“I will not pretend and say it’s easy to be a female leader in the industry:” Kanika Gupta

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Square Yards co-founder & COO Kanika Gupta has had diverse professional exposure in the fields of asset management and entertainment.

Having worked in companies like Tata Asset Management and ICICI Bank, Gupta, who is also the winner of ‘Young Achiever of 2014,' by Franchisee India, has had an interesting journey so far.

While bringing up her two kids, she decided to help her husband in managing their real estate portfolio. The need of players who could provide professional advice and handhold her throughout the transaction cycle was something that their global real estate advisory consultancy firm Square Yards was born out of. Started as a one-woman-army, the company now boasts of 25 offices in six countries and 14 cities of India, in just 14 months of existence.

Tell us about your journey as a professional in the industry. How has your experience been? The hardships & the incentives…

The journey has been quite rewarding actually. What started in the guest room of our home in Hong Kong with just me at the forefront is now a very successful venture. There is something fulfilling in helping people find a place they can call home. Every time a client sends a thank you note, the feeling of worthiness is beautiful. It is I would say sheer joy.

It is true that every journey has its set of challenges. A mother of two, I had left my job as an asset manager after embracing motherhood. My life was limited to my family and friends. Initially, this was my biggest challenge - to find that fine balance between my family and work. Also, when you re-start your life after such a long break, there is some nervousness. A part of you is also guilty for focusing on something other than your kids. It’s also scary in a way to go back to the cut-throat, rude yet gratifying world of professionalism. For me it was scarier because I was for the first time in my life, starting up a business. The trick is to put your head down and swim in the current. And survive I did.

How tough is it to be a female leader in the industry?

I will not pretend and say it’s easy. People associate women with being soft and malleable. It takes a lot of tough talk for you to make them realize that we are not two-year-olds and understand if not better as much as they do. Yes, you have to be firmer, more professional and more disciplined than your male counterparts. But is it impossible? I don’t think so. In my entire career as a working woman, I have never faced any major problems in getting some work done just because I am a woman. There is this subtle feeling that it takes more effort to make people hear you. But again, if you keep going you get there. And honestly, the men are not that bad. They come with a set of prejudices, but they do get over them too.

Does a glass ceiling exist in today’s world?

It does. But it is truly a glass ceiling… easily breakable. Most of the times it depends on how you take it. Either you go the extreme way and become a bad caricature of a man in attempts to rise in the corporate ladder. Or you be your own self, be proud of being a woman and feel sympathy for anyone who feels that you are inferior. If there are those laughing at you or don’t think your opinions matter, well, it’s their problem really. You keep your dignity, work hard and no glass ceiling, man or God can keep you from being successful.

Which part of your job do you enjoy the most and why?

The part where I help create systems that help people. Our CRM team, relationship managers, portfolio managers… they take care of all your real estate investment needs. When I say all, I mean all. To see our clients smile and come and appreciate our efforts is the thing that keeps me going and motivates me to even work harder.

How do you manage to balance your role as a CEO and a family person?

I am walking on a tight rope on this one. My husband, Tanuj, along with some of my closest friends are my business partners. It’s impossible for a day to pass without us disagreeing or having very different and strong opinions on things. Does that affect our personal life? Nope. Reason? All of us before we embarked on this journey made a promise to ourselves. We leave work and our disagreements in office. At home we never discuss business.

While all of us meet in office some days, we go out on drinks like old friends too. Also, the fact that the basic element of respect is not lost even during the most heated discussion helps. We are all old enough to accept each other as different individuals with different set of ideas. That’s also one thing that makes Square Yards such a dynamic place to work.

What is your opinion on the current status of women in the work force?

Oh! They are taking over the world! There is no skill, no job and no position that a woman cannot handle with great zeal and expertise. But are they being given equal opportunities? That is clearly debatable. There are many organizations that do not pay them equal to a man. If you look around, there is a clear need for more women leaders in the corporate world. There just aren’t enough to become role models for others.

The fact that a woman gives birth does works against her in the corporate world. The fact that men are still not sensitive to post-maternal trauma, periods or simply to a woman’s existence, holds true. Whatever her skill, a woman in the corporate world is still judged by her looks, her figure and has to bear snide comments every once in a while. She is judged by all and with an authority that borders on patriarchal behavior. All this is true. Is that going to stop them from becoming the future of corporate world? No, not at all. Women today are fighting against this current and with such élan that it’s only a matter of time before you will see more women out there, creating their own rules.

How do you think we can encourage education for the girl child?

By educating the parents and the society. Man is no more the only provider in the society. Times have changed. We are not living in times where a man went out to forage food and a woman took care of the kids. A man can now stay back home while a woman earns. The line between a man and a woman has blurred. We are moving towards a sexless society. It is important that people understand accept this.

What kind of books do you like to read?

I can read anything and everything under the sun.  The last book, which I just finished reading was Too Big To Fail by Andrew Ross Sorkin and loved it to the core.

Which are your favorite movies?

A good movie with my family is the best stress buster, which keeps me going. Being an actor in past, I like movies more from a cinematic angle. Some of my all time favorites are When Harry met Sally, Godfather amongst others.

How important are awards, appreciation and recognition to you?

Pretty important I would say. Everyone likes to be appreciated. I am no different. After all as rightly said by Alan Cohen, the famous American Business man, ‘Appreciation is the highest form of prayer, for it acknowledges the presence of good wherever you shine the light of your thankful thoughts.’

Who is your inspiration? Where do you draw your energy from?

Your biggest strength is you, yourself. I believe you do not need to look for any external source of energy. Make yourself so strong that your inner well of energy never dries up! My inspiration… Mark Zuckerberg. He is very cool.

What are the three things you wished you knew when you were in your 20s?

• Money is by-product of pursuing your dreams

• Life is goes on, with or without your approval

• Family and friends are the only two things that matter

At this stage, if you had to describe your life in one word, what would it be and why?

One word that describes me is ‘Initiator’. I have initiated my life numerous times in different domains and tried to excel every time I started something new.

Where do you see yourself in the next five years?

I see myself as a very successful entrepreneur. Happy in my personal life, an inspiration for women around the world and charging ahead to new horizons.


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