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Priyanka Mohanty - VP- HR & Global Head Talent Management | DEI Leader | Author | Mount Everest Base Camp Trekker

Priyanka Mohanty

Priyanka Mohanty

Priyanka Mohanty

Crucial Success Skills Forged Through My Journey

Over a period of time, both professionally and personally, the four most important skills that have contributed to my journey are Self Awareness & Empathy, Resilience, Taking on Challenges and Adaptability. I hail from a town named Cuttack which is a city in the eastern Indian state of Odisha. After completing my Chemical Engineering from one of the premier institutes, N.I.T. Rourkela (erstwhile R.E.C) in Odisha and MBA in Human Resource from Institute of Management Technology, Nagpur, I moved to Mumbai in Maharashtra. Currently working as Vice President-HR and Global Head Talent Management, it has been 18 years of hallmark career dotted with impactful roles in Talent Management, Talent Engagement, HR Policies, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI), Employee Value Proposition, Cultural Integration, Leadership Development and HR Awards for Employer Branding. But the journey was not as simple as it looks like. It was filled with twists and turns, challenges, unexplored terrains, hardships, fun, heartaches, celebrations and many special moments ultimately leading to what I am today. 

Be it coping with the loss of a loved one at a very young age, being a female engineer from Eastern part of India to plunge into an unknown zone of remote industrial town in South India, 1530 kilometres from my hometown with grey uniform, yellow helmet, blue collar staff, jostling through refineries and power plants and completely new language and culture in my first job, moving base from a small city to the city of dreams Mumbai after my MBA, hustling through and rising up the corporate ladder, cruising through the unexplored terrain of motherhood by co-parenting, co-authoring several anthologies, dreaming the impossible and daring to trek the Everest Base Camp despite being a complete non-trekker, everything was worth it. One thing which I realized was that no matter what the obstacles are, within each one of us lies a superpower to overcome those and reach unimaginable heights. My story echoes how I embarked on a transformative voyage of self-belief, perseverance, and unwavering determination thereby embracing the journey to unleash my true potential.

Crafting Creative Opportunities from Every Challenge

My First Tryst with Adversity in 2003 : The flight attendant inside the flight walked up to me for the second time and asked, “Ma’am are you sure you don’t want to eat anything. Are you fine?” My answer was no different from our first interaction as I slowly reiterated, “No thanks”. I wondered was I even listening to her, because Papa’s phone call yesterday was still reverberating in my ears when he said, “Can you please come home, Suraj is no more”. I was standing there completely insensate losing my purpose and questioning myself, did I hear right? My younger brother, who had just turned 17, was no more. 1530 kilometres away from my home I just didn’t know what to do? The only question I remember asking Papa was, “how is Mama?” I came from a small town in Eastern India known as Cuttack in Odisha with endless dreams and it was just 11 months in my first job after completing my Chemical Engineering from NIT Rourkela which was one of the premier engineering colleges of the country. My place of posting after my Engineering was a remote industrial town called Mettur in South India, 1530 kilometres from my hometown. It was a huge challenge to be placed there owing to several novel conditions which I had never experienced before. 

I was a female engineer trying to make my place amongst 1000 male blue-collar workers. Besides dealing with extraction of bauxite and jostling through refineries and power plants in the company; I was trying to cope with language, culture, accent and most importantly, I was managing the whole spectrum of emotions arising in the minds of men when they saw a female engineer from a faraway land working in a factory with yellow helmet and grey uniform trying to confidently jostle into an unknown territory which was perhaps not so common there. I still remember my last day when all the workers got together and got lunch for me along with a learners book of ‘Tamil’ and said “Ma’am – come back soon”. Yes, this was the last day when I had to return after Papa’s phone call. There was no direct flight from Mettur to my hometown and I had to board a bus from Mettur to Chennai which took me 8 hours so that I could board my flight; actually, my first flight ever. I had never ever taken a flight before. The flight landed on time, and only two words kept ringing in my ears: “Be Strong”. Now it’s only me, their daughter and she has to be strong. I was 23 then, and not prepared for this in my journey of life. Emptying my brother’s cupboards, clearing his school bag, giving away his books, informing his friends, no longer keeping his lunch plate next to ours; all these moments tested my courage and sometimes I don’t know from where I amassed the strength to do this. At that point, life felt empty and meaningless. I knew that nothing would mend this loss but perhaps taking the first step to overcome this grief will help me move ahead in life. 

