By Swatee Jog
It’s rather difficult to focus on what she’s saying, immediately, when you are sitting before an extremely beautiful girl whose eyes twinkle now and then, who dresses immaculately and whose taste of all things normal spells style with a capital S. More so when she is in a mood to come to the point within seconds of starting conversation.
This pretty girl loves her newly acquired RICOH Theta camera that can capture almost 360 degree pictures as much as the cute trinkets that she wears. But once you can focus on her words, all you do is listen, listen and listen. For what she is saying today makes sense, it is what she passionately does and has achieved for herself with sheer hard work. That’s Soniya Netalkar for you.
Focused on her work, passionate about women empowerment, well travelled and yes, very very beautiful. Why am I gushing about her beauty, you may ask, well do ask me, for she has earned her stripes as a ‘no-nonsense-engineer-strategist-businesswoman’ by standing on the machines till the wee hours of morning, working with foreign engineers, getting things done by dirtying her hands, travelling for business and being there for her company – Netalkar Power Transmission. I was meeting her at short notice and even though I’ve met her before, today I was at her office to know more about her Japan visit.
“I’ve travelled abroad frequently, “ she says, “But this was special, not only because was it paid for by the Govt. of Japan ( twinkle in eyes!) , these were among the best five days of my life” says Soniya. (Well, her wooden mobile cover has a compass engraved on it. Just so you know!)
Seated in her functional office amidst plenty of noise from the machines around, which somehow doesn’t bother us today, we talk endlessly about her experiences. Soniya was nominated to this five day Program on Empowerment for Women Leaders from India, in Japan by Walter Titex.
They nominated her to the program by CII- HIDA ( Confederation of Indian Industries- Overseas HR Industry Development Association), an Indo-Japanese venture. HIDA is part of of METI ( Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry) of the Govt. of Japan and this initiative brought together 17 women entrepreneurs from India. Soniya explains that it was Modi’s meeting with Japanese PM Shinzo Abe that facilitated such activities.
“Mr. Modi is passionate about women empowerment” she explains. “Japan has a lot of ageing population. Add to that the women between the most productive age group of 30 to 40 drop out of the workforce at alarming numbers. This is the reason why whereas there are around 5% women in top positions in corporate India, the same figure is a dismal 1.4% in Japan” she rues. “The planning-friendly Japanese have now come up with project 2020 which aims at taking this figure to 30% women by 2020.”
And where’s the blue-print, I ask her. “ They have a great plan. They’ve started offering women a good 6 years of paid maternity leave” she says while my jaws drop. “Japanese companies don’t allow the women to just week off work in the meantime. They hire temporary staff in the interim but gradually allot work to her in small batches so that she not only stays connected to her old work, does not get obsolete and this system allows creation of plenty of jobs for the temp workers who can be rotated between industries and earn valuable experience”. Now that’s what I’d call win-win-win situation.
Probe Soniya about women empowerment and you can see the passion in her voice. “Women are women’s biggest problems” she says. Now this girl doesn’t surprise me. “Women empowerment is not possible without men’s contribution, but it’s the women of her house, the mother-in-law and sister-in-law who need to be counseled” she says matter-of-factly. Well, yes. The first thing that Soniya did after she returned from Japan was to get the men and women of her factory together and addressing them about this problem.
How was her Japan tour, I ask. “ There are a few things that surprised me” she gushes. “ The Indian diplomat to Japan is a lady and the ONLY woman diplomat in Japan” Soniya informs me with pride visible on her face. Then she contritely adds that the Japanese taught her more about India than what the Indians knew themselves. The all-women delegation from India visited some companies. RICOH , Topan Printing and Cybosu, where the rate of employee retention has grown from 4 to 28% with simple HR strategies that help the women in the workforce. She also met the Director of Pricewaterhouse Coopers ( PWC). Japan’s multi-level subway system enthuses her and so does the Sashimi platter which she tasted. A sea-food fan, Soniya’s eyes glint when she says she tasted raw Tuna, crab and even oyster on the platter!
What next for Soniya who is an engineering graduate and has an MBA from New Zealand along with more than 4 years of hands-on experience at her family business which has shaped her personality in more ways. “I’ve proposed an Industrial Park in Belgaum that would provide uninterrupted power, roads, hassle free permissions and the stuff that can enable a businessman set up his business quickly.” She explains that while the problems that she faces with costing and production are enough to handle, she laments that factory owners like her family have had to face problems which could otherwise be handled by the system itself. The group of women is in constant connect and now want to put up a presentation to the HRD minister soon. Well, you can expect some good outcomes soon.
Soniya’s interests befit a young woman, watching TV ( “even cartoons”) included. She loves to spend her free time chatting and interacting with her big family and organizing her things. I think aloud that this young woman has worked hard, strategized for her company, traveled for work, dreams of an Industrial park for Belgaum and in general is so passionate about woman empowerment, would one day get married and leave Belgaum. “ Well, I don’t know about that, but I really hope I find someone in Belgaum! However, wherever I am, I will be always connected to Belgaum and my work” she promises. I so wished to thank her for that!
Soniya Netalkar has spunk. She also has that dogged spirit to plan and make things happen and she works endless hours for it. She dreams big and knows exactly how they can come true. She is passionate about women empowerment and understand what can be done to make it possible. It looks as if this is one personality whom you are seeing through the lenses of that RICOH Theta camera.
Way to go, girl.