drop out at the age of 30-35 on account of personal commitments and inability to sustain work demands! Corporates must develop action plans to stop such collateral damage. 

On the other hand, India ranks third in the world for women working in senior management positions, according to the Women in Business 2021 report by global accounting firm Grant Thornton. This is good news and does reflect on changing outlook of Indian businesses towards working women. Automotive sector must therefore be ready for the much-awaited changes and systematically create the C-suite positions for women.

Rashmi Urdhwareshe is the Independent Director on the Board of various Automotive Companies, Former Director of ARAI (Automotive Research Association of India) & Former President of SAE India (Society of Automotive Engineers India)

BW Auto World's 'Most Influential Women' is an annual initiative to celebrate the leadership spirit of women captains in the automobile sector in India.


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