Bhavika Unnadkat: On family, persistence and a 'burning desire to succeed'.

Indian-born Bhavika Unnadkat is Head of Data Governance and Knowledge Management at Energy Australia and is Chair of the Board of Women's Association South East Melbourne Australia (WASEMA).  She is also on the Board of the Australian Parents Council and a member of VIC ICT for Women's MentorShe program. "These are both areas close to my heart: women's empowerment and children’s education", says Bhavika. Here Bhavika talks about how WOB has helped on her Board journey, and made her realised pursuing a Board career is a realistic goal.

You were recently appointed to the Board of WASEMA and in September became Chair. Congratulations! What drew you to that board?

WASEMA’s vision is  to increase the mental wellbeing and social and economic capacity of women from all cultural backgrounds. Helping and empowering women is a cause very close to my heart. I really want to help WASEMA grow and help many more women.

How has your family and cultural background  influenced your career and life direction?

The three things that made the biggest impact and influenced my life and shaped me into the person I am today are my family, persistence, and the burning desire to succeed.

The biggest barrier I faced in my career was to prove myself and my capabilities in a strong patriarchal society. I always wanted to create my own identity and take control of my life. That was very different to the norms my family had followed for generations.

At the age of 11 I decided that I wanted to pursue my career in information technology, but my family did not take me seriously. I had to constantly convince my Dad to allow me to pursue my passion. After securing a place in one of the best engineering colleges on my own merit, I remember that we were only five girls in the class of 50 students. Over the time I took an approach never to be conscious that I’m a woman when working in a largely male-dominated environment. 

After graduating I wanted to learn and achieve more in life. Coming from a very traditional family in India, to let a girl pursue a Master’s degree, and to let her travel and stay alone in a foreign country was a huge deal for my parents. My persistence finally paid off when I needed it the most, and my parents agreed to support me unconditionally on my decision to move to Australia. I consider myself to be quite fortunate as my parents supported me in spite of the norms in the society.

I believe that data can be used to make the world a better place, hence took data as my passion and profession. For the past 15 years I have been working as an information management professional.

What are the areas of expertise you feel you bring to your boards?

Commercial leadership for sustainable and profitable growth, strategic marketing and business planning, analytical fact-based decisions, change management and culture transformation, quality compliance and risk management.

When and why did you decide to pursue boards?

I’ve long had an interest in being able to leverage my experiences within the areas of data analytics, insight, strategy and governance to help a company grow and succeed.

Often companies don’t utilise data/insights to make decisions at the board table, which is where I would like to drive the change. Hence decided to pursue a board role and be a catalyst for the change.  

What do you most like about your board roles? 

It’s strengthened my ability to listen more than to speak and it has sparked a different level of intellectual curiosity.

Have you had mentors and/or sponsors and have they helped you? If so, how?

I have been fortunate to have had excellent mentors who were usually my direct supervisors. Each one of them has helped me become the very best version of myself which has led me to be a successful senior executive.
I am a big advocate of encouraging more women in data. As a way of giving back to the community, I mentor young women who are keen in progressing their career as data professionals. In my free time, I like to read, travel and teach young kids.

How has WOB helped you on your board journey?

WOB helped show me that being on boards, and even making a career out of it, was a realistic achievable goal for me.

Browsing the positions vacant list and reading about other women’s success really opened my imagination to the diversity of positions available and pathways to get there.  

What advice do you have for other women starting out in their Board journey? 

Keep trying. The realization that it isn’t easy will hit everyone quickly. If you’re serious, you must keep trying. Get the word out in a way that doesn’t sound needy with people on Boards who can sponsor you. You must be able to articulate what you can offer. What value can you add? 

Why do you think it is so important for there to be more diversity at leadership and board level, and what do you think can be done to improve this?

Boards are put in place to oversee an organisation or facility and to provide leadership. They govern for the benefit of, and are therefore accountable to, the community at large. Women therefore represent a big chunk of any board's stakeholders – and it is difficult to represent this important group's views and needs without giving women a place at the board table.

Having women on the Board also makes a strong statement about the organisation's willingness to seek out and consider the views of all its stakeholders.

For us to improve diversity in my opinion we should seek directors from a wide range of sources, make sure your final candidate pool is not a reflection of your conscious and unconscious biases. What I mean by that is to make sure your board candidate pool is not filled with carbon copies of you or the existing board members.

Use the skills matrix and your diversity goals as a framework to assess your short-list. If you’re not attracting a diverse audience, consider going back to the drawing board: Do you need to re-write the ad? Do you need to advertise in a different location? Can you utilise social media to draw out candidates not found via traditional sources?