May 032015

Women in Leadership: For Leadership is not gender specific

It was not easy being a leader in India of yesterday. Be it politics, big business or various Woods like Bolly, Tolly, Molly you needed the right gene pool to stake your claim to the kingdom your grandpa formed,  making them all  Robin Hood, who took away from talented and distributed the loot among cousins.

Things got tougher if you had an abundance of X chromosomes, as  your shot at leadership or breaking the glass ceiling was even tougher with 2X chromosomes.  Time and again we saw parents choosing a moronic male heir over a more talented girl.

But as Bob Dylan crooned

 “Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’”,

 I am not sure if good old Bob gave this message or he just got the message and read the writing on the proverbial wall but the message was well understood.

 I am not sure about the sons but the daughters sure declared,

“If I can’t see the glass ceiling I am not going to care about to it, either the glass ceiling needs to move out of my way, or I will shatter it on my way to the top in my Express Elevator fueled by my sweat, for there is no rocket fuel as potent as the sweat of a working women.” 

And for Sure one by one every single glass ceiling in this country is falling apart never to be rebuilt, though still remembered with bitterness in various Old Boys Clubs and Khap Panchayats in equal measure. Guess What Old Boys? “Times they are a-changin”

Not just prominent corporate women leaders like Naina Lal Kidwai, Chanda Kochar, Kiran Mazumdar to name a few, but also  millions of unsung women entrepreneurs in India have proven again and again that leadership and enterprise is not a function of gender but of hard work and a never say die attitude.

In today’s India leadership is not restricted to corporate corner office but is blooming in the great outdoors as I have seen in GHAC one the largest adventure travel clubs in India, totally run by volunteers. Now   volunteer organization has its own challenges as leaders are also volunteers and they are expected to lead a group of youngsters in the Great Indian Outdoors, where safety of the participants always comes first.

Being a leader in GHAC is not easy because you don’t get to take decisions on files or spread sheets, you got to take decisions that can impact, comfort, safety and security of the group you are leading. The group is technically not reporting to you and will listen to you only if they believe that you are the right person to lead the group, with all the skills and talent to lead from front. For outdoors rarely give you a second chance.

 From day one when GHAC or Great Hyderabad Adventure Club was formed by Diyanat Ali, one thing was clear in his mind, GHAC will be a place that will decide its leaders on pure proven merit and gender will never be a point of discussion. No wonder today GHAC is one of the Top 10 Adventure Travel Clubs in India, but one of the few with Women in Leadership roles at all levels.

Today GHAC has many outdoor Volunteer leaders who all also excel in their personal and professional life besides leading GHAC treks. It is not very uncommon for a woman to lead an male majority group. But every leader earns their stripes here nothing is handed down on a platter.

While there is a big debate in online about safety of women traveling in India solo or in group, here in GHAC we have women not only traveling to remote places but also leading other men and women in the group. None of these women leader is scared to trek to remote mountains or desolate forts where no tourists or travelers dare to venture.

Let  us meet 4 of the women leaders of GHAC, who all lead from the front and are shining example of Women in Leadership roles  and prove that not only travel in India safe for women but they are also a motivation for other men and women to travel.

Take the case of Siri Appaneni, whom I first met during a trek to a remote fort in Mahbubnagar district. Since then she has led around 60 treks for GHAC to various places. Siri  is a manager with Innominds Software and feels her leadership skills with GHAC has helped her in her job also. She has undergone trainings like outdoor skills, Wilderness Survival Skills, Map Reading, making Knots, Essential Camping Skills, Basics of Rock Climbing, Teamwork and Group Dynamics how to Facilitate a Perfect Adventure Event etc. But as a true leader she was always looking for more ways to contribute to the success of her treks. So she brought her IT and project management skills to the table and volunteered to study some of the expense claim processes of the club and helped them streamline by making templates that any future leader can use to keep a track of money spent on trek.

Siri Appaneni Cycling GHAC Hyderabad

Siri Appaneni: For leadership should be a function of talent and hard work and not gender

“When outdoors Safety and being organized is always my first preference,” says Siri, about challenges of outdoor leadership.

“Not just once, but every time you are on a trek, based on the group, you need to take decisions on the routes and what is the risk you are willing to take. So lot of times when you have a mixed group where one wants high adventure, but another is a beginner, as an organizer you should make sure both of them get a good trek and plan the routes in such a way.”

