The appointment of Mondal, the company’s current director (commercial), is yet to be ratified by the appointments committee of the Cabinet and, if approved, she will take over as chairperson of the maharatna PSU from Anil Kumar Chaudhary, who retires in December.
Her proposed elevation is significant as she is one of the very few women who have emerged to head public sector companies. In 2013, Nishi Vasudeva became the first woman to head a navratna PSU when she was named CMD of state-run oil major Hindustan Petroleum Corp Ltd.
Mondal majored in electrical engineering from NIT Rourkela and joined state-run aluminium maker Nalco in 1984. After spending several years at Nalco, she joined as director (commercial) at the Steel Authority of India (SAIL) in 2017.
“I did not feel different anytime. In 2017 when I came to SAIL, people asked me what my challenges were. I told them there are two challenges, the first being my acceptance there and second was the direction of the steel market. I did not face any problem of acceptance despite the fact that I was a woman in a man’s world. I went to plants, visited all of them, went to the shop floors,” Mondal told TOI.
“I know my selection goes a long way for the empowerment of women. I worked with passion and as much as any man would have worked,” she said.
She recalls a meeting in a roomful of men a few years ago. “When the food packets came, somebody said ‘ladies first’ and I remember our director said, ‘She is the only man in the room’. All of us had a good laugh,” said Mondal.
She grew up in Bhubaneswar in a middle-class family. Her father, an agricultural economist, wanted her to pursue medicine as he did not want his daughter to study engineering in a college full of boys.
“My father was protective but I stuck to my decision to do engineering. My mother supported me,” Mondal said.
She credits her parents for driving home the importance of education and being financially independent. “My mother was an educated woman. She had done her MA in those days. She always wanted to be a doctor but she could not. She wanted her daughters to be professionally qualified and financially independent. Once you do well, the world will respect you,” Mondal said, recalling her mother’s words.
“For us it was studies. It was very clear that you have to ultimately do something. My sister became a doctor and is practising in the US. I had an elder brother who was also a doctor but he passed away in an accident,” she said.
Mondal’s husband, an engineer and IIM-Ahmedabad alumnus who worked with UTI, passed away in 2005 and she brought up her three children with help from her parents and mother-in-law while continuing with her job.
“Looking ahead, there are a lot of challenges but I am confident that we will be able to make some difference. We have been doing good sales in the last two months, prices have started moving up, I would think the downward cycle has gone and now the next two years should be good for SAIL, I am confident. The government is pushing infrastructure projects and that would be a great help,” she said when asked about the challenges of facing the steel behemoth.
“Change should come in our efficiency and the driver of the change would be the employees of SAIL. My acceptance is great. That is the feedback I am getting.”
She says as a woman she brings a unique set of skills to deal with the problem. “One of my plus points being a woman is that I have a lot of empathy and a human touch. I can be a hard taskmaster but I can get work done softly. It is all about teamwork. The team has to know that you trust them, empower them and they will do their best,” said Mondal.