Smriti Handa, Head HR - Philips Healthcare & Emerging Businesses, Diversity Lead, has been with Philips India since 2014. Happily married and mother to an 8 year old, she believes in having the best of both worlds – professional & personal. In this interview, she talks about the challenges she has encountered in her career and how she has dealt with them. Further, she gives insight into the diversity initiatives Philips has put in place to help women overcome their career struggles and achieve their full potential.

What is your role at Philips?
I head HR for the Healthcare & Emerging Businesses at Philips India. I also lead Diversity initiatives for all of Philips India’s entities. My role is all about ensuring business success by enabling people and managing their motivation and contribution. Most of my energy & time is consumed in driving long-term changes that make the organization more agile and forward-looking. 

What motivated you to join Philips?
I like to push my boundaries when it comes to personal development. I enjoy working with people who intellectually stimulate me and encourage avenues for further growth. Thus, when the opportunity to work with Philips came up, I was drawn to it. With this new opportunity, I was adding lot of firsts to my career: First-time exposure to a B2B business model; first time in the Healthcare industry; first time working for a  European company. For me, the icing on the cake was the chance to improve lives of billions of people. 

Tell us about some of the difficulties and quirks you’ve encountered in your career and how you have dealt with them.
Career growth is tough! It takes a lot of hard work, passion, and sincerity to go up the career ladder. It’s even tougher in the cultural context of India: Women are expected to be mellowed down and make business decisions in a way that that aligns with the ‘all heart’ image of Indian women as homemakers & caretakers.

Over the 14 years of my career, male colleagues have often advised me to mellow down if I want to succeed. I have been labelled as bossy, aggressive and opinionated. I have always challenged them to rethink this because in their male colleagues the same behavior, in a similar context, would be branded as passion and challenging the status quo.

I make it a point to challenge this for the sake of a progressive world. Change takes time, courage, conviction, and, very importantly, an organization that enables you to make it happen.

What does Cultural Diversity mean to Philips?
At Philips we have a two-pronged approach to diversity – representational and cultural. We approach diversity from inclusion & culture perspective. We strive to create an environment where women feel welcome. Philips ensures equal opportunities for growth & development for all genders.

Please share with us some of Philips’ diversity initiatives.
We started the year with the launch of our diversity logo & mission at Philips India called REAP (Respect, Empower, Acknowledge and Persevere). The idea was to encourage conversations or debates around gender and do away with the unconscious biases we hold. We are pulling together policies & culture that ensure balance and flexibility in how people do their work.

Every woman goes through personal milestones, such as marriage or childbirth, which affect her differently than men. For Philips, that is a crucial time when we must help ease women back in to work. We have a program called BIG (Back in the Game) which targets women in the open market looking for employment opportunities after months of sabbatical, irrespective of the reason. Our ‘Wo-mentoring’ program matches women with mentors across the organization, and #heforshe recognizes male colleagues who enable women in the personal & professional space to stride ahead in their careers. 

Who inspires you and why? 
Some qualities that I look up to people for include passion, drive, agility, decision-making and strength of character. Upon looking back, I think I am what I am today because I saw all these qualities coming together in my parents. Both of them were working and managing the home simultaneously when full-time support system was not a luxury we could afford. I look up to them for their success at this great balancing act. 

What would you say to young women who are just starting out and looking to reach new heights in their careers?

Stick to a few non-negotiables:
1.    Inner strength matters- be brave! You will encounter challenges and there will be times when you will feel pulled down. Stay put and remain confident.
2.    Learn & acquire new skills with every passing year. Do not stagnate!
3.    Surround yourself with mentors and people who will sponsor your work & not feel threatened by you.
4.    Be a team player. You can never win alone.
5.    Most importantly, invest in choosing the right life partner. Choose one who will will help you dream big!

What’s life like for you outside of work?
I love to spend time with my family. We plan 2 vacations in a year. We travel together. Weekdays include late evening homework and concept clarity for my daughter. Weekends would mean dine-out, a game of monopoly or carom, and reading some book together. We also love to socialize with friends & family. I try to pick up some skill or other like Tennis or doodling….basically a short-lived hobby every few months! 
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