Leadership Profile: Aditi Mohapatra, Managing Director of Women’s Empowerment at BSR

Aditi Mohapatra is the Managing Director at BSR for Women’s Empowerment and is helping to lead BSR’s Diversity and Inclusion initiatives. Aditi works with BSR members across sectors to help them improve and advance their sustainability strategies. She leads BSR’s global portfolio of work on women’s empowerment across consulting, collaboration, and research.

Aditi joined BSR after several years at Calvert Investment Management, a leading sustainable and responsible investment firm. There, she led strategic planning for Calvert’s executive committee, and held various roles within the sustainability research team. Her portfolio included companies in the information and communications technology sector, and she led corporate engagements on the subjects of gender corporate governance and gender equality, including the advancement of the Calvert Women’s Principles.

Aditi holds an M.B.A. in Finance from George Washington University, and a B.S. in International Economics from the University of Florida.

As a first-generation Indian-American, Aditi Mohapatra grew up being highly conscious of the status of women in Indian culture and society. Her mother and role model, had an enormous influence on her; in a family of four sisters with college degrees, her mother was the only one to move to the United States, obtain a Master’s degree, and work professionally. To Aditi, her mother lived out the idea that women can contribute to society through their careers and their families without making tradeoffs.

While she was in graduate school pursuing an M.B.A. with a focus in finance, she continued to notice gendered differences in the way women acted and men were treated. In her experience, women often did not ask for a raise or negotiate for salaries, and more specifically, women of color were commonly overlooked for opportunities. Aditi wanted to ensure that she didn’t compound the stereotype of a working woman, rather, she wanted to change it. In order to do so, she made note to intentionally do the exact opposite of what the stereotypical working woman was expected to do (or not to do).

Aditi was first introduced to the ESG investing space when she attended a career panel in graduate school. She saw ESG investing as a very savvy way to combine her skill set in financial analysis with her passion for social change and later landed a position at Calvert Investment Management, which enabled her to pursue projects in technology, women’s empowerment, and sustainability.

Her experience at Calvert Investment Management set her up for her initial role at BSR in the tech field and her current role in women’s empowerment. Her transition from her tech role to women’s empowerment at BSR was driven by her desire to help activate businesses in creating a more equal society in terms of resources and economic empowerment. In her experience, she found that the tech sector focuses on the industry’s role in creating broad change in many issue areas, whereas her work with women’s empowerment enables her to focus on a specific set of outcomes that all businesses can work towards.

When asked what she sees as the greatest barrier to women’s empowerment, Aditi responded candidly and without hesitation: “Power.” The power structure is such that men dominate everything—every sector, everything across the board. True equity requires a shift in power, and power is something that is extraordinarily difficult to surrender.

Only so many positions of leadership exist, and today in 2020, merely 37 women hold the title of CEO out of the Fortune 500 companies—an extremely low number, but a record high. Because existing power structures are so difficult to break into, entrepreneurship is becoming increasingly popular for women.

To address these power differentials, Aditi has seen that corporations call for more board diversity. The existing board is quick to welcome qualified women and minorities and the word “qualified” is heavily emphasized. However, in reality, unqualified white men on executive boards has really never been a problem.

Women, especially women of color, face an additional threshold when it comes to advancing their careers. Though it seems as if women in the US are advancing as a whole, the data shows that women of color are not included equally in this advancement and are often left behind.

None of the 37 female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are Black or Latina.

There’s a sense that the challenges that women face are behind us, but the gender disparity when it comes to wages, leadership, and experience of harassment show how far away society is from a place that actually values the contributions of women. A recent example is the #metoo movement—a reckoning that drew society’s attention to the need for more conversation and transparency. When it comes to gender disparities, society needs more discussions about the data (especially when it comes to pay) and the data that is not collected or is not released publicly.

Aditi is a champion of these conversations, of bringing more awareness to women’s rights. She firmly believes that more awareness and consciousness of an issue leads to more opportunity to act on the issue. Society is so, so far behind—much more so than we think, and awareness of the facts, existing data, and data that is not yet collected or not yet released on gender disparities, is a step towards change.

Though companies state their commitment to advancing women’s rights and “act” on their statements by contributing towards philanthropic women’s rights causes (contributions that aren’t reflected in workplaces) and signing non-enforceable commitments, no effective and significant advancement of women’s rights has occurred within corporations.

In 2017, the UK mandated that any organization with 250+ employees must report their gender pay gap, but most companies explain the disparities away. According to Aditi, systemic barriers such as gender norms and stereotypes, assets, and discriminatory laws are areas that need to be addressed if change is to truly take place.

However, Aditi names The Unstereotype Alliance and The UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment as examples of a handful of initiatives that have been effective in promoting tangible change.

Media and advertising has enormous influence in dictating gender roles, and The Unstereotype Alliance works as a “thought and action platform that seeks to eradicate harmful gender-based stereotypes” in these spaces. The UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment has also been effective in advancing women’s rights by making “action-oriented recommendations on how to improve economic outcomes for women in the context of the Global Goals for Sustainable Development, promoting women’s leadership in driving economic growth, and galvanizing political will power.”

Many students want to break down systemic barriers to help advance sustainability and rights in their careers and everyday lives. When asked what advice she would give to these students, Aditi noted the numerous ways to contribute to societal change through roles in companies, advocacy organizations, the public sector, investing, and more that reside in the ecosystem of nonprofits, business, and government.

She emphasizes the enormous value in obtaining experience through the lens and perspectives of each stakeholder and understanding their role in creating change in the ecosystem. Aditi explained that understanding the motivations, roles, and ways that each stakeholder can be most effective will be invaluable as this intersection requires collaboration and working alongside so many other actors. It takes the entire ecosystem to propel movements forward.

Many spaces require drastic advancements, and the women’s empowerment space is certainly one of those. However, I feel empowered to know that there are inspiring and powerful women like Aditi at the forefront of the women’s rights movement today. I hope more women are inspired to take after her strength and courage, to stand up to suppressive social norms and barriers that society has created, and to listen to each other—now more than ever—to work together towards building a better world for all.