To Indra Nooyi, with Love

Once again, you’re in the news.

But unlike the last time when you embraced a position of power as PepsiCo’s CEO, this time you’re stepping down from the position and title you came to own, over the last decade.

I still remember being in high school back then, when the media first spoke of you. Of how a woman of humble Indian origin, had climbed the ranks to take over the position of PepsiCo’s Chief Executive Officer.

And then, all of a sudden, it wasn’t just me, but the world at large who took notice of you. Of your steady ascent to the much coveted seat in the boardroom, Collectively, we marveled at the grit, resilience and courage your journey demonstrated. At the way in which a middle class girl from Chennai, made it to first to prestigious institutions like IIM Calcutta and Yale, and took on the glass ceiling heads-on, shattering it, successfully.

As for me, over the years, once you were a global public figure and other facets of your life became known, I came to respect your authenticity, personality and your candidness. At how you openly spoke about your constant tussle between being the head-honcho of a multi-million conglomerate, and a wife and mother at the same time. Your openness , with which you narrated how your story of how being a woman with ambition isn’t easy, yet is definitely worthwhile.

I admired your sheer business acumen. At how you gave a fast-food company, otherwise notorious for taking people on the road to unhealthy lives, a heart. In creating the mission statement of Performance with Purpose. Of making Pepsi a greener, more environmentally aware company.  Of showing how business and benevolence can indeed be balanced.

Yet, more than anything, as a girl with ambition and zeal myself, you taught an entire generation of women to dream. To not only dream, but dream beyond the dream itself. Because that’s where it all starts. You taught us all, that talent and ability can surpass the biases of  gender and ethnicity. You demonstrated how you can be the iron lady in the velvet glove, how aggression can be soft too. And you led us to believe that positions of power, always come with great responsibility. For its never about the position you hold, its about the impact you create.

All good things in this world must come to an end, and so do tenures of powerful leaders. Yet, As you step down, and pass on the baton, you’re leaving a footprint. On the hearts of not only the company and its employees, but on millions of dreamers, believers and achievers.

 

My Superwomen

As a child, I would often wonder who my role models were. What did someone have to be, in order to qualify for becoming someone who I could possible aspire to be like? Over the years, I’ve come to draw parallels between the people who I admire.

 

First of, while there are many men to inspire me, I usually myself relating more to succesful women. Second, I find people who have achieved success on their own terms, extremely irresistible. And finally, an element of authenticity is crucial too. Real women. Who, despite their professional achievements, are still women with families and children.  As someone who has herself stumbled many a time the road to her destination, I relate way back to someone who has faced highs and lows, as opposed to someone whose journey has been all uphill.

So, after much thought, I’ve been able to put together a list of all these women, who I regard as my superwomen.

  1. Sheryl Sandberg : A leader with a heart and a passion for breaking glass ceilings, that’s what this tech COO of the world’s largest social networking platform is. While I developed a sense of admiration for her from the day I read Lean In, a book -cum-platform encouraging women to active take up leadership in professional settings, what made me truly fall in love with her was the manner in which she handled the untimely demise of her husband. And she didn’t just stop there, rather she took on a new mission to allow people to publicly mourn. Through her other initiative, Option B, a mission to help people recover from loss and adversity.

 

2. Melinda Gates : A successful engineer, entrepreneur and now philanthropist, Melinda Gates is simply goals. After all, at a life stage where most people who step back and revel in the fortune that they’d build (especially if your fortune happens to e a company called Microsoft!), Melinda and her husband Bill decided to take on a completely new challenge – The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The painstaking work they do through the Foundation, across the globe in the field of rural development, is heartwarming.

3.  Michelle Obama : Whoever said first ladies had to be boring, and shadows of their presidential husbands, clearly hadn’t met Michelle Obama. Nothing about Michelle is stuffy, run-of-the-mill or boring – and that’s what I absolutely love about her. A successful lawyer herself, not for a moment did you lose her within the rather magnetic of her famous former President husband Barack Obama. She maintained her own. If there’s one leaf we can all take out of her book, it is that one can do exceptionally serious work, while still having fun.

4. J.K. Rowling : Who better to inspire a writer, than another writer herself? A woman who despite being a single mother, with absolutely no security or support system, took up a dream. Of writing her way to success. Of showing the world the power of a pen and a good story. In creating the magical world of Harry Potter from scratch, one that invited everyone from adults to children, to enter and never leave. A classic rags to riches tale, her story clearly teaches you to dream beyond imagination, and do everything it takes to fulfill it.

