With more than 18 years of work experience, this woman holds several titles like Exceptional Women Of Excellence, 2019, 50 Most Influential Strategy Leaders, 2019, and 50 Most Influential Women, 2020.
Her last few projects were with the industry’s finest - Apple and Kohler to name a few. She learns from her experience in corporate and more from her toddler. Forever inspiring us to stay true to who we are, we are glad to take you through our wonderful conversation with Minal Srivastava, Vice President of Strategy, Growth and Marketing at Shalimar Paints.
On Career and Corporate...
When you began your career many years ago, did you ever imagine that you would be a leader in a male-dominated profession?
No. I never visualised my life like this. My imagery of a good life was marrying my Prince Charming and building a huge farmhouse with white picket fence and having many kids and dogs. It was very fairy tale-ish. However, I realized much later that life is anything but a fairy tale.
Career was a lot of hits and misses. It wasn’t planned out at length. At any point in time when I was faced with a decision, I was pretty sure of what I did not want. Then I would sift through the options left over and jump in where my heart drove me. One thing led to another and I didn’t even realize where almost two decades whizzed past.
Initial few years, I did not realize how sparsely represented my gender was in most organisations because in sectors and organisations that I worked in, at junior levels there were always sufficient if not enough women. Gradually, as you progress, however, this number starts dwindling and yes, in most boardrooms and meetings rooms quite frequently I am the only woman. At times, I don’t even notice this fact but yes, there are some days when you feel anxious and alone, very alone.
You've worked with numerous organizations over the years. What advice would you give to someone who feels in a rut and doesn't know how to start building more meaning into their work life?
For me that has happened when I have told myself that what I am doing and where I am is MY choice. No one else is accountable. No one else bears the consequence of my decisions. I choose. I live through those choices. And yes, not all those choices will be right. Or have happy outcomes. But as long as your mind and heart knows that it’s your choice and you DO have a choice - everyone has a choice - at every point in time.
Those choices will have repercussions and consequences but then you live with it. And the day you accept that it’s your choice you will find meaning in every little thing that you do. You will choose to do things that make yourself happy. You will try and find out stuff that makes you happy. You will make the effort; you will not just keep floating aimlessly.
The other thing that changed for me is a near death experience which made me realize how finite life is. Essentially that’s THE only truth-that we have limited time and it’s up to us on how we want to spend it. You can be miserable and whine and crib and cry or you can instead invest your energies towards figuring out what makes you more alive and then run for it with all your soul and heart.
On Learnings and Lessons...
We read that your toddler taught you to take being called 'crazy' as a compliment. As a mother, what are some 'sane adult' notions your toddler has redefined for you?
Many. Living with a child is like viewing life through a totally different lens every single day. They make you question your beliefs, will constantly challenge you, and will amaze you with their level of curiosity. I have a toddler and an extremely naughty dog - so, I have a total full house at any point in time.
Both of them together have made me realise that time is elastic. I never knew I could fit in so many things in a day before I had them. My life was very routine, structured earlier - now I am used to unpredictability and chaos. I have learnt to live in moments, am more present mentally than ever. I have learnt that everything in life is relative - like the definition of cleanliness- especially cleanliness. I have become more patient and have such a deep sense of gratitude every single moment. Just the fact that I have this circle of love around me has made me feel safe, secure, wanted and so very thankful for whatever life has thrown my way.
Describe one of your biggest failures. What lessons did you learn, and how did it contribute to greater success?
I have had many failures. In ideation for projects, in their execution, in hiring talent, in retaining talent, in choosing assignments, in holding on to tasks which were way beyond their expiry date. Earlier I used to kill myself over it. I was very harsh with myself. Gradually I have learnt to be kind to myself and have learnt to be a little objective when it comes to even defining success or failure. These days whenever I raise my hands up for something which I might not be equipped enough to handle, I try and tell myself to not run for success, in fact, I run for learning. What happens to a particular project is a result of many, many variables.
At times, you as an individual might not even have control over all the variables. So if you put unnecessary pressure on yourself, you end up not enjoying the journey but being worried about the outcome. Instead, I judge any experience by what it taught me. And failure teaches you more than any success can. So fear of failure also should not let you step back from exploring more and raising your hands more often.
On Advice and Aspirations...
How do you stay grounded and positive despite the challenging times we are living through?
Can’t really think of one particular thing that works to calm me down. It’s usually a combination of stuff. Primarily I allow myself to feel anxious. That’s step one. Once I accept and let that feeling sweep over me, then I attempt to attack it. Most critical in this process is exercising - any form of it. I tell myself to simply lace up and step out. Then I can end up with a run, a walk, Zumba or just out in the lawns with my son. The trick is to force yourself to move. I try to pamper my mind too- find time for some form of passion project- painting, writing, reading. Anything to divert my mind. Having a curious, energetic 8 year old child around you helps in this a lot. Kids don’t let you overthink - they never give you the time to do that. At times not having enough time is also a blessing in disguise.
What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders?
Stay true to who you are. Society, family, peers will always project a version of you which apparently fits into a particular job profile. Or they'll ask you to take up a job or an assignment which is safer and more conventional or acceptable, but the only one that you should listen to is yourself. And the only one that you are answerable to is yourself. This acceptance will not happen suddenly, it will take time but once you start listening to yourself and consciously, constantly try and find what fits you - you will love what you do because it’s a choice that you have made for yourself. And you were not forced to do it.