Dr. Saundarya Rajesh
Founder & PresidentCompany: Avtar Group
Role: Diversity Award Winner—Winds of Change, Individual / Session Presenter
2022 Conference Session:
Empowering ERG Leaders to Lead with Purpose and Impact
Circa mid-1990s, it was the India of the post-liberalization era and Dr. Saundarya Rajesh was a woman who, after a career break, was seeking to return to the workplace. Despite burgeoning career opportunities in a globalized economy, she noticed that women were receiving a raw deal. This was even more aggravated in the case of women who took breaks in careers. Observing the loaded inequities in the workplace for all underrepresented talent pools, she set up Avtar—a social enterprise focusing on creating diverse, equitable, and inclusive organizations. Today, she is recognized not only as having created several thousand careers for women on breaks, but also for pioneering the discipline of diversity, equity, and inclusion in Indian workplaces.
For her path-breaking work of the past 20 years in this space, she has won accolades such as the Ministry of Women & Child Development #100Women Achiever Award, Twitter’s #Web Wonder Women Award, the 2019 Winds of Change Award from The Forum on Workplace Inclusion in Minnesota, NiTi-Aayog’s Women Transforming India Award, Golden Aviator Award, Asia’s Most Innovative Diversity & Inclusive Leaders Award—and the list goes on.
An irrepressible advocate of the potential of women’s workforce participation, Dr. Saundarya is the advisor of choice for an impressive list of organizations and leaders on the benefits of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). In the past two decades, she has personally trained and mentored over 10,000 leaders in the Indian corporate sector. Through Avtar, which is India’s first DEI solutions company, she has helped diversity champions create a strong business, talent, and culture case for their organizations to espouse diversity talent in their workplaces.
The team at Avtar, under Dr. Saundarya’s leadership, is steeped in creating many innovative and effective DEI solutions along the lines of Experiencing, Enriching, Enabling and Embedding Diversity in organizations. All interventions from the house of Avtar take their origin in primary research. Training solutions such as “A&B (Allyship & Belongingness) of Inclusion,” “Unconscious Bias Training,” “Men as Gender Advocates,” multi-generational workforce training, audit and advisory solutions like DEI assessments and HR policy review, recruitment solutions for hiring people from different underrepresented talent pools and, most recently, India’s only diversity job portal—myavtar.com—are all part of Avtar’s offerings.
Under Dr. Saundarya’s guidance, Avtar conducts India’s largest gender analytics called “Best Companies for Women in India (BCWI),” which recognizes the top 10 and top 100 best companies of India that have designed and implemented the best practices toward gender inclusion. The five-year BCWI journey has seen women’s representation at the 100 best companies grow from 25% in 2016 to 34% in 2020.
In 2019, Avtar also created corporate India’s largest inclusion index: Working Mother & Avtar Most Inclusive Companies Index (MICI), to identify companies whose diversity intent transcends the strand of gender to include diversity of abilities, that of sexual orientation, age, culture, etc.
The results of these studies culminate each year in India’s most respected awards conference—Best of the Best (BoB)—which Avtar hosts in partnership with Working Mother Media. Currently in its fifth edition, BoB witnesses several hundred leading lights in the space of DEI congregate and share best practices in the spirit of collective growth. Apart from BoB, Avtar conducts many successful large-format conferences which have been breakthrough platforms enabling underrepresented talent groups and organizations intent on DEI to learn and grow. In addition to BoB, some other flagship DEI events include diversity job fairs, Power of I (virtual DEI conference), and Segue Sessions—large format skill-building and networking platform for women.
Making her writing debut in 2018, Dr. Saundarya Rajesh’s book, “The 99 Day Diversity Challenge,” published by SAGE, is India’s first experiential book on DEI and has won several acclaims from industry leaders. In a captivating, unique format, the book is designed to develop diversity and inclusion mindset in any organization or even individual within the proverbial 99 days.
An inspiring speaker, an author, and a very sought-after DEI strategist, Dr. Saundarya’s inclusive vision is also to see young girls from underprivileged families create empowering white-collar careers for themselves. This she influences through Project Puthri, an initiative that instills “career intentionality” in the minds of underprivileged girls from corporation/government schools. Presently Puthri mentors over 6,000 girls from below poverty-line families.
Her work in the space of DEI in the workplace is unparalleled in India. Her journey toward creating inclusive and equitable workplaces is inspirational. We can expect that her nation-building work in strengthening organizations, communities, and societies that truly harness the power of diversity will continue relentlessly for many more years to come.