When Sonia Dasgupta entered the world of finance, her foremost challenge was to ensure all stakeholders that she was all in for the long haul and it wasn’t something that would hold less priority in front of family life. Dasgupta wanted to be taken seriously and, exactly this, she shares is something all women have had to ensure across all professional environments for decades. What she says is true but definitely not surprising.
Now the MD and CEO of Investment Banking, JM Financial, Dasgupta entered the industry when it was, for a major part, male-dominated but she thrived. Her organisation is among the top 5 NBFCs in India. Holding almost three decades of experience, she has now emerged as one of India’s top investment Bankers and has seen a tremendous change in the markets in her leadership.
In an interview with SheThePeople, Sonia Dasputa discusses her organisation’s USP, her growth as a leader, the gender gap in investment, women’s leadership, and why it’s important for women to take charge of their finances, now more than ever.
Sonia Dasgupta Interview
You entered the world of finance at a time when it was largely male-dominated. What were the primary challenges when you first entered the industry?
The biggest challenge I faced was to ensure that the team and clients believed that I was there for the long haul and would not leave as soon as I got married or had children.
As in all professions, women have to “prove” that they are competent by not taking leaves for personal work, and spending long hours to dispel doubts about their commitment to work. Expressing opinions without fear and looking at the big picture always help in coming out of those situations.
Fortunately, JM Financial is a very meritocratic firm which made it easier for women to be treated fairly and I had some good women senior bankers who served as great role models for me. But starting at a time when there was no concept of remote working or even mobile phones – we have all struggled to balance work-life commitments and our family support has been crucial for us to succeed.
As someone who dons several hats across organisations as a leader, what empowers you to keep going and evolving yourself on the go?
Investment banking is a complex and fast-paced industry, and anyone who wishes to succeed in this field needs to develop a deep understanding of the industry’s products, services and trends. Being in a “high adrenalin” deal-driven profession, allows one to enjoy what one is doing. The pursuit of excellence through more innovative deals, thinking creatively and helping clients solve difficult problems has always been a great motivator for me.
The platform offered me an opportunity to meet some extremely intelligent and driven people. They always kept me on my toes. A good support system at home and an equally driven team at work are imperative to continually improving oneself. I have always tried to look at my personal and professional life more holistically and always tried to stretch and challenge my limits.
How is your company revolutionising the Indian Market with its strategic vision?
JM Financial is a market leader in investment banking known to solve complex issues with deep knowledge of industry-specific nuances and legal frameworks. We will continue to bring innovative products to Indian markets and deepen and widen the capital markets.
In addition, JM has played a critical role in strengthening the IPO market bringing many innovative products. JM Financial has also played a pivotal role in structuring the financial needs of several companies both in the public and private fundraising domains.
With over two decades of experience, what kind of impactful changes have you come across concerning the evolution of markets in India?
I have witnessed the evolution of the Indian capital markets from a small market with a few good companies to a market with world-class companies across every industry with a deeper and broader investor base. I think Indian deal flows are poised for great traction. Through covid – what technology has enabled us to put in terms of sheer volumes and value of deals has been unprecedented. Also, the regulators are ensuring the business is done soundly and the interest of investors are protected to ensure stable markets. The Indian investors and institutions i.e. AMC and Insurance companies have become a strong force with equal strength as FPIs on Indian deals.
Have you come across a gender gap when it comes to women and investments?
Women traditionally have stayed away from money matters at home or in businesses. That’s the traditional Indian upbringing – but it’s fast-changing. Though it will take time to bridge the gap to bring in parity, at least the movements of change are in the right direction.
What gives me hope is that the trend is gradually changing. Young women are investing early. Be its stocks and bonds, mutual funds, money market funds or any other investment instruments – women are showing active interest in investing.
Apart from societal biases, what do you think is a major hindrance when it comes to more women being at the forefront of leadership?
Women hide their success. They are almost apologetic about it and men, on the other hand, flaunt it – so it’s a mindset issue. To overcome that, first and foremost, one of the most important things women can do is to believe in themselves and their abilities. It’s important to have confidence in your ideas, skills, and experience, and to trust that you have what it takes to succeed.
Women in investment banking may face stereotypes and biases, and it’s important to be confident and assertive when expressing opinions and ideas. Women should also be comfortable advocating for themselves and negotiating for better opportunities and growth.
Women hide their success. They are almost apologetic about it and men, on the other hand, flaunt it – so it’s a mindset issue. To overcome that, first and foremost, one of the most important things women can do is to believe in themselves and their abilities.
How do you think we can encourage more women to take charge of their finances and make platforms available for them to do so?
I think women should be made aware of the importance of financial literacy and independence from early on. More women role models need to be developed to applaud such independence.
They also need to shed the overcautious approach towards investment and seek experts’ help to develop better risk management. I think, to encourage women to invest more, financial services companies need to develop investment products which women can relate to.
As a leader in business, how do you suggest the Indian market can empower more women in leadership positions?
Women leaders in the corporate world face a range of challenges that can impact their career success and limit their ability to progress. Organisations need to take steps to address these challenges and promote inclusive leadership – eg have more focus on output/performance rather than “being seen sitting late in office”, showing an accommodative approach, and demonstrating zero tolerance for sexist or any other derogatory remarks. Women may face hurdles from advancing to senior positions due to bias, lack of access to networking opportunities and an entrenched culture that values long hours and a competitive attitude over collaboration and teamwork. Corporations should be encouraged to embrace diversity and inclusion.
I think it’s about time companies should create a strong support system to elevate deserving women professionals into leadership positions. There is an urgent need to create an enabling ecosystem in which women leaders can thrive and grow.
The companies must ensure adequate mentoring to women professionals with leadership qualities and potential. In addition, they need to ensure that nonlinear career paths should not come in the way of the elevation to leadership positions.
What advice would you give women on their path to leadership and entrepreneurship in the field as yours?
Women who want to succeed in any venture need to be well-prepared, confident, and resilient. They should focus on building strong relationships, developing technical skills, seeking out mentorship and sponsorship, and staying up-to-date with industry trends and best practices. Most importantly I want to tell more women this “Believe in yourself and wear your success with confidence because YOU have earned it. Also, you need to build a strong support system with like-minded people and be proactive.”
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