5. Sudha Murthy : What never fails to amaze me about this pathbreaking entrepreneur is her enthusiasm, her childlike, and her ever grounded nature. And her love for breaking stereotype. whether it was t becoming the first female student in her college and the first female engineer at TATA, to founding the juggernaut called Infosys with her husband, or to establish the Infosys Foundation, she’s left her mark everywhere.

Who are your role models, friends? Eager to hear them!

Women, go to work, please!

It was this article that got me thinking. And maybe it’ll get you thinking, too.

And if you don’t read the entire article, you can read just the first two lines.

LAKSHMI, the goddess of wealth and fortune, is the closest thing Hinduism has to an economic deity. How poorly her earthly sisters in present-day India are faring. 

Not that I was unaware of the scenario, but this mainly reaffirms what the reality is. This time, with real-life examples and figures to support the claim.

Ironic, very ironic. In the land where the ardently worshipped deities of wealth, education and power are all female, India is losing out a major chunk of its talent only because so many women are at home. A loss that converts into economic deprivation in terms of becoming a significant contributor to the nation’s poverty by a staggering 27%

Whats even more ironic that the only reason isn’t just the lack of education, it’s also the never-ending social pressures that collectively surmount to keep women actively out of the workforce. In-laws demanding the their daughters-in-law stay at home despite their education and desire to earn. Organizations that don’t support working mothers forcing women with children to quit their jobs and take a hiatus, which very often means that they don’t get back to work at all. Women entrepreneurs struggling to keep their ventures afloat, with collectively only around 2% of total venture capital financing going to women.

Of course there have been game changers within the society, in terms of women among the likes of Indra Nooyi, Kiran Majumdar Shaw and Chanda Kocchar, who have risen up the corporate ladder as well as gone to create successful companies of their own. And business models that supported women employment. AMUL and Lijjat Papad. And little proliferations of self-employed women with regard to the good old Tupperware and Amway aunties, the waxing ladies, the tuition teachers and the neigbourhood ladies with their pickle and tiffin businesses. Yet, the number of women who collectively remain unemployed still outnumber them.

Growing up, I was fortunate to be born to parents who viewed education and having a career equally important for both sons and daughters. Which meant that I never thought of myself not having a full-time job, ever. Yet again, that does not mean that I am biased towards stay-at-home moms. The point I’m trying to make, is that not every woman has to have a full-time job. There are women who stay out of active employment out of choice. But that doesn’t mean that the women at the other end of the spectrum, that is women who want to work, should be held back in any form. It is the birthright of every single woman, to have access to education, economic freedom and empowerment. So that when they fo genuinely want to go out and make a living, they are not are obstructed by  financial, physical or social barriers. From more education opportunities,  self-employment and work-from-home options, to child-friendly workplaces, maternity benefits, more microfincnace options and venture capital funding. We need them all.

Maybe this could be a wake-up call, and our mantra for the years to come: Sending more women to work. Hopefully our daughters and granddaughters, shall look at boardrooms and corner office aspirations as normal, instead of glass ceiling achievements, like our generation does. And we will have a fuller, richer economy, that thrives from the collective effort of both men and women.

(The article cited appeared in The Economist : Why India needs its women to work. https://www.economist.com/leaders/2018/07/05/why-india-needs-women-to-work)

The World Seems Unsafe Tonight

Ma, my tears go unnoticed
My cries, unheard
My dignity, hurt
I’m sorry you brought me into a world
That doesn’t even pretend to care
Ma, can I climb into
Your womb for a while?
The world seems rather unsafe tonight
I’m tired, Ma. I’m tired
Of fighting,
Of struggling,
Of begging the world
To for once, be kind
Please let me climb into
You womb, just for a little while
The world seems just so unsafe tonight
I feel like I’m being punished
For a mistake I never made
I flee like a wounded animal
Only to find a spot that’s safe
But alas they find and hunt me
However hard I try
Ma, I promise I’ll only
Stay in your womb for a while
But please do let me
The world seems
Very unsafe tonight
(On account of India being declared the most unsafe country in the world for women)

We Forgot Our Men

As a society, culture, and the world, here’s where we went wrong.

We empowered our girls.

Inspired, motivated, informed them.

Equal opportunity, we called it. 

We sent them to schools. To ballet class. Yes, even karate lessons

We taught them to break stereotype, day, after day, after day.

To rewrite their own fairy tales. To play with guns if they wanted to. To wear blue and not pink if they preferred that instead.

Yet we forgot our boys. 

While we stood up for the girls, we forgot to sit beside our boys.

And tell them, that the presence of a y chromosome, wasn’t their key to success. That it made them biologically different, yes. But not necessarily superior

That it was okay to cry. And shed tears. And weep, and wail. Convince them of a man’s right to a heart, emotion, and feelings.

