Lockdown Economy India with a Diversity & Inclusion Coach Aparna Mathur

The interview was transcribed and adapted into an article by Megha Shyamili Puushothaman

Lockdown Economy: Interviews by think tank AlterContacts.org with real entrepreneurs sharing insights, challenges and successes during the COVID19 global pandemic to inspire, motivate and encourage other entrepreneurs around the world.

In this interview hosted by Arshia Bhatnagar, we meet Aparna Mathur, co-founder of GLOW (Growing Leadership Of Women), working to create more diverse and inclusive workplaces for women and entrepreneurs in India. Aparna works with women through workshops, facilitated sessions, one-on-one engagements. However, the pandemic and lockdown resulted in all budgets and funds for training, development, diversity inclusion etc to be frozen, with proposals for the same being indefinitely postponed and many working women across sectors losing their jobs and livelihood.

Could you explain to us what the basic business model you have is and what it is that you do as an organization?

Aparna: Okay. I am a leadership coach and I am the co-founder of Growing Leadership of Women- G.L.O.W for short. What GLOW does is support women and organizations on their diversity and inclusion journey. Our mission is to enhance inclusion in organizations and really empower women to be able to create a more just and equitable world. So the workshops that we do, whether they are facilitated sessions, small group coaching circles or one on one coaching engagements, are essentially designed to empower women. When I say empower, I am referring to the ability for them to shift their way of thinking, the way they feel and the way they act. The framework that we follow at GLOW is what we call the INSPIRE framework. S.P.I.R.E stands for Spiritual, Physical, Intellectual, Relational and Emotional. So when all these aspects of ourselves are aligned into a harmonious balance, we are really leading from our full potential. Our workshops are designed around this framework.

We work with women in organizations, we work with women entrepreneurs, we even have a community outreach program where we are supporting young girls from underserved backgrounds through a mentor program. So each girl is getting mentored on their career aspirations, on building confidence in themselves. So that, in a nutshell, is a little bit about what GLOW does.

Perfect. So it is not just necessarily working with corporations but you are reaching out to the less advantaged areas as well and working with individuals.

Aparna: That’s right. So we’ve worked with homemakers where we run open enrollment programs. We’ve done something called the ‘vitality retreat’ where we help them align the physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual aspects of themselves. We’ve also done a program on Ikigai- how can I align my passion, my skills and how can I make a contribution in the world. We have diff programs on the open enrollment program but a chunk of our work is with women in organizations, in corporates. We’ve done a little bit of work with women entrepreneurs as well. As I said, the fourth part is the community outreach program where we are supporting young, college girls.

Perfect. So how long have you been doing this? When did this organization start and where are you based?

Aparna: Arshiya, we started three years ago both my business partner and I have been working for the last twenty-five years, we’re leadership coaches, we work with organizatoins on talent development. Three years ago we came together and we said. “Why don’t we create a separate space for women?” because in most of our training programs we found that the challenges that women faced were very different from their male counterparts. And they didn’t really have an opportunity to share without any hesitation. So a mixed gender group doesn’t allow for that much freedom and space for them to share. By which time, diversity & inclusion was seen as a big agenda by organizations. There is a very clear case for how having diverse teams leads to better business performance. So through 2017, both of us decided to get together and say “let’s do this”. And that’s how GLOW happened. It has been a little over three years.

How many clients do you normally have in a regular business year? Of course, 2020 has been different with the pandemic.

Aparna: So we have about 10 or 15 clients. If you’re in an open enrollment program, of course, we have many more clients coming in. Otherwise by large, a chunk of our work, our flagship program is with organizations. We do an immersion program followed by peer learning sessions, then one on one coaching. So we have 10 or 15 clients with whom we do dependent, long-term leadership development journeys.

And what about employees? I know that you’re a small business there’s only two of you that founded it.

Aparna: Yes, it is just the two of us but you know what, we have a very wide network of women coaches. If we were to get a large assignment, our network is far and wide to pull in as many resources as possible. I think increasingly now, the business world is all about a network so we- leveraging a network of coaches.

Lockdown economy and Alter Contacts can also help with networking aspects. So coming to what- how is your business actually maintained and what did you do on the business front during the lockdown. How did you try to stimulate the business and attract customers and how was 2020 as a year for you?

Aparna: 2020 has been a very very unprecedented, unusual year. None of us had planned for this. In March when India went into lockdown, we had to- till then we were used to running face-to-face classroom sessions. Two-day programs two and half-day programs. What we did, the first thing that we did was look at our content, break it down into shorter sessions- online sessions for two, two and a half hours and increase the duration so say, for example, a month-long engagement or even longer. That’s one of the first things that we did in terms of breaking down our content and having everything digitized. Without of course, minimizing or diluting the impact of the content. That’s what we’ve been doing.

The other things that we have started doing are — and something that’s been very well received — is our GLOW coaching circles. We realized right after the pandemic, emotional resilience, anxiety was on the rise, there is a lot of uncertainty, ambiguity that we are all dealing with. So we set up small group coaching circles, about 10–12 women come together to share and to reflect and be inspired by each other. So it’s a theme-based coaching circle, facilitated by one of us; that’s either my Business Partner or me. And we work on the theme, say for eg. managing self, overcoming challenges, emotional resilience, how to build a supportive relationship network. So based on that theme, but it is pretty free-flowing and open-ended to allow for a lot of reflection, a lot of sharing and supporting each other. That’s something that has been very well received.

