Sumati Sharma: Vice President – Product and Commercial

Describe your job?
Leading an amazing team of passionate people who design the holiday product that our customers dream about, that our people love to sell, with the commercial insights and fire power to drive profitability and growth to the Virgin family.

What did you want to be when you grew up? Why? What options seemed open or closed to you?
When I was four, I flew London Heathrow to Delhi with my mum, and I wanted to be cabin crew. The crew were Indian by origin (I saw myself in them at a young age), and they delivered such an excellent and memorable service. I remember that flight to this day and it’s one of my earliest memories growing up.

What in your job has brought or given you the greatest satisfaction or fulfilment?
It’s seeing individuals and teams grow in confidence and start to move towards achieving both their potential and goals they didn’t think were possible.

What keeps you motivated?
I have noticed recently how much motivation I get from my son Taran – he is now 10 years old, and I see fearlessness and a drive in him which is inspiring. I am motivated by a desire for self-development and personal growth, and in turn, unlocking potential for people around me.

What women have inspired you?
Serena Williams is very inspiring. She is a GOAT (Greatest Of All Time). My Mum.

How do you think women’s equality has evolved and what needs to happen next?
I believe data and insights-led change is required to develop women’s equality – this allows a non-emotional conversation. I am an advocate of gender pay gap reporting as it allows benchmarking and insights to help drive change. Countries that are very progressive in gender equality, such as the Nordics, have made brave moves to drive change, led by their governments.

As a female leader, what has been the most significant barrier in your career?
As a female leader of colour, the more senior I get, particularly in commercial / financial circles which is the functional path I have chosen, the more rooms I am in where I am the ‘Only’. The ‘Only’ is a concept that has been researched very little; McKinsey wrote a chapter on this topic in their Women in the Workplace review in 2018. Government reviews have started to shine a light on these barriers such as the Parker Review (ethnic diversity at senior levels) and the Hampton-Alexander Review (female diversity at senior levels).

What’s one leadership lesson you’ve learned in your career?
The obstacle is the path.


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