Anuradha Das Mathur is the founding dean of The Vedica Scholars Programme for Women, what she calls an MBA ++ program for women. Also selected as a Yale World Fellow this year, she talks to Amrita Tripathi about her own entrepreneurial journey, and why she thinks it’s critical to equip young women joining the work force with certain skills, and an overarching emphasis on financial independence.
For a long time we’ve been struck by the fact that there are all these really smart students as girls, who are graduating from high school, from college, IAS exams, there are women all over. But then you find when you start looking at the work force, they keep dropping. Why is it that women who are smart and high performers don’t last in the workforce? So that was really the big problem we are trying to solve, to ensure that more that more and more don’t just join the work force but stay in the workforce.”
There were two or three things we were trying to do — one is solve for women who are better trained to navigate the challenges of the work place and stay through. The second thing is what do they need, how do you equip them with knowledge and insight, how do you negotiate those to not drop off. The third thing was there’s been this increasing belief that the plain vanilla MBA is losing some of its sheen. It’s no longer attractive to everybody in the way it used to be earlier. There are more women who don’t aspire plainly to the hard-nosed corporate world; they want careers but they want flexibility of careers in academia, social sector, government, private sector, it could be in entrepreneurship, just a wider range of options, as opposed to just the staccato one thing after the other. How do you ensure things are interesting enough that women don’t shun business administration just because they don’t want the hard-nosed corporate sector but still not lose out on the importance of management practice; that’s how we designed a management + + program. It teaches you everything an MBA does, but it teaches you much more.
There were two or three things we were trying to do — one is solve for women who are better trained to navigate the challenges of the work place and stay through. The second thing is what do they need, how do you equip them with knowledge and insight, how do you negotiate those to not drop off. The third thing was there’s been this increasing belief that the plain vanilla MBA is losing some of its sheen.
What we feel is missing is the context, that comes through the liberal arts, so we have one track we have that focuses on the liberal arts. The second thing is communication and thinking. I’m sure everybody sees this on a daily basis — we get really smart young people to come and work for us, but they don’t do the reading, writing and thinking in the manner they need to. And any idea is only as good as how well you communicate it, so there’s a big focus on communication. The third thing is really about women, from a gender studies and women’s studies of view.
The world is different from men and women — they perceive and experience the working world very differently from each other. The MBA program wasn’t doing that (not preparing them adequately). There’s a track on personal growth, which focuses on telling women how the world they’ll experience is likely to be different, and how their traditional strengths can be used as an advantage.
You think it’s important to equip women, because you do tend to see that mid-career slide?
One of our inspirations is the fact that every well-known university in the world is doing very successful exec education programs for women, and these are for women who are 37-38, so they’ve made the mistakes they shouldn’t have made.
So Vedica is hoping to ensure that these women don’t make those mistakes. They would hopefully not have to go for single-sex exec education programs at 38 because we are equipping them with those skills at 25 and 26, so they go much better informed and equipped into the working world, as opposed to making their mistakes and course correcting at 37/ 38, before you’re looking at the next leap.
Her own entrepreneurial journey:
I think I should have been an academic much earlier. I stumbled into the corporate sector, did almost 18 years…I come from a family of bureaucrats and never saw myself in the corporate sector. When I took a job at The Economist, right after my Master’s in Economics, I thought I was joining a research organisation. I had no idea that The Economist was as capitalist and corporate as they come! I spent 12 years with The Economist and then I ran Businessworld for a bit and then turned entrepreneur. I had never thought I’d turned entrepreneur.
People become entrepreneurs because either they want to make money for themselves or they don’t deal with authority. I had neither of those problems – I’ve actually loved every boss I’ve worked with, and I think vice versa, and I’ve also been charged with working for love and not for money, so neither of those were motivations. One it seemed like it would be fun; but the biggest motivation for me in turning entrepreneur was that you never have to explain away something that you don’t agree with because someone somewhere else thinks that’s the right way to be…whether it’s the hygiene in the loo vs people policies you have or the business you want to go out and pursue, the way you want to do it, all of it is your call.
It’s a tough journey. All the young people come to me saying they want to be an entrepreneur, I tell them come to talk to me, or go to see a shrink!
Too many women live with indignity. Financial independence is at the core — Independence is at the core, but financial independence makes other independence easier. Our big driver at Vedica is to pretty much indoctrinate women to say we will be financially independent, almost come what may. The next 20 years is really going to be about these cadres of women, who are kind and compassionate and great at what they do, but the little bit of themselves they hold on to in their own hands, and not let go.