Today I bring to you, a story of a woman who has remained true to her essence, embraced what came her way in form of opportunities as well as challenges and created her inspiring success story relying on her intuition! Her story is extraordinary because of her unique and empowering way of looking at what life has to offer. Meet Pavitra Singh, HR Director Global Campus, Center of Excellence (CoE) at PepsiCo! She has been on ET’s list of Fastest Rising Women Leaders and it is amazing that she has achieved so much in a way that is gentle and feminine.
I must mention that this time, the invitation for the conversation was not only from me, but also from my dear childhood friend, Amrita – having known Pavitra from our school days, we both felt her journey would have powerful insights for women.
It was surreal connecting with Pavitra after 27 years. In spite of almost 3 decades of being out of touch, talking to her was still the same – the same warmth, the same effervescence and the same humility. She shared her story with lot of love and openness.
My first question to her was about the years when we were growing up – it was about how she remained calm and unaffected by the feverishness with which most of us obsessed over studies, board exams and the future in general. “What made her so comfortable with the uncertainty?”
“I was always comfortable in my own skin, and that came from Mom” she said. Pavitra’s mother has been incredibly independent and confident throughout her life and her way of being led Pavitra to believe that she could do anything. Her Mom pursued her PhD while taking care of young Pavitra. As a mother, she inculcated qualities that made Pavitra independent, responsible and self-aware. She always said “Do your best and God will do the rest”. This mantra stayed with Pavitra and helped her detach from results. She learnt to take each day as it came. She loved putting in her very best, enjoying the journey and being open to embracing what unfolded. She was taught to “run her own race” rather than competing. Her mother enjoyed doing household chores – she believed in getting her hands dirty. This was another strong belief that became a part of Pavitra’s system.
Her amicable personality and the sense of “being secure” came from her father. He loves being around people and enjoying a good conversation. As he supported her mother through the pursuit of her potential, he always remained secure and supportive – traits that Pavitra inherited and displayed when those around her followed their unique dreams. She continued “being secure”, wishing them well while staying connected with herself and knowing that each of us have our own unique journey.
She was encouraged to pursue what she liked. While, for her it was tough to narrow down what she liked, she found it easy to eliminate what she didn’t. Engineering and medicine were not on her wish list. She decided to study commerce at Symbiosis, Pune. She feels this was one of the best decisions she took. Pune was a melting pot in terms of cultural diversity – an environment that she felt was harmonious with what brought out the best in her.
Time flew, and soon it was time to take a decision about the next step. Given her affinity for people, listening to them and helping them, she decided to take up MBA in HR, at University of Pune.
While she landed up with a job offer, right after one year, she decided to turn it down because she did not want to shorten her learning cycle. She felt there was a reason it was a 2 year program and that trading that off for a job would be a compromise on learning. This was one of the first decisions that many around her found unconventional and potentially risky for her career but she decided to follow her intuition and do what made her feel in alignment with herself.
One year down the line, when it was time for placements, companies that interested Pavitra did not show up. She did get an offer however owing to the dot-com crash, it eventually didn’t come through. It was a unique situation where a year back when no one else had an offer, she had one, and now when she needed an offer, there was none. It was a tough phase but Pavitra had faith that she will make something of herself.
With patience and conviction, Pavitra began her job search. One day she received a call for a job interview. It was an opening for the post of a Center Manager for a Training Institute specialising in Graphics and UI design. They were looking for someone to revive their sick unit and make it profitable. This turned out to be Pavitra’s first break. She had 3 people reporting into her, all of them had experience in their respective fields and were elder to her. She looked at this as an opportunity to learn how to establish trust, credibility and respect. She felt grateful for this opportunity where she showed up as a learner everyday. The experience made her feel grounded. She did not take it for granted.
With an intent to revive the institute, she aligned her team to a common goal. She got creative with ideas on how to make the center profitable. This role helped her realize that creativity was her strength. Within 6 months, she and her team turned the center around. After she had delivered what she was hired for, she decided to move on to her true calling – HR. She decided to quit and relocated to Delhi.
In Delhi, she began looking for jobs in HR. The role that came her way was a wonderful role to lead HR processes for an emerging entity at AMEX. However, she would have to onboard as a contractor. This was the second time, well wishers called out that this could turn out to be an unwise move. However, Pavitra had always reposed faith in her intuition. She felt this was the right move for her. She took up the offer. From her perspective, it didn’t matter whether she was a contractor or an employee, her commitment would remain the same irrespective. She showed up day after day with the commitment of an “employee” and sure enough, within 6 months, she was an employee!
With this foundation, Pavitra continued to build her career staying focused on learning as much as she could and giving her best. Job descriptions were just frameworks for her. She would do her best to add more dimension to her roles and create as much value as she could. Ambiguity did not bother her because she believed in “being present, giving her best and letting the rest unfold”. Her approach worked wonders for her. She leveraged each opportunity that came her way.
Her personal life progressed alongside. She got married, became a mother and then came the third decision which many would consider unwise. She was doing very well at PepsiCo, heading HR Sales for 4 regions and had just got a promotion. The role involved extensive traveling as a result of which she was unable to spend quality time with her daughter, Niharika. The moment she realized that this was when her daughter needed her the most, she decided to take a sabbatical.
Giving her best was always one of her guiding principles and now it was time for her daughter to get all her attention. Taking this break helped her slow down, reflect, re-connect and take good care of herself in addition to spending quality time with her daughter. While most of us worry about how breaks can impact ones’ career, Pavitra feels breaks can actually have a positive impact because they create an opportunity to pause, re-assess and energize. And now comes the most endearing part of the story – once Niharika felt she got her share of quality time, she encouraged Pavitra to resume work.
When she was looking to restart, the role that came her way was managing, Diversity and Inclusion, part time. She embraced it with joy. She used this opportunity to go deep into areas she felt could create meaningful impact. This included talking to employees, identifying real issues and changing mindsets rather than relying on e-modules. The results were spectacular and about one and a half years down the line, she was the first choice for the coveted role – Head Talent Management, Development and Diversity and Inclusion.
Pavitra’s story is particularly insightful for those of us who miss enjoying the pursuit of our goals because we get too attached to the results. Her story is a wonderful example of how outstanding results become inevitable when one is “fully present” to giving ones’ best without being too caught up about what lies ahead. Once she takes up a role, “why” she is doing it, is always related to “who” she is doing it for, and not “herself”. And while it seems like this approach may jeopardize her interests, especially in a Corporate environment, in her case, it ultimately translates into her success because those around her notice effort and intent. Labels, tags and job titles have not defined or limited what she “gives” to the role. Her hunger for learning and giving her best are the reason for her zeal.
What is remarkable is that she has been a successful woman leader without being forceful or aggressive. To me, she embodies true “feminine leadership” because she leads with traits that come to her naturally – empathy, humility, intuition and collaboration! She makes sure she is “heard” without being “loud”. Very proud of you Pavitra – wishing you more power and success!