Apurva Purohit’s career graph is impressive: She is the President of the Jagran Group, one of India’s largest multi-media conglomerates with a turnover of USD 350 million and a market capitalization of USD 800 million. She is an author, a business mentor and a mother, and plays all her roles calmly and with precision. This Mother’s Day, SheThePeople.TV spoke to her about how organizations can implement policies to help women juggle it all, how we can raise children who relate to the concept gender equality, and how women can increase their confidence at workplace. Read on to find out about how this remarkable woman did it, and how you can too!
You juggle many hats- that of a mother, mentor, writer, businesswoman. How do you manage it all? Can Indian women really have it all?
‘Having it all’ is certainly a viable option today, provided we women accept that being a great employee or entrepreneur, an outstanding cook, hands-on mom, and an amateur painter, all in the same breath, requires an immense amount of hard work and willingness to seek help. By using whatever support and resources one can access, by adjusting and being accommodative and more importantly by teaching the family to pitch in, we can achieve whatever it is that we desire. The woman who has it all is not a myth. But the woman who does it all certainly is.
How can women choose both career and family? What practices can companies adopt to make it easier for women to do so? Can you give some examples from your own company?
By first accepting that it’s never a choice of either/or between family and work; that it has to be ‘AND’ at every stage and by asking for help. So often I see women accept the fact that once they get married, their career automatically should become a lesser priority and secondary to their role as wife and mother. This ‘boxing -in” minimizes what women are capable of doing and that social baggage is something that women and the organizations should work hard at overcoming.
So often I see women accept the fact that once they get married, their career automatically should become a lesser priority and secondary to their role as wife and mother.
Organizations, need to be the change makers of the society we live in. While most organizations see more than 30 percent women at the entry-level, there’s a steep decline by the time women reach mid-management and the scenario is bleaker at leadership levels. At an organizational level, I think companies need to consider gender diversity not just as an HR exercise but a conscious business imperative. Initiatives like flexi-time and reintegrating women into workforce need rigor, time, and effort which organizations need to actively offer. Organizations need to spend enough time understanding the needs of women and delve deeper into their feedback. Fair compensation and performance evaluation, recruiting more women irrespective of their age, charting out their career growth, looking out for their mental well-being and access to mentors who build a supportive ecosystem are some essentials. Companies need to take proactive and timely efforts towards building an inclusive workplace- an ongoing effort and not a one-time investment.
What is your unique leadership style?
I strongly believe that good leadership is a tightrope walk across various facets of management like finding the balance between strategic thinking and great implementation or resourcing between team building and process strengthening, or making tough choices that are equally bad. This balancing is developed over a long period of practice, inner reflection and experience, and is a very nuanced behavior. I think after so many years of working, I have finally found that balance which is a very effective leadership style.
Companies need to consider gender diversity not just as an HR exercise but a conscious business imperative. Initiatives like flexi-time and reintegrating women into workforce need rigor, time, and effort which organizations need to actively offer.
I also have learnt the ability to understand people and create an enabling culture. As managers and leaders, we need to have the best interests of the people we work with at heart. Running an organization is like parenting; we love our children, but we also discipline them and teach them how to be good human beings. Similarly, in an organization, it is the responsibility of the leaders to make better professionals out of their juniors – so tough love is a leadership behavior I practice. Most importantly, leadership is not a skill or talent but at the end of the day, it is an attitude which we embody every day!
How can women find leadership styles that work for them?
Leaders need to also evolve and change their style based on the stage of evolution their business is in and based on the specific demands of their role which changes with time. They need to be conscious that there is a transition required all the time if they have to remain contextually relevant. Indeed, I mentally transitioned from CEO to group president even before I took over physically which helped me immensely in the journey ahead.
Women at large who are transitioning to senior leadership need to overcome their inherent self-doubts and confidence gap to be effective and consciously stop downplaying their success.
Leadership is not a skill or talent but at the end of the day, it is an attitude which we embody every day.
As a woman leader what are the specific challenges you have had to face and how did you overcome them?
In a direct confrontational manner, no I have not experienced any discrimination at work; I largely try to approach things as a professional first and then as a woman. Having said that, I see very subtle but constant reminders of me being a woman by male colleagues. For example, I have often experienced men cutting me off while I am talking, simply to interject and throw their own opinion in. They would possibly be saying the same thing as me but in a far more authoritative manner. Such subtexts exist constantly. Or they would like to classify me in a box – good marketing person but not necessarily a business person. Such stereotyping plagues women constantly. Many times, it is easier to give in and choose to remain silent. But you have to put your foot down and let your voice be heard and your opinion matter. You are there because you are a professional who deserves to be there and whose opinion is valued, we as women must never lose sight of that fact.
You have spoken about the confidence gap women face when it comes to claiming their place in the boardroom- how can women overcome it?
Women possess most of the characteristics of good leaders. This is a fact. They are more democratic and participative, possess effective problem-solving capabilities, empathy, and ethics, and tend to be great team-players, motivators, and role models. Yet, the number of women holding positions of power are dismal. The issue is that the more senior a woman is, the more she makes a conscious effort to downplay her eloquence – the reverse of how most men handle power. Women don’t volunteer for challenging roles, projects or even ask for increments, as a result they lose out on promotions. However, women transitioning from mid-management to senior leadership can overcome this by fully understanding the extent of the value they bring to the table.
The more senior a woman is, the more she makes a conscious effort to downplay her eloquence – the reverse of how most men handle power.
Secondly, having a mentor from whom they can imbibe positive attributes, helps. Lastly and most importantly, women themselves need to stand-up to be visible and heard- at their own organizations, industry forums, board rooms and even one’s own dinner table. Those who display more confidence than competence accrue stronger admiration from others and are awarded a higher social status. In the case of women, their competence is not a matter of concern and thankfully, confidence can be cultivated. It’s just a matter of time.
How can we teach our children the importance of gender equality?
An important responsibility of being a woman achiever is not only mentoring the next generation of women but that of men too. How we behave as a mother, a sister and a professional will impact a whole generation of men and, by association, the women they deal with. At the same time, we need to stop asking girls to behave a certain way- not speak loudly or jump around or sit in a certain fashion which constantly makes the girls feel smaller than boys her age. This translates into insecurity and other issues as the girl develops into a woman. Gender equality is as much about men as it is about women. Ultimately, it is letting the girls play with cars, the boys with dolls and creating a society where women can be independent and men vulnerable!
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