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CFO Vibha Padalkar on being the only woman in the Boardroom

With a finance career spanning over 25 years, Vibha Padalkar, Executive Director and CFO, HDFC Life, is also a proud mother of a young teenager. Being a working mom and a career woman in a man's world, she enlightens us by sharing her experiences, views, ideas and learnings.

CFO Vibha Padalkar on Being the Only Woman in the Boardroom

With a bureaucrat for a mum and a grandpa who taught all of his daughters-in-law to swim when wearing a swimsuit was still... might we say, taboo, Vibha Padalkar, ED and CFO-HDFC Life, knew she was never going to be a housewife. With a finance career spanning 25 years, she talks to iDiva.com about what it's like being the only woman in the boardroom, the working mom guilt trip and how women today can climb up the coporate ladder of success.

Lisabelle Gonsalves, Team iDiva

Q How did you take up finance as a career?


Vibha Padalkar

A Well, it was fairly non-glamorous. In the good old days, if you got good mark you would either become a doctor, engineer or bureaucrat. I knew I didn't want to do medicine, I was not great at physics and my mum was a bureaucrat. So by process of elimination I had made my choice. I chose to get into finance.

My uncle was a chartered accountant and CFO and though I did not know exactly what he did, I was good at maths and knew I could possibly like it. In hindsight, it wasn't an informed decision but thankfully, it worked out well.

Lisabelle Gonsalves, Team iDiva

Q You studied and worked abroad. What made you come back to India?


Vibha Padalkar

A I had completed Std XI when my dad was posted to the High Commission in London. So I landed up doing my Chartered Accountancy in London. It was a very structured path for me and things fell into place.

I returned in 1993 for my brother's wedding and what was meant to be a short one-month trip turned out to be a relocation. By then, India had gone from pre-civilisation to liberalisation. I could sense that the private sector had begun to take off. There were foreign banks in India and well, I felt it was an opportune time.

My uncle introduced me to a few companies and suggested I work with an audit firm for a bit to gain perspective. That's how I landed up with Lovelock & Lewes, which has now been acquired by PwC.

Lisabelle Gonsalves, Team iDiva

Q What is your typical day like at HDFC Life?


Vibha Padalkar

A My typical day at work begins at 9:30 AM but if I have a breakfast meeting or am travelling, it will probably begin even earlier.

As I also handle operations ie underwriting, claims et al, I have to ensure the smooth functioning of that too. I have regular meetings with those who report to me and conduct interventions if necessary. Being on the board as well, I am involved in various company level initiatives.

Apart from this, I meet with analysts as well as investment bankers to spread the word about what our company is doing as well as try an understand from them how our company will be affected by various market changes.

I happen to be on the board of another company as well, which is a subsidiary of the Bombay Stock Exchange. So I land up being busy with that too. My work day stretches for about 11 hours, and then when you are senior management level, you land up being connected even after that.

Lisabelle Gonsalves, Team iDiva

Q Being a woman in a man's world, what has your experience been like?


Vibha Padalkar

A Frankly speaking, I have never faced the glass ceiling or any kind of discrimination in the corporate world. But there are hurdles that you face as a woman. For example, you probably can't always socialise for long hours after work as you are sometimes on a guilt trip because you don't get enough time with your family.

Also, in the beginning, I did experience slightly slower growth, smaller increments and mundane bits of work being given to me by my boss. But that meant I could go home on time to my family which was important to me at the time. I acknowledged that I was on a slower track, which was better than just throwing in the towel. When you are in it for the long haul ie a 25-year career like me, it doesn't matter if you reach two years late.

Lisabelle Gonsalves, Team iDiva

Q Is it difficult being a woman manager and having men report to you?


Vibha Padalkar

A I do not see being a woman as a limiting factor. In fact, when I'm at work, I don't see myself as a woman. It often doesn't strike me that I am the only woman in the boardroom. But I do feel that they are better behaved and more guarded in the use of language in front of me.

When it comes to those reporting to me, I make sure I state my expectations and leave channels of communication open for them to come back to me on what is and isn't possible. There has never been a problem.

Lisabelle Gonsalves, Team iDiva

Q As a working mother, do you feel your child was neglected in any way especially in the early years?


Vibha Padalkar

A Women usually tend to feel that their children need them around all the time. But this is less a reality. I think my son is significantly more self reliant, respects women and won't disappoint me with poor performance, simply because he knows I am a high performer.

Yes, I used to feel lousy sometimes when he would tell me that other moms were there to pick up their kids at the end of the day, but I don't think that does any long term damage. In fact, my son is very supportive. We have this running joke at home that he would fall sick on a Friday evening and get well on Sunday night. (laughs)

Lisabelle Gonsalves, Team iDiva

Q How does a woman balance work, home and kids if she wants to make it to the top?


Vibha Padalkar

A If it's not in you, it's not going to work. You must find a way out. Don't be a martyr and sacrifice your career. You will only land up bitter later on.

Look for role models who've been there, done that. You need a mentor.

Also, stick to an organisation that works for you. Once you build a rapport, there can be certain allowances because your employer has faith in you to deliver.

Finally, choosing the right solemate is very important. Your husband's support is another contributing factor for a successful career. Plus, when there are issues with family, he needs to fight some of those battles for you.

Lisabelle Gonsalves, Team iDiva

Q What are some of your tips for women who want to take control of their finances?


Vibha Padalkar

A Get your finances in order: Take a weekend off to set your finances in order. Get help with financial planning and understand asset allocation and diversification so that you can protect your savings and grow your assets.

Save for yourself: Without creating marital discord, keep your savings in your own personal account. You can start by saving a certain amount and later decide on a percentage (say 30 per cent). Many times I find that the husband make all the savings while the wife's salary is used for expenses. Both need to have their own savings apart from pooled savings. A women must also have some big tickets assets like the house or land in her name and her children's names.

Have a goal: Always have a goal that you are saving towards. Plan for events in your life like your child's education or wedding, your retirement and so on.

Lisabelle Gonsalves, Team iDiva

Q What are some simple financial products that women can invest in?


Vibha Padalkar

A A child plan is a good way to accumulate a lump sum for your child's education or ensure a good future for him in case something were to happen to you.

With the disintegration of the joint family, a pension plan is another great instrument as it ensures a retirement source of income.

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