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‘Hiring women is just a step to inclusive culture’: Suman Mishra

Mahindra Last Mile Mobility's CEO and MD on why women should embrace work challenges

Suman Mishra took up her current role at Mahindra in mid-2021, during the pandemic.

By Shail Desai

LAST PUBLISHED 29.04.2024  |  01:05 PM IST

While growing up in Rourkela, Suman Mishra, 45, observed how manufacturing could transform cities and provide large-scale employment. A degree in computer engineering further fuelled her ambition to pursue innovation and technology on a global scale, after which she focussed on the manufacturing sector.

When the opportunity to join the Mahindra Group arrived in 2015, Mishra was well aware of the gender disparity in the automotive industry. At home, she had another full-time job of tending to a nine-month-old. But she knew the world of electric mobility would be fulfilling. “While the shift to automotive was unplanned, I am thrilled to be contributing to this industry which is so important for India’s GDP and supports over 37 million jobs," says Mumbai-based Mishra, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer at Mahindra Last Mile Mobility, who manufacture vehicles.

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She took up her current role in mid-2021, after covid resulted in a significant downturn in the company’s core business of electric three-wheelers. The global semiconductor shortage had also hit them. It took strategic planning to navigate the challenges of the electric vehicle market. “Our focus shifted towards understanding customer needs. The electric three-wheeler has democratised technology and allowed us to offer lower running costs and potentially higher earnings. And I find this purpose very inspiring, no matter the hurdles that come," she says.

Mishra talks to Lounge about mentorship and why women shouldn’t shy away from opportunities.

Who do you consider your mentor?

I’ve been very fortunate to have several mentors whose unwavering belief in me has been a constant source of strength. Their insightful advice, unwavering encouragement and wisdom have pushed me to continuously challenge myself and strive for excellence.

What does being a mentor mean to you? How do you mentor your colleagues at work?

I view mentorship as an opportunity to empower colleagues to reach their full potential, both personally and professionally, by lending a listening ear and boosting their confidence. One of the most important aspects of mentorship is fostering self-belief. Encouragement and celebrating success, as well as offering constructive inputs that help them navigate setbacks, are really important.

What is your advice for women who aspire to take up leadership positions, especially in the automobile manufacturing space?

They should be confident and not shy from opportunities. Women often are hesitant to raise their hands for opportunities (often due to personal conflicts), but my advice is to embrace challenges and step into those opportunities. While women in auto leadership are still a minority, inspiring figures like Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, are paving the way. The growing electric vehicle market offers even more openings for women, particularly in software engineering, a key area where the playing field is becoming more level. Creating a truly inclusive culture is crucial. Hiring women is just the first step.

What’s your morning schedule like?

As a mother to an eight-year-old, my morning schedule is quite hectic and involves getting my kid ready for school. I try to wake up early and practice yoga as often as I can. I also spend some time journalling my thoughts over a cup of tea whenever possible.

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What are some of the productivity principles you follow that have made your professional and personal life much easier?

Having a clear vision for myself and for the organisation keeps everyone focussed on our common goals. This helps streamline processes and reduce clutter, allowing us to work smarter and not just harder. I prioritise and identify the most critical tasks, delegating them with clear expectations of deliverables. Finally, it’s okay to make mistakes and learn along the way. So, we need to practice self-compassion and always be willing to learn and grow from our experiences.

Any book or podcast you would recommend about mentorship and growth?

Few podcasts that I am fond of are A Bit Of Optimism by Simon Sinek and The Knowledge Project with Shane Parish.

Monday Motivation is a series in which business leaders and creative individuals discuss their mentors and their work ethics.

Shail Desai is a Mumbai-based freelance writer.

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