Because I am a woman

Interview with Apurva Purohit, President of India’s leading multi-media group Jagran Prakashan, and ranked among the most Powerful Women in Business.

Apurva Purohit shares with me her nuanced views on why on why career for women should always be about AND, never about either/or.
Published at Women's Web.

You have a stellar career of 30 years, from IIM Bangalore days to becoming the CEO of Radio City and now the President of Jagran Prakashan. When you look back, how do you perceive the journey?
In the hindsight, three things stand out for me. First, I took a fair amount of intelligent risks which other people at my level or position didn’t take.

Two, I had only one focus – ‘Will I learn something in this new role?’ If not, I’d rather not take that role even if it offered more money, status, promotion, or designation. What’s the point in stating that now you’re VP, then senior VP, then executive VP when you’re actually doing the same thing?

And three, from the gender lens, career has always been number one priority for me, and never an option. Even when my son was born, it never crossed my mind that I could stay at home. And really that’s how you compete in a male dominated world because for men, it’s a no brainer. Career is always number one.

Hence women who feel that career is an option will not achieve what they want, and that becomes visible at the middle management level where women at the cusp of maternity drop off. Even before we talk of breaking the ‘glass ceiling,’ we have to first fix that leaky pipeline. It is a result of a fundamental socialization from childhood that the role you play as a wife, as a mother, as the primary care giver, is more important than your own needs and your individuality. Hence women suffer from a constant guilt. The world is not designed for women to be hunters.

So in terms of giving extra support when women are going through child bearing phase, its only now that we’re hearing of flexi timing and maternity leave. That’s the bare minimum. And even while women are on maternity leave or working on flexi-timings, men are not making the environment friendly for young mothers. What are we doing to encourage men to take care of the kids? How are we grooming them to be good fathers and equal partners?

What does that leaky pipeline mean for an organization?
When a smart and talented woman leaves, that’s not good from a productivity angle for anybody. Plus, it affirms an impression with the male colleagues that “Aisa hi hoga.

Male managers are hence hesitant to recruit young women. And when there are no women role models at the top in the organization, the younger women feel that they can grow only to a certain level. It becomes a virtuous cycle.

What do you say to these 25-35 year old working women?
Firstly, you cannot outsource the decision to continue/discontinue working to your family members. Only you can make that choice. I’ve written my latest book Lady, You’re The Boss! to tell women that they have to take control of their own destiny. Many a times there are subconscious biases playing in their own mind.

They don’t celebrate their own successes or say it is because of me that something happened. They stay quiet in an argument just because the other person has a louder voice. They allow big and small choices to be made by the males around them such as who I should marry, what food I should eat in the evening, what serial I should watch… So you have to stand up and be brave.
And secondly, there is no difference between women who have stuck on and done well, and you. For example, I didn’t have special mentors or special opportunities. It’s just that they were very clear that ‘I will have a good family life AND I will have a great career.’

In my first book Lady, You’re not a Man!: The Adventures Of A Woman at Work I’ve explained personal and professional life integration. Especially with the way we are connected all the time today, you cannot say that 9-5 I will do this and 5-10 I will do that. You have to seamlessly integrate both. It’s not that difficult if you know how to prioritize. And you will realise that in a 30 year career, you have only 4-5 years where the family takes predominance.
Over the span of your career, you’ve seen scenarios change. How do you look at India Inc. today?
Well many organizations are becoming cognizant that the more diverse they are, the better it is from a business perspective. It’s not just about the social role they need to play, but also they realize that ‘my profitability will be impacted when there’s more diversity. Therefore I can access a bigger and larger talent pool if I have both men and women.’
And I’m also seeing that millennial girls entering organizations are quite determined to have a career. They focus on their individuality and desires. Of course I’m talking of a particular socio-economic class.

However, one place where I’m not seeing a change is that most men are still not getting accustomed to their girlfriends and wives having a career. Unless they have working mothers which is a very small segment, they are not equality sensitive. They’re looking around themselves and see that my father is sitting and reading the newspaper and my mother was cooking for him, cleaning after him etc. So I need the same. That’s the sad part. Because I think what men don’t realise is that having a dual income is economically far more advantageous. Men need to do lot more.

A message for women entering the corporate world?
True independence is financial independence. You have to stand up on your feet. Any other independence such as I can choose what I wear, I have not changed my sir name etc., are mere semantics.

This interview story was published at Women’s Web.

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