International Women’s Day: Rajanee Balaram Of British Airways’ Call Centre On What It Takes To Lead A Team Of Over 2000 Employees

British Airways

While some may only look at the pilots and cabin crew as the merited jobs in the aviation industry, not many know that it’s the rest of the departments that play an equally significant role in your flying experience. One of them is the contact centre, which has the biggest responsibility for keeping its customers happy and ensuring things run smoothly. The British Airways global contact centre is run by a woman – Rajanee Balaram, CallBA’s Managing Director who runs a team of over 2000 people across two 24/7 offices in Delhi, offering round-the-clock support to thousands of customers from the US and Europe to Asia Pacific. In an industry which is often dominated by males and sees gender disparity, it is refreshing to see an organisation that’s taking steps in the right direction by putting women at the top of the hierarchy. 

Rajanee began her career with BA when it was a team of just 20. Fighting her way through stereotypes, she has not only broken the glass ceiling but has also made positive changes to maintain a balanced workforce. Ahead, Rajanee chats with ELLE on her journey to the top and the initiatives she as well as BA have taken to make a healthy working environment for women. 

ELLE: How did you get into this profession? 

Rajanee Balaram (RB): I’ve always loved to travel and see different places; all of that always interested me. When we came to Delhi where I used to live, our apartment used to be on the flight path, so I’d see lots of planes flying overhead and I’d look up and think, “Oh, I want to join an airline someday.” At the same time, I wanted to join a really good brand so when I saw an ad from BA (British Airways) in the paper, I knew this was it and am getting in here. 


ELLE: For how long have you been working at BA?

RB: Since ‘89. So the ad that BA put out was for a new unit that we were setting up, we were kind of growing the team over here and so I was part of the first group of about 20. And 34 years later, I’m managing our big engagement centre in India with more than 2,000 colleagues across two sites and it’s been an incredible journey.

ELLE: With Women’s Day coming up, what activities or campaigns has British Airways planned?

RB: So one of the things that we will be announcing on Women’s Day is a global women’s leadership development program. This is in combination with a company called AllBright, and it’s about developing women leaders within BA to the highest level. We’ve also launched WINGS this year, which is the Women’s Inclusivity Network Group. 

British Airways

ELLE: What does British Airways actively do for women employees in general?

RB: There are a lot of things besides the women’s inclusive network. We’ve got specific talent identification and development programs targeted at women and one of the things we started doing as part of our well-being program is a focus on menopause. So we’ve got menopause health groups across the company. From a well-being and inclusivity point of view, it’s working on making sure that we are developing and supporting women at every level. We launched it last year. We have a network called Men Are Friends. So every single line manager at British Airways has been trained to support their colleagues who might be going through menopause. It’s been a taboo subject for so long. And now it’s very much at the forefront. So that’s something that we’ve been working on globally. In fact, as part of that, I think, across the engagement centres and in other parts of BA, we actually sort of do menopause sessions for the men so that they can understand women at the workplace and home better.

British Airways

ELLE: Have you faced any stereotypes? How have you combat it?

RB: Yes, the workplace tends to be fairly male-dominated in India. So, early on in my career, there was this boys club, and you had to be a part of it if you wanted to move ahead. I still wanted my work to speak, so I worked doubly hard and eventually broke through that. Also, the fact that I work for BA helps. A lot of companies have glass ceilings and it doesn’t matter what you do, you can’t break it. In BA I could and I think it was a great thing that my work spoke for itself. I think women tend to fall into two stereotypes at work here. I’ve seen that if you’re single, there is an assumption that you don’t have a life and therefore all the work can be landed on you and you’ll spend 24 hours in the office. The other is if you’re married, you’ll never be serious about work because you’ll always put your family first. Neither of those two things is correct and I make sure that there is none of that in our workplace.

British Airways

ELLE: You’re managing a team of more than 2,000 globally. While many people look up to you for inspiration, some might consider it a far-fetched dream. What can be done to have more women join and manage the workforce at a senior level?

RB: I think it starts at the very beginning. It’s not that you can suddenly create leaders out of what you have in front of you. And this is something I’ve put an effort into working on since pre-COVID. And that time our workforce was a little bit skewed. We were 75% men and 25% women. As I was looking towards our growth in the future, what that meant was I didn’t have enough women to grow. So the first step that we took was managing the gender parity at the recruitment levels. So now we are at 45-46% women, which is a much more balanced workforce. And I think what’s important, and we’ve made a conscious effort, is to start developing people from that level. So you identify your talent in the women at entry level. Sometimes it’s about helping them break through barriers in their mind because they’ve been conditioned into one of the two stereotypes. So break that, encourage them, support them, bring them into the talent pool to move up to the next level and then work with them at that level and so you know you keep moving people upwards. 

British Airways

ELLE: In your opinion, what can the aviation industry in general do to encourage more diversity in the workplace?

RB: I think we’ve done a lot in terms of how we identify and develop leadership and keep moving women up. There are some areas where I think we do better than the rest of the industry. As far as pilots are concerned, we have 6% of women pilots as compared to the 3-4% outside. But that is still not enough. I still think that outside of the aviation industry, they are way behind in some areas. Encourage women into STEM areas, encourage them into the more technical engineering, pilots, flight crew, all of these areas and along with that you always constantly be aware of the fact that you need to have a balanced leadership and a balanced workforce which means work on it from the beginning and keep moving it upwards.

ELLE: Is British Airways working on anything next? 

RB: So this year we will achieve a hundred years of flying to India It is a really big milestone So there are a few things that we’re working on and planning through the year. My contact centre is across two sites. One is here where I am in Gurgaon and another new one is in Noida. So we will be opening that and inaugurating that as well this year. And that will host about half of my colleagues there.

- Lifestyle Editor


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