I think it’s also really important because mental health is something that actually received a lot of- a lot more awareness and has exacerbated through the pandemic because so many people were dealing with their own challenges whether it is financial, emotional and all of that plays a part in how you deal with something.

Aparna: Absolutely, We have been really stretched to our limits this year. It’s been a tough year for many of us.

Did you end up taking any time off work or did the business model continue even through the lockdown and then try- even though there were restrictions for face to face?

Aparna: Yes of course. I’m a huge advocate of taking time off. I think it helps me work better. I can’t completely do a 24/7 schedule, so yes, I did take some time off given that we were all locked down. There was an opportunity to spend quality time with family. I had all my family next to me so that was absolutely wonderful.

At the same time, I think I spent a lot of time reading, understanding what’s going on, talking to people. So in a way, the pandemic or the lockdown really gave me the time to slow down. Otherwise, you’re so caught up in just delivering, meetings, running- suddenly with travel having been completely eliminated, it gave me enough time to look back read up on all those books that I have been wanting to but hadn’t found the time, look at how we can sharpen our content, increase the content and quality of our content. So I think to that end, it was something at that time, that space to introspect, to read, to write was wonderful.

Definitely. In terms of now, how is your business going? Is it- the impact that you had, do you know how your customers are doing? In the present sense, how is your organization dealing?

Aparna: We were affected. There were a lot of proposals that were in the pipeline which we were hoping to convert this year but in March, end of March, all budgets on training, development, diversity & inclusion, everything was frozen. Suddenly everything came to nought and we had to get creative to think of what else we could do in these times. Yes, I would say business has suffered; it has now started picking up a little bit, it has now come- you can hear organizations making the right noises about picking up talent development as well as diversity & inclusion. Unfortunately, in these times, diversity & inclusion and the kind of work that GLOW does for women, that took a back seat. It was talent development initiatives that were being prioritized and D&I was put on the back burner which was unfortunate. But things have started moving a little bit. I’m hoping the next year would be a lot better.

So what would your outlook for the next coming months be?

Aparna: I’m pretty optimistic. I am positive about what 2021 will hold for us. Organizations actually are realizing the importance of diversity & inclusion. They know that this is something which will add to their business performance. Just because things were getting reprioritized at the onset of the pandemic, it had to be deprioritized. But I am pretty sure given the huge impact that it has on business performance, it will be centre-staged again. Which is where my level of optimism comes from. We have seen at a national level, women employment go down significantly according to a recent CMIE report. Also, more women have lost jobs compared to men. When employment opportunities open up, chances are that men will get employed faster than women will. So this has put a spoke and a dent in the overall D&I efforts whether at a national level or in organizations; but given its importance, given how important and significant it is in driving performance, I’m pretty sure it is going to be centre-staged soon enough. I’m pretty hopeful about next year.

The second aspect is working with women to develop, to help build their confidence and inner leadership capacities. That’s something which is also the need of the hour; that if women have to rise up the corporate hierarchy, we need to really invest in them. So I don’t think it can be on the back burner for too long.

I completely agree. I think it is really important and organizations like yours are the ones that actually pushing for diversity & inclusion when especially in the Indian corporate world, it’s mostly just board rooms full of men and maybe one odd woman. So it’s really important to have gender equity in corporate sectors as well.

My last question to you would be: if you could name three things or three aspects that you recognise is what you need the most help with?

Aparna: I wouldn’t say three things- let me just state one thing that I would really love and want is for my work to go to a wider audience and I am hoping through this interview it will reach not just all of India but even the entire globe. Now with everything having gone online, location is no longer a constraint. I would love for women, whether they are women entrepreneurs or homemakers or women in organizations, to really proactively seek mentoring support. Proactively seek coaching support.

I know these are tough times and we don’t need to do it all by ourselves. There is a world of a difference we can make to our lives and others if we step up and reach out for support. I would love to do GLOW coaching circles with many more women out there and help them be supported by a peer group as also challenged beyond their limitations by a coach. Yes, that’s something that I would love to do so I would encourage organizations to set up coaching circles in their organization to support women. Equally, I would encourage women entrepreneurs and homemakers to come up and seek coaching support from GLOW.

I think if there’s one thing we’ve learnt this year is that there is power in asking for help as well. And the kind of stuff that you’re providing is really important and vital.

Aparna: At GLOW, we’d also like to believe when you grow from within when you are feeling inspired, when you feel strong, when you feel confident, you really GLOW. So when you grow, is when you glow! And I’d like to see that glow on every woman.

Thank you so much Aparna aunty and thank you for everyone who joined today.

About the Guest

GLOW (Growing Leadership Of Women) is an organization working to enhance inclusion and empower women to create a more just and equitable world. They work with women entrepreneurs, homemakers, women in organizations etc. through facilitated sessions and workshops, as well as through creating coaching circles and community outreach programmes. They enable women to live and lead with their whole being by creating unique learning experiences that inspire and support women to discover and develop their highest potential.



The UN-registered nonprofit social initiative that helps small businesses and self-employed professionals to overcome the challenges of the pandemic.