Most women today are opting for careers over jobs, even if it requires them to play multiple roles with superhuman abilities. Meanwhile, men, at home and at work, struggle to come to terms with their changing priorities. And therein lays the chasm between male expectations and female ambition.
Own It tells women's stories: the ugly, the happy, the rarely discussed, the unacknowledged, the whispered, and the denied. Close to two hundred Indian women leaders across industries discuss the challenges they face in the Indian workplace and at home. Heads of companies, human resource directors and senior managers talk about issues like pay parity, harassment, promotion and maternity policies. Why is the workplace skewed against women and what are their own demons that keep them from breaking the glass ceiling?
Thought-provoking and controversial, Own It takes the challenges that confront women in the workplace head-on - without discounting the complexities of being a woman in an Indian home.
Aparna Jain is the CEO of Zebraa Works and knows a thing or two about work, women and leadership. She has spent over twenty-three years in the technology and media domains, where she has held leadership roles that drove marketing strategy, brand and business development. She is also India's first certified Integral Master Coach TM and works with corporate heads in Indian industry. She is passionate about championing women leaders in the workplace, which requires working with men as much as women, and empowering them to overcome 'women challenges'. When not coaching, Aparna loves reading a good mystery, listening to Coldplay and Bach, and travelling. In Integral terminology, she is an Ennea 7/ 8 Wing and an Upper Righter.
In retrospect, the first time I became aware of a feeling that had some tiny elements of what some people would call feminism was when my baby brother and I were taken to visit my paternal grandfather in Old Delhi. I didn't know the meaning of the word then, but the feeling had something to do with being discriminated against, and my mind summed it up in two words: Not fair!
My grandfather was old school, conservative and cold. I remember being on guarded behavior during these strange visits to his place, spent mostly trying to figure out what games could be played around the perilously grated iron flooring on the top-floor courtyard. At the end of the visit, he would benevolently slip my brother a 100-rupee note and me a measly five rupees. I was barely six; what could I say to the grand patriarch except fold my hands in a polite Namaste and thank him. Later, as though to set things right, I would simply take away my brother's loot and put it in my piggy bank. There, that's fair! He's only a baby after all.
The monetary angle notwithstanding, I did not look forward to these visits as there was an overwhelming sense of being discriminated against. My mother somehow knew and once we were downstairs, after taking leave of my grandfather, she would simply take the five rupees from me and give me a 100-rupee note from her own money. Having grown up among five brothers and an equal number of sisters, things were relatively more equitable in her family. My nanaji kept up with the times and was free from the trappings of tradition. He would quietly pull out churan and amp pad from the hidden recesses of his cupboard and slip them to me when my nani was not looking. Thankfully, I grew up with that side of the family having a strong influence on my life.
How did this book come about? Well, the idea took root during an evening with friends at a hotel lounge. I had recently published a cookbook, The Sood Family Cookbook (my mother's side of family, mind you) and the conversation started to veer towards my next book. Karthika, Rajiv and I spoke on issues that were important to us and brainstormed ideas over Barolo. I would write about women; women in the corporate world. 'None of the usual suspects,' I said. 'I want to go a rung or two below the CEO level; women who will tell me how they got to where they are, the challenges they face in the corporate world ... women not under obligation to give me media speak; women who have figured out how to steer their way through the system.'
We all reached an agreement, and more Italian red wine was poured.
It took time ... appointments, cancelled appointments, mixed-up appointments. I met women from all industries across five cities, some men too. My friends in the media helped, as did my clients in the corporate world. Women I interviewed put me on to other women. Life was a bit of a blur at times, as were the stories. Over a year I met and interviewed 190 women in senior leadership positions in Delhi, Gurgaon, Mumbai, Bangalore, Pune and Chennai. Ninety-five per cent of these meetings were face to face, without a set questionnaire, and that made all the difference. It gave me richer data, also access to stories/incidents I did not know could impact women's careers so profoundly. It gave me insights into deeply personal matters involving both home and family.
I wrote to HR heads from top ten Indian companies, seeking information relevant to the book. Some responded, most did not. I spoke with and wrote to subject experts from around the world to get the necessary inputs. They all wrote back within a week. An interesting fact: Of the men I wrote to in India, 80 per cent did not respond, not even an acknowledgement email. Of the women, 94 per cent responded, and I met 97 per cent of those I had written to. Many names have been changed, very few women spoke on record for fear of repercussions visa-a-visa their careers. They felt their stories were important, needed to be told and if they could somehow reach out to other women and make them feel they were not alone, they were happy to talk. That they were worried about the repercussions, about being judged, about 'gag orders' from their companies, and therefore used fake names tells its own stories, as does the fact that a few of them called me up the next day to ask for their accounts to be retracted. Nonetheless, the stories kept coming in.
In July 2014, the Internet was abuzz with interview transcripts from the Aspen Ideas festival where PepsiCo CEO Indri Noyil spoke about work-life balance and whether women can have it all, commenting on a question that alluded to Anne-Marie Slaughter's 'Why Women Still Can't Have It All'.
Her response was candid: 'I don't think women can have it all. I just don't think so. We pretend we have it all. We pretend we can have it all.' She spoke about the tug-of-war between her role as a corporate doyen and her role as a mother, wife and daughter. And the choices she made.
Her voice found resonance in the corporate world, particularly among women executives who felt the same, whose sentiments had been validated.
Book's Contents and Sample Pages