Hear from women achievers what it means to hold the fort, manage the work-life balance and be a good boss.
Speaking at a PILF session on Power Women (in literature, economy and media), panelists Kaveree Bamzai, Consulting Editor, Special Projects, TV Today, Manjeet Kripalani, co-founder and executive director of Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations and Trupti Agarwal, Chairperson, Vishwakarma Vidyalay, brought to the conversation their energy, enthusiasm, their ability to ‘call a spade, a spade’ and some sound advice for their compatriots and the opposite gender. The session was moderated by Vrushali Telang, journalist and author of romantic comedies, Can’t die for size zero and He loves me not.
The conversation dwelt on topics like the qualities that helped them, what empowerment meant to them and how they dealt with people coming to them with issues of sexual harassment at workplace among other things.
Qualities that have helped you
Kaveree Bamzai: Collaboration and mentorship. I think if you want to stay in a career, if you want to have a good family life, you have to learn to work together with people. It’s not just a question of sisterhood, it’s also raising the men in your life to understand the value of what you are doing. I think if they understand that, then it’s collaboration. It doesn’t work if you try and be a solo player or that person who wants to take the burden of everything.
As women, we tend to underestimate the value of old girl network. I think we need to understand that we are here because of women before us. If we are going to continue to be in position of power and influence, it will be because of the second generation that we mentor. I think collaboration and mentorship are two most important things.
Manjeet Kripalani: Determination and resolve. Just stick to your work everyday, no matter what.
Trupti Agarwal: I think perseverance. It keeps us going for any social cause.
What makes you stick to your work
Kaveree: Anger. I think angry women are the smartest women. They are powerful because they make things happen. They are unhappy and angsty about everything that is wrong. I think as a journalist, if you are not angry, then there is something wrong with you because there is so much in society which is not the way it ought to be. I firmly believe as journalists we are story tellers and for me anger is a powerful emotion to tell a story.
All the best things that have happened in India, whether it’s the anti-rape laws after the Nirbhaya case, the recent judgement on Sabrimala case, or the adultery judgement or the Section 377 case, it happened because people were angry.
Manjeet: At the moment, it is my work for India, which is the biggest motivator. And, also preparing the young generation to think big for the national cause. A lot of youngsters think about their own little life, earning money. They have to think of the national cause because this is the world that they are going to inherit.
Trupti: Working for the children, because they are a national asset. When they turn over a new leaf, it gives us great happiness. This is my biggest motivation.
The work-life balance
Kaveree: Women have double jobs (home and workspace). It’s a fact and the price of having it all is doing it all. We never told the younger generation of women what sacrifices are required of them. It’s a fact that work-life balance is tough, also impossible. I know people will tell you if you enjoy your work, then that’s life and family will happen. It doesn’t happen that way. But you have to continue. Never give up and never, ever quit your work. Continue to do something because it gives you a sense of who you are.
Manjeet: I narrow down my life absolutely. I do my work and I shrink the social life in order to accommodate my work. I speak to maybe two friends and fall off the social radar. But it’s a choice that I have made and I am okay with it.
Trupti: Society expects this from us, because women are multi-taskers and men are not. We need to give our children independence, but be there for them when they need it. That is how I manage my work and my family.
Role of women in institution-building
Manjeet: As everybody knows, women are more reliable, dedicated and honest to the interest of the organisation they work for.
Our institute is built by two women. There was a patch when we thought that we should have a male CEO. We had a very good man who understood women. He had no problem because he came from the creative world. Guys from the creative world, despite the #metoo movement, are more accommodating to women because they have lot more women in their world. The corporate world is tougher.
We are now going to be three or four women heading the institute, and the corporate guys will not take us seriously. The guys who do take us seriously are from the government. There are lots of women in government jobs and there are lots of women in power too, so it’s a little better there than in the corporate world.
What does empowerment mean to you?
Kaveree: I think empowerment means the ability to empower other women alongwith you. For me, it means widening the circle. It also means going against this cultural conditioning that women have — of not being able to take the credit for the work they do.
Sheryl Sandberg (American technology executive and activist) has talked about it endlessly. I think it’s time to start saying it to yourself, ‘Yes, I am worth it’. I am not saying this in a crass self-promotional way that men tend to — they tell you the same jokes, the same things that they told you 10 years ago and you are expected to laugh. I am not saying that we have a durbar everyday. One of the perils of being a subordinate to a male editor is the whole idea of having hour-long meetings and laughing at the same jokes over and over again. I think it’s a very male thing to not listen to others.
As an editor (for three years), I tried having a five minute meeting and got the work done. Obviously, that didn’t last very long. Traditionally and conventionally, women are trained to listen to people. They want to understand what’s wrong with the world.
Manjeet: Empowerment means not losing femininity. Femininity helps in a long way in helping achieve something. We should use it more and set the right example. If there are men working under you and if they understand femininity, without feeling threatened by it, it’s an achievement.
Trupti: In the field of education, 80 per cent of teachers are women. They are nurturing the students, the future of the country. Motherhood is something that comes naturally to us. When a student is undergoing some trauma, he or she finds it better to share it with a woman. It is a woman who fills up the vacuum.
What makes you successful
Kaveree: It is meeting people who are smarter than I am. There was one male editor who actually listened to me and I listened to him and he said, ‘Try and meet one new person every day. Try and read something new’. We as journalists have tremendous power of meeting people. Use that power and meet as many bright people as you can. There is nothing humbling than meeting someone who is smarter than you.
Manjeet: Definitely exercising and yoga. It’s non-negotiable. Yoga particularly calms you down. It gives you and enhances the ability to concentrate and reduces anger. Yoga allows you to step back a little, so that you can allow people to do their mistakes and find their own path, instead of you taking over their work to do.
Dealing with sexual harassment at workplace
Kaveree: We just need to call it out. Men are so unaware of the way they speak. The undertones and overtones are so sexist, but they don’t realise that this is being sexist or misogynist. You have to call it out, personally, culturally, even in an open meeting if need be.
Manjeet: Take it right upfront. We had an incident in which an older woman was harassing a younger guy. It was peculiar. We had to tell her that this was unacceptable behaviour. And, we had to tell the guy to learn to not send the wrong signals. We had to ask the woman to leave.