That laying their hands on a girl’s womanhood, didn’t make them more of a man, it made them less human.

We taught our girls to fight. What we didn’t do, is teach our boys to not attack them in first place.

 

Future is Female. No, I say.

Future is female,

they tell me

No, it is not

The future is one

Where men can cry

And women can run nations

With no one ever questioning, why.

Where pinks and blues

Are for everyone.

Where men in kitchens

And women in boardrooms

Is a common sight

Where a woman

Loses out to a man

Because of his abilities

And not because

He was given

The ‘privilege’ of a penis

Where man and woman

Are just biological labels

Which have no impact

On dreams, desires and passions

Where women rise

Yet men are not degraded

The future is not female, I say

It is equal

On being Indian. And feminist.

Yes, I’m feminist. And I’m Indian. And in my opinion, the two make a rather interesting combination.

The dictionary definition of the term feminism defines the term as advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes. Yet I think that given my culture and background, the term feminist takes on a slightly different meaning.

Because in my part of my world, being feminist also means fighting the additional baggage of culture, tradition, occasionally even religion.  A community that practices paradox like second nature . Where an endless number of female deities are worshipped. Yet women are being abused in every single form possible. One which has produced no dearth of female leaders, yet where misogyny and patriarchy still prevalent. One which doesn’t oppose objectification of women in popular culture. Yet conversation around natural biological processes like menstruation and safe sex are considered taboo. And if this environment doesn’t call for one to be feminist, I don’t know what does.

My biggest reason for choosing to become a feminist was the understanding and appreciation that in this scenario, I was truly, genuinely, one of the fortunate ones. To have never faced discrimination in my personal or professional life. On the contrary, to have been supported by an entire army of men who encouraged, propelled and drove me to scale heights in my professional and personal life.  And it is this sense of gratitude that drives me to be feminist.  Feminism, in my opinion, is about fighting the social evils against women that exist in society. But it’s equally about fighting the internalized misogyny that lives silently in minds, yet constantly surfacing and displaying its murky self. It’s about believing that as a woman, you are capable of anything. But above everything else, it’s about building a longer table. About not treating feminism like some kind of elitist club, rather a collective sisterhood. Where both women and men acknowledge first, that a challenge does exist, and consequently working collectively towards uplifting women who, through some twist of fate, didn’t have the opportunities you did. Without being judgmental, opinionated or biased.

So yes, I’m feminist. And an Indian woman. And I will continue to be both. For both these badges, are ones that are part of my identity, and ones I wear with utmost pride.

 

This Woman’s Day, lets Thank the Men

Behind every successful man, is a woman.

In this era, where we’re fighting for equality,  and inclusivity, this adage seems passe. People support people. Gender doesn’t necessarily have to play a role at all. And I’d like to change the narrative to simply saying that behind every successful person, there is an someone else, or even an entire village. Especially because as a woman, I’ve been fortunate to have had the support of many women, and men, who’ve added to my flame, propelled me and driven me to rise strength to strength. And as much as I’ve created my own sisterhood, I’ve also had an army of men that’s played a crucial role in helping me to rise and create a niche for myself. And this Women’s day, I’d like to specially thank all those men. For as much as I’m grateful to the women who’ve acted as mentors, confidantes and friends, I’ve also been associated with men who’ve made me a more confident, stronger and better version of myself.

So the men whom I’m thanking this Woman’s Day:

1. My father : For making me his princess. His warrior princess. One whom he taught to fight her own battles, kill her own demons and be her own heroine, instead of waiting for some hero to do so.

2. My male friends : For the back slapping, the banter and the company. For making me feel part of the gang, never the outsider.

3. My male teachers & mentors : For teaching me lessons of life, I will not forget in a jiffy. For constantly sharing inspiring examples of women leadership and pathbreaking efforts, in turn, allowing me to dream of becoming a trailblazer myself.

4. My colleagues : My male bosses, for believing in me, for valuing my capability over my gender.  Male colleagues who’ve been great support systems, and friends at work. Who have only allowed to challenge myself constantly as a professional, and in turn sharpen myself in the process.

5. Global leaders : There are some great examples of male leaders, who’ve paved the path forward for women to gain access to opportunities like education, social and economic independence, that have only allowed to succeed in their personal and professional spheres.

In this era of endless stories about men that have exploited, underestimated, and even suppressed women, lets not forget the ones that have done just the opposite. To inspire and uplift women, you don’t have to be a female yourself. And to all the men that have practiced and preached this, I extend my sincere gratitude. More power to you, boys. For we need more folks like you in here.