Empowering Women to Lead

March 8, 2017. Shanghai – It was while working as a technology consultant at Deloitte in Bangalore, India last year that Akshara Ajith first became involved in women’s leadership initiatives. Back then, she was an executive member of Deloitte’s Women’s Initiative (WIN), and as part of the company’s week-long celebration of International Women’s Day she received a copy of the bestselling book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead written by Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg. Today Akshara is one of the phenomenal women enrolled in CEIBS MBA Class of 2018.

“I was inspired to take up the presidency of CEIBS MBA Women’s Leadership Network (WLN) after having grown personally as a result of belonging to the ‘Lean-In Circle’ community in Bangalore,” she says, referencing the global networks that have been inspired by Sandberg’s book.

Akshara believes that women are highly under-represented within global industry and hopes to make a difference and be a purpose-driven leader herself. As President of the CEIBS WLN, she balances her MBA workload with planning events designed to empower women to lead, fulfilling the club’s mission to build awareness in women’s leadership issues and serve as a learning platform that connects women from different backgrounds to potential role models.

Since the beginning of her term as president, Akshara has organised a number of events that encourage discussion among CEIBS MBA students, who represent 21 countries and regions. Despite their diverse backgrounds, the women in the group all face similar challenges, such as breaking through the glass ceiling and gender bias.

“WLN is a fantastic platform to reach out to counterparts in the Shanghai Leadership Network, Lean-In Circles, and CEIBS’ own alumni network to invite inspiring women leaders to share their experiences in Q&A sessions,” she says, elaborating on her role in serving the 40+ male and female members of WLN.

The guest speakers Akshara has arranged have shared advice on a wide range of topics, including career development and work-life balance. One notable speaker was Melody Zhang, who founded XY Consulting, an advisory firm dedicated to supporting both MBA applicants and current MBA students. Zhang highlighted the need for women to speak up in order to advance.  Akshara recalls that Melody said, “Men are generally more comfortable asking for promotion, whereas women tend not to be as vocal, but they should learn how to go upfront and ask”.

Another was CEIBS Global Executive MBA 2015 Ceci Chen, who is the Brand Operation Director at Johnson & Johnson. Chen spoke about the importance of having a vision for career development, rather than going with the flow and simply expecting opportunities to present themselves.

Senior Vice President of Oncology and Biomedicines at Eli Lilly China Christine Zhou shared her journey from practising medicine, to Harvard Business School and ultimately her current role in global pharmaceuticals.  Her key messages for the MBAs focused on strategies for striking a balance between their personal and professional lives.

Akshara will be celebrating International Women’s Day today by joining the Shanghai Women Leadership Network’s Be Bold event. Next on her agenda for the CEIBS Women’s Leadership Network is to organize a session that will explore how the manufacturing industry, traditionally dominated by men, can do more to engage and support women in leadership.

The MBA Women’s Leadership Network is one of 21 active, student-led clubs at CEIBS, further details can be found here.