Sayali Phatak

Sr. Vice President Legal

Living life to the fullest

I was born in Mumbai and studied in a lot of places, finally completing my studies from Delhi. I graduated in Political Science (Hons) from Lady Shriram College and then studied law from the Campus Law Centre, Delhi University.

Early influencers

My early influences come from my family which is a family of lawyers, so there was always a lot of intellectual discussion. My uncle and late aunt (a Senior Advocate and a Judge of the Delhi HC respectively) were a huge influence, when I was staying with them for a bit, in my growing years.. Most women in my family were working, at least in my immediate vicinity, and my mother who had her own struggles, was determined to educate me, such that I could be financially independent. Getting into law was a natural progression and also a bit of romanticizing of the profession. As I grew up in an intellectually vibrant environment, I was listening to people talking about recent judgments, current affairs, politics etc. All the above and factors like wearing the gown, going to court also added to the attraction of the profession.

My career journey

I started my career with a premier law firm called JB Dadachandji &Co, where I joined in the litigation department with Managed services Anjali Varma in year 1991. In those days, there were not too many lady partners. In 1994, I took a break, when my daughter was born, and I joined back in 1999 with Amarchand Delhi ( as it was known then) and worked with them initially part time and then full time again in the Litigation department.

I came back from changing nappies to cut throat competition. That helped me a lot, because I believe anything which is easy, one tends to become relaxed. If you don’t fall into the deep end, you will not learn how to swim. The struggle helps you work harder and if one has the instinct to be on the top, one will eventually get there.

I joined Airtel in 2004 from Amarchand and it was my first in house job. Here I also worked with Vijaya Sampath, who was the GC then and now is the Ombudsperson and also my mentor. Those were the best professional years of my life and I always maintain that. In Airtel, I saw tremendous growth, both of the organization and professionally. It’s an extremely classy organization. The hospitality that is offered here in terms of taking care of its employees is not available in every organization. Further, I have been fortunate to have done a huge variety of work. I’ve done transactional work, dabbled in regulatory, litigation and now M&A and there is much more to learn. It’s about taking opportunities, it’s a fast paced organization and it’s a challenge but it gives one ample opportunity to grow professionally.

On support systems

I feel that the younger lot of men, are more emancipated now. They are more accepting of the fact that their wives will also work and therefore would probably be more supportive. Organizations are also introducing facilities like crèches and flexi timings to help young mothers balance work and small children. Women have the larger burden of managing every aspect of life, whether it is home or work, as a working woman cannot abdicate her responsibility of managing the home and work is always unrelenting, therefore women have that added responsibility to ensure that they are equal/better performers at work. Every aspect of life has to be well oiled, home, groceries, schooling of the child, their career path, supporting their husband, wherein all these aspects have to be juggled smoothly.

Advice to women

I always say this to all young professionals, the first four-five years, when you join work, work really hard and put in that extra bit, stack up on your experience, build your professional resume as well as you can, prepare a bed rock for your future career path . Once you have done that, you have added value and created space for yourself, then when/if you take a break, the organization will remember you and that will hold you in good stead when you decide to rejoin. It’s children which changes everything, and here I will say the organizations have to shoulder the responsibility along with young mothers. There are young mothers who are very good, and organizations should not lose the person, because she has young children at home. There is a certain period where they need a break/flexibility. Why lose out on a precious resource and look out in the market. Instead offer flexi timing. As long as work is being managed well, it’s fine.

My experience is that women do well, if their home area is well secured. If their partners are emancipated, supportive, they support her to succeed, to do well.

Success mantras

I live by the mantra of working hard & holidaying hard. It’s not always easy to plan time off, but eventually it all evens out. To sum up, I will say that go slow and steady, take time out for the family and children (who really need you especially in their initial years), be completely professional in the work space and take pride in your work, but most important, do what makes you really happy, so that it becomes a way of life. Take some time out to analyze and push your growth part a little further.