Siri Appaneni

Siri Appaneni during a trek : At times the leader slows down to let the team go ahead of her

 As a true leader she takes care of not only the strong but also the slower member in a group, for in outdoors you cannot just leave a slow member behind you need to adjust your pace, motivate the member and make sure that they pace their progress to not run out of steam.

Then we have Akhila Manne who is pursuing her PhD from the prestigious IIIT Hyderabad, but also loves her role as an outdoor leader with GHAC. She has led more than 10 outdoor treks as well as city based events for GHAC like scrambling, rappelling, trail running etc.

rappelling in India

Just another day for Akhila Manne a PhD Scholar at IIIT Hyderabad and a GHAC leader

GHAC Trek in Sahyadris

Akhila Manne: For a  leader is not scared to travel Solo or any other kind

She has faced many a challenge in outdoor treks like this one time on a new trek the route was not marked properly, some of the members in group were total novices slowing the group and they could not reach the designated base before sunset.  She had to keep the group motivated and charged and rather than continuing to wander in uncharted territory in dark, decided to camp at a suitable site and wait for morning to start the trek again.

I think all these are signs of a true leader who could keep her lost and tired flock together and decide what is important for the safety of the group. Akhila is also one of the few GHAC leaders who also contribute to the GHAC blog, where she shares her experience of the outdoor.

GHAC Trek (1)

Vini Katyal: After scaling a summit you rest only to get ready for the next summit

Now let us meet Vini Katyal a social media marketer and a Software developer with an IT company.She started joining GHAC treks as participants but soon wanted more and signed for “ Outdoor Leadership Development Program of GHAC” and learned about various outdoor skills that every GHAC leader must know before a trek is entrusted to them.  Vini has organized both outdoor and city based events like running and fitness camps.

Vini feels that the GHAC leadership experience has helped her in better organized and a much stronger person. She plan to continue to organize treks in future also.

Our 4th Outdoor women leader is Manjusha Appari, who started as a participant with GHAC treks during her student days when pursuing Mechanical Engineering. Adventure travel soon became a need from a hobby and this fearless girl has done bungee jumping in Rishikesh, done winter treks in snow-covered rivers, competed in Marathon, camped in dense forest listening to sounds of insects in night. She has also completed Outlook leadership training program with GHAC and can travel anywhere in world solo or with a group. Manjusha believes her leadership skills with GHAC has made her more confident and willing to take more risks to follow her dream. She recently quit her job with an American Bank to pursue her dream of joining civil services. When she is not running a marathon or jumping from a cliff  you may find her immersed in a book.

Manjusha Appari GHAC leader

Harsh conditions may slow you down but can never take her smile away: Manjusha during a Himalayan trek

solo woman traveler

Travel also helps you to reflect and decide on priorities , take risk

Here I want to highlight one point, that none of the GHAC leader expects or is paid any monetary compensation. All these leaders lead the treks as volunteers and are responsible from site selection, itinerary, expenses, hotel and transport booking, ensuring that participants are safe and follow all GHAC guidelines for safety and zero foot print travel. None of the leaders have any special privileges on the travel they all travel in same vehicles eat the same food and are never given any VIP treatment.

I remember Siri collecting plastic bottles from our campsite and soon on her lead we were all collecting trash so that we leave the pristine nature just like we found it.  That is what true leaders are in my opinion they lead from the front with example and not by exception.

It is not easy to find organizations like GHAC that are run by volunteers on a not for profit basis but it is even tougher to find leaders like Akhila, Siri, Manjusha and Vini who have shattered real and perceived glass ceilings in both their personal and professional life in the most effective manner and are great examples of Women in Leadership.

Like good old Bob crooned – “Times they are a changin” and Pink is not just a color.



 All pics: Courtesy of Women Leaders featured in the article

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  8 Responses to “Women in Leadership of GHAC in Adventure and Travel”

Comments (7) Pingbacks (1)
  1. Good to know that women can do travelling and be guides for trekking and biking adventures, even I am becoming accustomed to the idea of trekking in groups and this is good. Now Solo travel, group travel, friends travel is becoming common, so when our younger generation girls says I am going on a trek adventure or trip adventure, parents and others would be cool about it. I am glad you support and spread news about these positive things. Goodday…

  2. This is very inspiring. I wish I could join this club and take part in the amazing and meaningful activities.

  3. What a brilliant article and especially your insightful intro, which made me think of Italy and particularly Sicily and the problems women or talented people without powerful relatives still face. It leads to a tragic situation of Brain Drain, as the talented leave because there is no opportunity for them to use their talents here.

  4. that is great 🙂

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