Inspirational Woman Interview: Kirti Lad

Kirti Lad is the Asia Pacific Director at Harvey Nash Executive Search, which specializes in the search and development of executives and senior managers for business, governments and other institutions. She was instrumental in the growth of the Technology and Professional Services Practice as well as the Board Practice across EMEA recruiting GM, CEOs and Board members for clients. Kirti moved to Hong Kong to Harvey Nash Asia Pacific in 2012 as part of the leadership team driving growth into the region. Kirti is the pioneer behind the Women’s Directorship Program, a joint-venture between The University of Hong Kong and Harvey Nash. She leads Inspire APAC, an Executive Women’s network in the region, is a regular speaker and contributor to conferences and media relating to gender diversity in Asia and is an active member of the Women in Business Committee at the British Chamber in Hong Kong. In 2015 and 2016, Kirti was listed as one of the Global Top 50 Diversity Professionals in Industry by The Economist. In 2013, Kirti was featured in the South China Morning Post‘s annual Women Of Our Time magazine as one of Hong Kong’s 25 most inspirational and influential women who have contributed to the city’s success over the past year.

What is your background?

Kirti Lad: I am a British Indian, born in the UK and of Indian parents. I am one of 4 girls, the third child and raised as a Hindu with a strong connection to our Indian heritage and culture. I grew up in the North of England, a very multi-cultural part of England.

Can you share some of your most memorable experiences as the Asia Pacific Director at Harvey Nash Executive Search?

Kirti Lad: Harvey Nash has been a fabulous place to work and spend most of my career at so far. On a professional note, my most memorable experiences have been the incredible inspirational clients I have been retained to work for. The work they do, the impact they make on the world and the innovation and creativity they bring have been a joy and honor to be a part of. On a personal note, I met my husband at Harvey Nash so that has to trump everything else!

In particular, you co-founded the Women’s Directorship Program at Harvey Nash. What inspired you to found this program and what has been its impact?

Kirti Lad: One of the oldest and long-standing arguments about why there aren’t more women on boards needs to be completely eradicated. With many enterprises starting to recognize the importance of diversity agenda, many would have the following complaint: ‘Where are all these great women?’ or ‘I’d love to have a more diverse board but I just can’t find the talent to fill positions.’ And while, there is without doubt a shortage of women in the mid and upper ranks of companies, there is also a good pool of board-ready women available from a variety of sources. Investing in leadership development is a core component in unlocking women’s potential in the workplace and positioning them for top management roles.

This inspired us to create the first ever board governance program exclusively for board-level female executives, designed to unlock the full potential of the international female executive talent pipeline and equip female participants with the knowledge and insights needed to add the most value to a board.

After five years of hosting the Women’s Directorship program, with The University of Hong Kong Business School, we have seen the true extent of the exceptional female talent available – there are no excuses, every board should include female representation so that half of the world’s talent isn’t overlooked.

By empowering female leaders to gain the confidence and skills needed to secure board positions, the Women’s Directorship Program demonstrates our commitment to altering the representation of women in leadership roles across the world. The program has already had an impact, with fifty per cent of the alumni having since gained their first boardroom position, serving to make a lasting impact on the worldwide business community. 

You also lead Inspire APAC, an Executive Women’s network. Can you discuss your experiences founding Inspire APAC and your key takeaways?

Kirti Lad: Through the Inspire network and working with senior executives across the globe, we have learned there has been a collective theme for their success. They are:

  • Coaching – to hone leadership styles and build particular skill sets
  • Training – ongoing internal programs or specialized external training. Continuous learning is a key success factor and going above and beyond the call of duty in their existing role is a common trait.
  • Networking – from internal networking opportunities through to external networks such as Inspire (the executive network for female leaders), women must take part in more professional networking
  • Mentoring – mentors serve as a role model to constantly inspire you and act as a trust advisor, teacher and supporter
  • Sponsor – sponsors are incredibly valuable and it’s crucial to invest time in maintaining relationships. From either a senior-ranking external or internal party, sponsorship can help you to progress by making sure you are visible and considered for career-advancing assignments
  • Confidence – In order to reach the top, women need to exhibit competency and confidence and they need to be prepared to invest time in their professional development on an ongoing basis

In your opinion, what are the biggest barriers to gender diversity in Asia?

Kirti Lad: From our experience working with companies to help find female talent on leadership positions, the needle for diversity progress hasn’t really improved in the past few years. There are many challenges women face in Asia in comparison to international countries such as societal expectations, family pressures, cultural pressures, lack of government support and structural barriers.

Unfortunately in Asia, due to multiple competing pressures and business priorities, it can be difficult to engage businesses in recognizing the diversity agenda as a pressing issue. The reality is that for many companies in the Asia Pacific region improving diversity is not a top priority, leaving employees feeling powerless and unsupported.

On top of this, companies in Asia, in particularly Hong Kong, often use their own limited networks to hire for senior leadership roles, which are usually made up of men of a similar background and age. Whilst some of the more forward-looking organisations do use external firms, many regional companies have not seen the need to use executive search, reverting instead to their existing connections.

Another key issue for all firms is the retention of female talent – maintaining a strong pipeline is essential in order to make a change in the future. Many women are choosing to opt out of the workforce at middle management so we need to take action to ensure all our best and brightest female talent stay engaged. The diversity agenda needs to be led from the top, buy-in from senior management is essential. Engaging more male champions within every organization is critical as they currently hold the influence to make this change.

What have been some of the biggest challenges you faced as you founded the Women’s Directorship Program and Inspire APAC?

Kirti Lad: At the Women’s Directorship Program and Inspire, there has been a common challenge that we’ve seen from many of these fantastic female leaders – they all highlight a lack of confidence as a key barrier to their progression.

Statistics show women will only put themselves forward for a role if they feel they fulfill at least 80% of the stated criteria, while men will go for a role even if they only fulfill 50-60% of the requirements.

Women therefore need knowledge and confidence along with the support of their companies in order to put themselves forward for senior positions. Without this commitment and backing from the business community, the current imbalanced situation we are facing won’t change.

Empowering women to put themselves forward and instilling the confidence in them to go for their first board position or a more senior role, is the key to getting more women for senior leadership roles.

Can you talk about one woman who has impacted your life?

Kirti Lad: There have been many but one in particular who stands out is my eldest sister. She is one of the kindest people I have ever known. We talk about being selfless in life, but most struggle with this concept. She, on the other hand is that person. She has taught me life lessons simply by watching how she is with her children, friends and our family. A real role model for authenticity.

On a personal level, why does women’s empowerment matter to you?

Kirti Lad: I am a business woman, a daughter, a sister to three other girls, and mother of a son and daughter and of course a wife. In each of these roles I feel I have a duty to be the best person I can be and to set the right example. As women, we have a duty to champion other women and girls. We have a duty to improve the social, economic and political position of women, to ensure equal-rights. If I don’t own it, I can’t expect others to either so it’s important we do what’s right for all of us so hopefully this won’t even be a discussion point for when my daughter is grown up.

What are your favorite books, websites, films and resources on business and women’s issues?

Kirti Lad: I’m part of a book club so I get the opportunity to read a variety of interesting, serious, funny and just because books which I love! But we are all limited with time… having a full time job, juggling two kids and a hectic social life (by choice) so I get a lot of satisfaction from my news apps, ted talks, social media apps etc. so bite sized info works much better for me!

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