Dr. Uma Gautam is dedicated to changing the face of India’s corporate world, literally.
The founder of Bangalore-based HeadPro Consulting says her executive headhunting venture has helped more than 300 women land mid- and top-level jobs in C-suites throughout India. And she aims to help many more reach leadership positions, both in her country and beyond.
Gautam started HeadPro in 2011 with the goal of breaking the glass ceiling for qualified women struggling to be considered for executive roles. Women’s representation in the leadership ranks of companies is poor worldwide, but it’s especially dismal in India. In a survey last year that looked at female senior-management representation in 36 countries, India ranked third from the bottom. Globally, women accounted for just 24 percent of all executives in 2017, and a quarter of businesses worldwide had no women at all in senior roles, nonprofit Catalyst found.
Gautam aims to change this by “propelling women leaders to the top,” she says. And she is aiming high. “We have been supporting Fortune 500 clients in hiring women leaders to their boardrooms and as parts of leadership teams.”
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From the beginning, Gautam has focused on pairing women executives with client companies in 10 key industries, including male-dominated arenas like automotive, aerospace, engineering and real estate. HeadPro also finds female leaders for what it calls “business enabler” roles in areas like human resources, finance and logistics.
HeadPro, she says “with a lot of pride,” is making a direct difference for working women.
Championing Women in the Workplace
HeadPro also offers a program to companies — both clients and not — called eXXcalators that recruits and places senior-level female talent. Since its creation in 2016, 17 companies have taken part. The program also informs current executives about the work/life balance problems women often experience in the workplace.
Gautam’s own company, which has had an all-woman team from inception, is highly sensitive to those problems. The office environment she has created for her 10 employees is “women-centric,” she says, and radically embraces remote work.
“Apart from offering full-time employment to only women, we also offer work-from-home options to women,” she says. “I had to juggle between home and office” before starting up, and learned the hard way “how tough it is for women to be able to cater to both requirements at the same time.”
Her woman-friendly business is lucrative, as well as impactful — last year, HeadPro earned revenue of 17 million INR, or just over $240,000, from companies who used her executive recruiting services.
Working Hard All Her Life
Gautam’s respect for hard-working women started with her mother. Though her father was the family breadwinner, her mother managed the household finances. Plus, “all on her own, she did the housekeeping, supported the kids with their homework, all of that.”
Gautam and her two sisters grew up in a lower middle-class family in Bangalore. “Nothing came to us easily,” she says. “We really had to stretch to get what we wanted.” But her parents urged their daughters to pursue their dreams, regardless of gender or wealth.
For Gautam, that initially meant becoming a dentist and marrying an entrepreneur. Her partner was supportive, but she still struggled to balance her work and home lives. Frustratingly, daycare services were only available during certain hours of the day, and didn’t meet her needs. Driven by the desire for more flexibility, Gautam decided to set out on her own as an entrepreneur.
One of her favorite parts of being a dentist was connecting with others. “It made me realize, yes, I am a people-person,” she says. So she thought about how to turn that skill into a venture, and realized headhunting required someone who knows how to relate to others. With that, an idea for a new business was born.
She launched HeadPro in 2011 by herself, bootstrapping her efforts and working from home. For 3 months, she ran the company by carrying around her laptop while chasing her then-toddler. But the lack of separation between the professional and the personal made her feel “like a zombie.” So she converted a spare bedroom into a more formal office space, and restricted herself to working a set number of hours.
The business slowly expanded as more companies in industries poorly served by other recruiting turned to her to find senior-level talent. This allowed her to bring on employees and eventually rent office space.
On a Mission to Lift More Women Up
In addition to helping women today, she also wants to create a better tomorrow — especially as a 39-year-old mother raising two daughters, ages 11 and 3. Her entrepreneurial example is already taking hold with them, she says. Gautam beams that her eldest haggles on product prices in the markets and “very proudly announces to the world that ‘my mother is an entrepreneur.’”
Today, HeadPro works with 20 large companies throughout India. But in the coming year, Gautam says she aims to expand into Singapore, the Philippines and other parts of Asia where awareness of gender inequality at the top tiers of companies is growing — and where she can offer a solution.
Gautam says she is excited by her firm’s progress and proud of the women she and her employees have helped. “We definitely do good in the world.”
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