Zinara Rathnayake, journalist

As organisations in India recognise a growing need for gender equity in the workplace, female accounting professionals are seeking out employers who demonstrate a commitment to diversity. ‘Businesses today are trying to create a more inclusive environment,’ says Aparna Iyer of global technology giant Wipro, ‘but there is more to be done.’

As senior vice president and CFO of Wipro FullStride Cloud, Aparna has seen her career flourish as an accounting professional, and she recognises the importance of having a nurturing work environment where women can thrive as leaders.

‘Coaches, mentors and sponsors look at whether there’s any biased behaviour’

Leadership strengths

Her career at the Indian multinational began as a senior internal auditor shortly after qualifying as a professional accountant. She actively took on leadership roles within finance before moving into her current role in 2023, where she is responsible for finance strategy and P&L management for a business unit with US$4.5bn+ revenues.

As she puts it: ‘My passion is to make an impact using my strengths as a leader, which include my ability to manage stakeholders, a passion for results and collaboration with large teams.’

Aparna argues that while senior job opportunities are becoming more widespread in India, there is also an increased awareness that the workplace needs to be bias-free. ‘There’s more clarity around code of conduct. We have coaches, mentors and sponsors looking at whether there’s any biased behaviour when it comes to salaries and promotions,’ she says.

Returners’ struggle

A key challenge facing women is taking time out from a burgeoning career to start a family and then encountering a struggle to find meaningful work as returners. Aparna’s own experience bears this out. ‘For many women, coming back to work after maternity leave is a challenge because you are no longer at the top of your game after a break,’ she says. ‘My CFO and CEO – both male – gave me a senior role, kept me close to them and assured me that they would stand by me as a buffer. I was able to quickly build confidence.’

Finding a supportive employer, as well as sponsors within an organisation who can offer guidance and training, is key to helping the transition back to work. Flexible working opportunities are also important for women who tend to be the main carers within the family.

‘As women leaders it’s our responsibility to break the glass ceiling’

Aparna notes that some companies ‘provide boot camps and run programmes to build confidence’, adding that working from home also helps women professionals in finance as it gives them the flexibility to manage time for both work and family.

In her two-decade-long career, Aparna has witnessed an increase in the number of women in India holding senior positions in finance – in stark contrast to when she started out.

‘Back then, in a group of 20 people, we had only three or four women. It was nowhere close to being a gender-balanced workplace,’ she says.

Value of mentors

Despite the lack of female representation in the finance function, Aparna was inspired by the women she met whose visibility encouraged her to push the boundaries and rise to the top. Having female mentors and role models are, she says, hugely important for younger women who aspire to leadership roles. ‘As women leaders it’s our responsibility to break the glass ceiling and show young women professionals that there is no limit. In the future, we should have more and more women CFOs and CEOs.’

In a leadership role, gender is irrelevant, she points out. ‘Evolving as a leader, you face the same questions that your male counterparts would: how to build large teams; how to be inspiring; set vision; and deal with macroeconomic changes,’ she says, adding that these challenges have made her a better leader today.

‘Keep asking yourself: “What more can I do?” We need to be hungry for success’

She argues that the finance function is a good fit for female leadership. ‘Women are naturally caring, and this quality is required in the finance function; it’s about nurturing and conserving your capital and looking for efficiencies. It’s about safety, liquidity and returns. It’s about an ability to manage risks and be conservative,’ she says.

Vigour and courage

While empathy and a caring nature are important attributes, Aparna argues that self-belief, professional vigour and courage are vital for career success. ‘We need to be more assertive and confident. We shouldn’t be scared to raise our voices and ask questions.

‘Right now, I feel that we women are a little more reserved in our thinking. If we can change that it would be great,’ she adds. ‘Follow your passion; keep asking yourself: “What more can I do?” We need to be hungry for success.’

Having ambition, stretching yourself and continually learning are the foundations of leadership, says Aparna, who adds that women professionals owe it to themselves to be more ambitious. ‘We need to have desires and goals, and not be shy of communicating them,’ she says.

And while women need to be financially independent, a professional career does not only guarantee money. ‘It’s also part of expressing yourself and leading a meaningful life,’ she says. ‘And that plays a vital role in happiness.’

More information

Read our articles on leadership and the benefits of diversity in the workplace and being authentic at work