2004-2006 : Courage to move beyond the loss I took the next step bravely and started filling forms for my MBA entrance exam and got admission in one of the premier business schools, Institute of Management Technology located in the western part of India. Childhood in the East, Engineering in the East, first job in the South and now MBA from the West; I was enjoying this journey and finally my dream of entering Mumbai, India's largest and buzzing city seemed closer. Time was nearing for campus placements in our MBA campus and especially for me, I had clearly decided to apply only for those companies which would base me in Mumbai. The pulsating desire of essaying into Mumbai just wouldn’t die. One, two, three……..twenty-four companies came and went by and none was matching my criteria. I paused to think – am I asking too much? But my doting passion did not die. There was one last company left to come and I was delighted because this was for Human Resources and it was also posting us in Mumbai. Call it tenacity, persistence, doggedness or luck; I was the only one selected among the 20 people who appeared for group discussion and personal interview at this global conglomerate in Mumbai. My joy knew no bounds as I was stepping into my next stage in life coupled with the anxiety of relocating to my dream city. Life seemed like a dream as I first entered my dream city, Mumbai and for all those who had told me about its traffic, rentals, congestion, power cuts, safety etc., I just couldn’t see any of those. For me, my dream was important and my spirited journey as they say from a small town to Mumbai was not dampened by these words. After ages, I felt that I had left my vacuum behind and found vivacity and elan in this new city. 

2018 : Life changed again At 40, I had to choose another world – a world which many people do not understand even till date and that is the world of co-parenting without any inhibitions. It might be hard and challenging on some days yet, I would not have it any other way. Today, rough waters have taught me strengths I never knew existed within me and I live life happily with my son who is 9 today. 

2018-2024 - Moments of no looking back Conferred with the following Awards in My Individual Capacity: 

• 50 National Most Innovative & Emerging Leaders by Bizspeak Business Solutions 

• Asia’s 100 Power Leaders in HR by White Page International 

• Most Iconic HR teach Leaders, by World HRD Congress 

• Woman HR Leader of the Year by BW Businessworld 

• 22 Women Achievers of 2022 by HR Association of India 

• Best Diversity and Inclusion Head by LNOD and Women’s Leadership Forum of Asia 

• SheThePeople.TV 40 over 40 to recognize women over forty who have achieved & claimed their space under the spotlight 

• Corporate Star of the Year by InspireBeyondMotherhood Awards • Diversity Champion in Women in Corporate Awards (WICA) by Women’s Web 

• Women Achievers Award for Best Woman Leader in Corporate Sector by Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) 

• 101 HR Super Achievers by World HRD Congress 

• HR 40under40 by Jombay to identify India’s top 40 young HR Leaders Apart from this, I have fuelled my passion of writing and co-authored several anthologies ranging from social issues to personal stories. In May 2023, I dared to venture into something which I had never done before and that was trekking. Then in October 2023, I challenged myself and finally trekked to the Everest Base Camp (EBC) perched at an altitude of 5,364 m (17,598 ft) bringing me face-to-face with the world’s highest peak – Mount Everest. This made me believe that nothing is impossible if you believe you can.

My Impact

While there are many aspects of my work that I cherish, the one that I am most passionate about and which has made a difference to my life and to the community is my role of handling global Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. I had the opportunity to execute our innovative model of diversity which includes Persons with Disabilities (PwDs), Gender Inclusivity, Inclusion of Socially and Economically disadvantaged people, Culturally & Linguistically diverse people, Mature Age People and inclusion of Indigenous People. But to be more specific, the impact that I wish to highlight specifically is my along with support group in hiring and empowering Persons with Disabilities. In the last 8 years we have enabled hiring of more than 5000 Persons with Disabilities and continue to do so. 

I have been highly instrumental in working along with the leadership team in designing a very well-defined outcome based commitment and measurement system against each facet of diversity coupled with a stated philosophy. Partnering with NGOs, providing sensitization training, developing a business case to adopt empowering of PwDs, measuring the ROI, promoting accessibility, community outreach, career development etc. This was rolled out as a perfect change management initiative. We created an organization structure that empowers diversity & inclusion, created organizational change agents, sanctioned budgets to enable accessibility for Persons with Disabilities and conducted both internal and external training & sensitization programs for peers and colleagues. I am most humbled to touch the lives of those 5000 Persons with Disabilities and create tangible impact for the organization and lives of PwDs.

