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Corporate leader Kalpana Morparia, who is presently heading JP Morgan in India, which is an extension of a 2.1 trillion dollar American company, never actually dreamt to become one herself while growing up. It is hard to believe that this banker and an independent Director on the Boards of several leading Indian companies once looked forward to having a simple life comprising of finishing high school, getting married and having lots of children. But it is the truth.

The biggest irony of her life, she claimed, at the Women Writer’s Fest panel on “Women in the Boardroom” in Ahmedabad on Wednesday, is that she had a “Hitler mother” who pushed her through school and college. Her mother passionately believed that women require economic independence before marriage. “And one of the biggest regrets and irony of life is that I don’t have any children,” says Morparia. Kalpana was in conversation with author Sudha Menon.

For a woman in the era that Morparia started her career, in the 70s, it was extremely difficult to find her sense of space in the workplace. Not many women worked in the banking sector and certainly not many women climbed the success ladder as Morparia did.

Talking about how she did it, she recollects, “My first day at ICICI, my mother and my husband worried about if I would even last a full day at work? Because not only did I bunked classes in college, I also managed to bunk classes in school. But the strangest thing happened to me at the office that it was six in the evening and somebody walked up to me and asked—don’t you want to go home? In hindsight, I feel that it was because I identified with the purpose of the organization and it completely changed me. Then there came a time that I started wearing the ICICI logo in my mangalsutra. It is an emotive relationship that I had.”

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Importance of Networking

One of the points that Morparia brought out in her talk is how important networking is for women and how it took her long to understand that. She said, “We are all victims of our own biases and prejudices and I was one too. I worked in an extremely gender-neutral organization and I never thought that women required any kind of special treatment. But when one of my male colleagues pointed out that if I kept telling this to women, they will never raise their voice, in case they faced an issue, and it dawned upon me how wrong I was.”

“For most women, including me, as soon as our work finishes, we want to run home to fulfil our other responsibilities as opposed to men. Therefore, I found great merit in saying that the companies should organize networking events for women because we are very conscientious, if the company expects us to show up at a company event, we will make that effort and show up. So now I have become a big votary of women’s events and I seldom refuse to speak at women’s events,” she added.

On Continuing to Work After Crossing Sixty

On crossing 60 and continuing work, heading JP Morgan, Morparia said that retiring from ICICI, for her, felt like a “near-death experience.”

“I have known of no life other than my work and I thought I will truly physically die so when the JP Morgan offer came in, I became curious about it. I left ICICI on Friday and I joined JP Morgan on Monday morning 1, September, 2008—you couldn’t have thought of the worse time to join a global financial company but there I was, joining an office that I never entered in my life before. And here I am, a decade later and it still feels like a deadly experience to me if you asked me to retire,” said Morparia.

My first day at ICICI, my mother and my husband worried about if I would even last a full day at work? Because not only did I bunked classes in college, I also managed to bunk classes in school.

Reservation for women in company boardrooms

She also spoke about how her views have changed around reservation for women in company boardrooms? The Companies Act 2013 states that every Listed Company /Public Company with paid up capital of Rs 100 Crores or more / Public Company with a turnover of Rs 300 Crores or more shall have at least one Woman Director.

Morparia said, “When they started this thought process at SEBI, I was part of that committee. I vehemently opposed the idea of reservation. I thought that with reservation, men will think that women have become independent directors only because of their gender. However, fortunately for corporate India, SEBI reconstituted the committee. And now they have put in the clause of a woman director in the statute book and I think it is actually working because one does see more women on boards than earlier. And the most recent amendment says that a woman needs to be an independent member and not a family member and I think it is changing board discourses because diversity is important.”

More Stories by Poorvi Gupta

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