Founder & President
Circa mid-1990’s, it was the post-liberalization era, and Dr Saundarya Rajesh was an Indian Woman Professional, who after a career break, was seeking to return to the workplace. Despite burgeoning career opportunities in a globalized economy, Dr. Saundarya noticed that women returning from career breaks were receiving a raw deal. Observing the loaded inequities in the workplace for all underrepresented talent pools, she set up Avtar focusing on creating diverse, equitable, and inclusive organizations. Today, she is recognized not only as having created several thousand careers for women on breaks, but also for pioneering the discipline of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) in Indian workplaces.
Dr Saundarya’s work began in 2000, when she set up Avtar, a social entrepreneurship venture, self-funded as a first-generation entrepreneur. Today, Avtar has been the sole source of creating employment opportunities for over one lakh second career women and has influenced the continued careers of over 2 lakh women via intentional career pathing. Referred to as the ‘Career Doctor’ by companies and career-seeking women, Dr. Saundarya has influenced the creation of safe and secure workplaces for over 10 lakh women, via the advisory services provided by Avtar.
Dr Saundarya has won accolades such as the Ministry of Women & Child Development’s #100Women Achiever Award, Twitter’s #Web Wonder Women Award, the Chevening Global Changemaker Award, The Winds of Change 2019 Award by the Minnesota Forum on Workplace Inclusion, NiTi-Aayog’s Women Transforming India Award, Golden Aviator Award, Asia’s most Innovative Diversity & Inclusive Leaders Award, the “Winds of Change Award” – in the individual category by The Forum on Workplace Inclusion, University of St. Thomas, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA in April 2019, among many others.
An irrepressible advocate of the potential of women’s workforce participation, Dr Saundarya is an inspiring speaker and the most sought-after DEI Strategist in Corporate India. In the last two decades, she has personally trained and mentored over 10,000 leaders in the Indian corporate sector. Through Avtar, which is India’s first DEI solutions company she has helped diversity champions create a strong Business, Talent, and Culture Case for their organizations to espouse diversity talent in their workplaces.
Dr Saundarya has been a Keynote Speaker, Panelist, and a Ted-speaker at many leading international forums. Some of them include:
- Top Women Conference, South Africa; Multi-cultural Conference, New York;
- International Conference on Future of Women, Sri Lanka
- Ted-Talk; Target Elevate; SalesForce;
- World AI Conference, Dubai;
- The Economic Times Women Forum;
- ASSOCHAM India;
- The Digital Workplace (Podcast).
Dr Saundarya Rajesh’s book The 99 Day Diversity Challenge published by Penguin RandomHouse is India’s first experiential book on Diversity, Equity & Inclusion and has won several acclaims from industry leaders, including the first prize for the Book of the Year from the Indian Society for Training and Development.
Dr Saundarya is one of the 35 Global leaders selected by the British Foreign Office who made deep changes to the social fabric of their countries to overcome humanity’s most pressing problems. The Chevening Changemakers: 35 visions of global leadership featured specially commissioned portraits of leaders from across the globe.
India’s foremost national paper, The Hindu, recognized Dr. Saundarya’s deep and pathbreaking work in the space of increasing women’s workforce participation by conferring the prestigious “Contribution to Society” award for the year 2023 as part of the Hindu World of Women series.
Femina’s Fab 40 , which celebrated extraordinary Indian women for the year 2022, featured Dr. Saundarya along with several other luminaries. She was also featured as the 10 Most Inspiring Businesswomen in India 2022 by the CXO Today e-zine.
For the work towards “Transforming workplaces for gender inclusion”, Avtar Group has been named in the annual listing of 25 companies in Asia Pacific that have demonstrated excellence in Steward Leadership. The recognition was given by by Stewardship Asia Centre (SAC), INSEAD Hoffmann Global Institute for Business and Society, WTW (Willis Towers Watson) and The Straits Times.
Dr Saundarya’s inclusive vision is also to see young girls from underprivileged families create empowering white-collar careers for themselves. This she influences through Project Puthri, an Avtar initiative that instils “Career Intentionality” in the minds of underprivileged girl children from Corporation/Government schools.
Dr Saundarya’s journey towards creating inclusive and equitable workplaces is inspirational. Her unparalleled work in building organizations, communities, and societies that truly harness the power of diversity will continue relentlessly for many more years to come!