Jyotsna Sharma is CFO and Head of IT at Bridgestone India Pvt Ltd in Pune and the overall winner of the Adam Smith Awards Asia 2022 Woman of the Year Award.
Pune is a city in India that is built upon the automobile industry leading Jyotsna Sharma, to refer to it as many do as ‘The Detroit of India’. The automobile industry has faced many challenges in trying to diversify its workforce and to have better representation for women, namely the legacy of low representation of women in technical fields and with the automobile plants and factories being largely located in remote, industrial regions. Therefore for Jyotsna growing up in a city with ingrained traditions and cultural norms certainly presented its challenges for a young and ambitious woman.
Jyotsna herself describes growing up in an environment where many families, including her own, preserved traditional norms regarding gender roles and womens’ positions as homemakers. This background and context really showed Jyotsna that the sole focus of diversity and inclusion campaigns cannot be simply to show women that they can fulfil their professional ambitions, but must also focus on encouraging men to respect and to accept womens’ contributions and roles in their workplaces.
Jyotsna’s career began in 1994 at Kinetic Honda which was a joint venture between Japan’s Honda Motor Company and India’s Kinetic Engineering Ltd. This joint venture operated from 1984 until 1998 and focused primarily on manufacturing scooters in India. Jyotsna described the combined Japanese and Rajasthani cultures that drove this company forward as both being fairly conservative when it came to matters of diversity and inclusion. When working with Kinetic Honda, Jyotsna describes her inspiration as being Mrs Lila Poonawala, who at the time was the Managing Director of Alfa Laval India. Lila went on to subsequently hold many high profile roles and receive numerous awards and accolades for her business and philanthropic work. In the 1990s when Jyotsna was first inspired by Lila, the Alfa Laval India offices were just opposite Kinetic Honda’s own offices. Jyotsna describes this first inspiration as motivating her to always look up and never give up!
Following this role at Kinetic Honda, Jyotsna worked with SKF Bearings and gained a completely different perspective as topics such as gender, inclusion and diversity began to take centre stage and where diversity in all of its forms did exist in an organisation already. This gave Jyotsna a fuller understanding of a rounded social and societal culture.
In subsequent years Jyotsna went on to hold the position of Chief Financial Officer at Sandvik where a forum was established called ‘UNNATI’ to work on progress. Within this forum around 200 women were brought together to discuss topics ranging from financial literacy to the importance of networking, from disruption to collaboration. The forum also focused on inviting key external speakers who would give expert advice on supporting womens’ careers and leadership aspirations. In parallel the Sandvik Diversity Award was also established, and remains in place today, to recognise womens’ achievements in business, culture, sport, academia and so forth across India and within and outside of Sandvik itself. These endeavours at Sandvik really helped to increase the numbers of female recruits and, in tandem with engaging with the Poonawalla Foundation (founded by Lila Poonawalla herself), funded training for female engineers to generate grassroots diversity within this technical discipline with a legacy of gender imbalance. Today this continues and has allowed hundreds of girls to fulfil their aspirations and gain employment within this field!
Jyotsna is very proud of all of her achievements but of particular note is her membership of the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) in Pune leading the finance and tax panels which is a non-profit organisation which brings CFOs of leading companies together in Pune to represent industry interests to government. Within this process, upon realising the lack of diversity within the industry, this group now ensures that participating companies are making proactive steps to encourage women to work for them and to help develop their careers. This is part of a trend of intervention and of supporting her industry’s move towards greater diversity that Jyotsna has driven through her entire career with gusto and fearlessness.
Jyostna’s acceptance in Pune and in her industry alongside her mostly male counterparts is a message that resonates and has a ripple effect on promoting change and positivity. Her commitment to family, community and company are demonstrated throughout her career which has included family moves, changes and relocations, including Singapore and Sweden. And these have run alongside constant support for her community both internally and externally. Although some of her efforts have led to slow effects being felt, her understanding of the complexity of combined societal and professional tradition is rare and has allowed her to really peel away the onion layers of gender imbalance within her country and business culture.
Within Jyotsna’s current role at Bridgestone India she is proud of the company’s focus on establishing women within senior positions of influence, this helps to shift organisational culture. In all her work Jyotsna recognises a focus on developing highly effective collaboration and investing in relationships as critical. Networking, building and maintaining personal relationships is a key ingredient of successful leadership and something which is at the heart of Treasury Today’s Women in Treasury initiative itself. All this and so much more makes Jyotsna a most worthy Overall Winner of our 2022 Woman of the Year award.