Scaling New Heights in Personal and Professional Triumphs

For me success is a composition of 3 simple things – vision of where you want to go, commitment to do what it takes to get there and flawless execution of the vision. I am an ardent follower of the 2120 Philosophy i.e. that one extra degree in life and work which makes all the difference and produces exponential results. And most importantly, despite adversities in life all it takes is just showing up every single day and moving forward. In professional life, understanding the business and being able to take the organization closer to the customer coupled with right attitude, relationship management and the fact that none of us are as strong as all of us will surely help to bring in the ‘WOW” effect from our shareholders, customers and above all employees. In personal life, I believe never get tired of chasing your dreams. I chose not to fake the quintessential way of life, rather I discovered my wings to fly and stay happy always! 

Professional Success:

• Most Iconic HR teach Leaders, by World HRD Congress 

• Asia’s 100 Power Leaders in HR by White Page International 

• Woman HR Leader of the Year by BW Businessworld 

• 50 National Most Innovative & Emerging Leaders by Bizspeak Business Solutions 

• 22 Women Achievers of 2022 by HR Association of India 

• Best Diversity and Inclusion Head by LNOD and Women’s Leadership Forum of Asia 

• SheThePeople.TV 40 over 40 to recognize women over forty who have achieved and claimed their space under the spotlight 

• Corporate Star of the Year by InspireBeyondMotherhood Awards 

• Diversity Champion in Women in Corporate Awards (WICA) by Women’s Web 

• Women Achievers Award for Best Woman Leader in Corporate Sector by Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) 

• 101 HR Super Achievers by World HRD Congress 

• HR 40under40 by Jombay to identify India’s top 40 young HR Leaders 

• A speaker in diverse forums such as Great Place to Work Institute, SHRM, BWBusinessworld, Confederation of Indian Industry-India Business Disability Network (CII-IBDN), Sarthak, National Abilympic Association of India (NAAI), LNOD & Women’s Leadership Forum of Asia (WLFA), Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) etc. Personal Success Stories while overcoming adversity From starting my career journey in a remote industrial town, Mettur in South India as a Chemical Engineer, my journey moved on to coping with the death of my younger brother who was only 17 and how I amassed the strength to do this. My unfazed decision to switch from Chemical Engineering to Human Resource and work 18 years as a progressive global HR leader conferred with multiple recognitions. 

Along the journey I have also co-authored several books as part of anthologies such as: 

• The Red Coloured Bliss – Anthology of positive ideologies, beliefs and feelings of people about menstruation 

• Under the Moonlit Sky – A Potpourri of Beautiful Tales – A compilation of stories about hope, dreams, courage to deal with problems and life. 

• Rape a Curse of Society – compilation of thoughts on the topic by various writers Trekking the Everest Base Camp despite being a complete non-trekker It was an adventure of a lifetime as I trekked the Everest Base Camp (EBC) perched at an altitude of 5,364 m (17,598 ft) bringing me face-to-face with the world’s highest peak – Mount Everest. As they say, dream the impossible and then anything is possible for you to create. So, I made a choice with incontestable belief and decided to give my dream a go. Cruising through the mountains at -10 degree C, lack of oxygen owing to high altitude, experiencing the world’s most dangerous airport, colossal size and enormity of the ranges, crossing long scary suspension bridges, braving sub-zero temperatures and battling altitude challenges – this was no easy feat. But the overwhelming feeling of pride and a sense of achievement that you feel when you reach base camp cannot be put in words. Standing under the silhouette of Mount Everest, the magnitude of the moment will make the hard work worth it. From a complete non-trekker in May 2023 to scaling the Everest Base Camp (EBC) in October 2023, truly whatever the mind believes, one can achieve.

The Synergy Between My Path and Recognition Values

All along my journey, I have realized that life is an exam where the syllabus is unknown and question papers are not set. Be it coping with the loss of a loved one, being the only female engineer in my first job, being that small town girl never ready to give up, moving base from a small city to the city of dreams, rising up the corporate ladder, cruising through the unexplored terrain of motherhood by co-parenting, co-authoring several books and virtual publications, dreaming the impossible and daring to trek the Everest Base Camp despite being a complete non-trekker, whatever challenges life threw at me, I grabbed with both hands. Yes, it wasn’t easy, but it was worth it. All I knew was that in life’s assessment with an unknown curriculum, this girl never gave up. 

For me, being this recognition will be a platform to reinvent, reassure and recreate the magic and again get up and start taking steps towards the realization and actualization of more magnificent dreams. It will act as recognition of all the choices that I have made in life with regards to career or personal choices. I am confident that I have made a difference to the success of my company, my team and peers, to the lives of people and in many cases, positive and lasting contributions to the communities in which they live. I am sure that this recognition will validate the adage that "Age is but a number" and for females it stands even truer. I just want to look back at my life one day and say – Girl, you believed in yourself and it worked!

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