Q&A for International Women's Day 2018 with Lisa Gates, Tata Consultancy Services

Sarah Ingwersen Commerce & Industry, International Women's Day, Career Advice...

Taylor Root is proud to be supporting International Women's Day 2018. We have interviewed a selection of our female clients asking them how they are pressing forward for women's gender parity #pressforprogress

Taylor Root interviewed, Lisa Gates, Associate General Counsel and Head of Legal, Tata Consultancy Services Limited

Past Progress

If you could tell your younger self one thing what would it be and why?
I would counsel my younger self to engage more in physical activity, to keep mind and body as fit as possible. During my younger years, I was very wrapped up in the academic side of my professional life, and it is only during my 40’s that I have appreciated the benefits of exercise. My 30’s were spent juggling my career with a young family, and that took up all of my energy! I didn’t really take seriously the prospect of growing older, and needing my body to stay active, but I am so glad that I have changed my ways now!

What action or decision are you most proud of making in your lifetime?
It was a joint decision (and action) with my husband, to follow the opportunity my career offered our family about 10 years ago, to move with my role to a new country and challenge ourselves culturally, linguistically and simply to take ourselves out of the comfort of familiarity. It was a period of personal growth, and it gave me another perspective, enhanced my passion for diversity and introduced me to feeling like an outsider. In retrospect, it took away my fear of not conforming, and has allowed me to be more authentic in my work and personal life.

Describe one of your failures. What lessons did you learn, and how did it contribute to a greater success?
There are failures every day – hopefully just little ones – from which we learn. I recall not being selected for a role which I really believed I could perform well, and that felt like a failure to me at the time, but actually it was a blessing in disguise and a learning opportunity! Each failure I have experienced has made me more determined, but what I have learned is that I should be more selective about my goals and then plan really well in order to achieve them. The actual steps I set out to take will of course depend upon the goal itself. I also now apply this to my personal objectives and it does make a difference.

If you had to start your career from scratch, knowing what you know now, what would you do differently?
I was once advised by a mentor early in my career, that I should learn how to cut corners. At the time, this advice was completely lost on me, because my whole education and training until then had been about aiming for perfection. With the benefit of my knowledge today, I might try to be a little more creative and rely on instinct more, rather than examining every last detail and fact before progressing. The cutting of corners never needed to be anything other than an acceptance that sometimes 80% was good enough, and that I did not need to make tasks even more difficult by beating myself up about them. I did eventually learn this, but I wish that I had been kinder to myself earlier in my career.

Present Progress

Of the people that inspire you, what character traits do they have which you admire?
I admire honesty; humility; the ability to admit that one wasn’t right about something; determination; courage; empathy; a genuine interest in making our world a better place, in whatever ways possible; strength of character and a passion for justice and equality for all souls.

If I were to ask people in your workplace for three adjectives that best describe you, what would they say?
One thing is for sure, those three adjectives would not be the same ones my family would select! Perhaps, in the office: approachable, hard-working and reliable. I hope so, anyway.

How do you motivate yourself and stay motivated?
Motivation isn’t usually a problem for me, because I am very fortunate to love my job and to be really happy (and busy) in my personal life as well. I suppose that I am goal-oriented, so it helps me to have tasks or milestones which I need to achieve. During the past two years I have taken up endurance running, and this activity gives me plenty of ways to motivate myself through the rewards it offers (personal records; medals; weight loss; muscle tone improvement; overall physical wellbeing and participation in a massive community of like-minded people). I realise that if I am passionate about something – anything – that’s all the motivation I need.

If you were to be a mentor to someone within your profession, what one piece of advice would you give?
Make yourself indispensable to someone senior who can help you navigate your career path. That advice was given to me 30 years ago, and in most of my roles I have been able to apply it. That, and, be sure to invest time and effort in your professional network. This is often difficult, particularly, I feel, for women, and it can require a change of mindset.

What is your personal mantra?
Do unto others as you would have done unto yourself. Boiled down: treat everyone with respect (including your own self!).

Future Progress

How is gender parity being achieved in your profession and what do you think needs to be done to press for progress?
There are so many great gender parity initiatives out there, but I feel that we still need a cultural shift to happen. Opportunities for women are there, certainly, but our society still expects that women will take a career break if they choose to have a family (which of course many women do, but so what? Some men do, too!) Women also still face sexual discrimination and harassment at work, and that’s shameful. Just scratch the surface and it’s all still there. I think we have to keep fighting the good fight, but most of all we have to raise our children to have a better perspective. I have a daughter and a son, and I am acutely aware of the importance of this. Attitudes will change, but it’s going to take a long time. Do you know, women were not even allowed to take part in marathon distance running events until the early 1970’s, because we were believed to be too feeble? Enough said.

What would you say the top 3 skills are needed in order to be successful in your industry?

  1. The ability to adapt, because business doesn’t stand still and neither can the law;
  2. An ability to communicate and empathise with others in the appropriate manner to suit their role/position; and
  3. An honest understanding of one’s own abilities and an appreciation of others’ skills so that you can identify the best strategy for working together.

What kind of legacy do you wish to leave behind?
An orderly one! Seriously, I hope that my legacy will be one of compassion; dedication and fair play. One where talent can thrive regardless of personal characteristics and preferences.

At the recent Golden Globes, Oprah delivered a moving speech which led to people talking about her running for president. If you had the choice to recommend a leader, who would it be and why?
I have thought hard about this, but I’m sad to say that I cannot identify any person in the public eye today whom I would recommend as a leader. I would not choose a celebrity; they are usually well known for reasons which have little to do with their leadership skills or attributes. On the other hand I meet people every day who do have that spirit and ability to attract others to their cause; I have known many leaders in business who would make highly credible presidents or prime ministers. I just read again my response to the question about character traits in people who inspire me, and that list isn’t describing any current political leader as far as I am aware! What a pity it is that Mahatma Gandhi is no longer walking this earth, because he would tick all of my boxes.