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Invaluable lessons from women who changed the rules of the game at workplace

THE PROVERBIAL glass ceiling has already been broken in India — be it banking, law, media, advertising, government services, healthcare and what have you. But as the pioneers of this movement would like to tell you, nothing comes easy. From institutionalised gender discrimination, to walking the extra mile, from struggling to maintain work-life balance, to dealing with their male subordinates, all of them had to work much harder than men to succeed.

Roopa Kudva, the former CEO of CRISIL, describes her visits to the sugar factories in Uttar Pradesh and the prejudices she’d confront against women in finance. Kaku Nakhate, president and country head of Bank of America Merrill Lynch, speaks of how difficult it was to get clients in the stock-broking sector to listen to her, since they weren’t used to receiving investment advice from women. Meher Pudumjee, the chairperson and director of Thermax Ltd, describes instances when on answering the telephone, callers would repeat their request to be connected to a salesperson — presuming that an engineering manufacturing company would have a male salesman.

And Biocon Founder Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, as a woman entrepreneur in pre-liberalisation India, would constantly face the glass ceiling as no one would loan her money or work with her.

These inimitable voices of Indian women who have been sentinels in their respective domains and led large organizations, form a part of a new book, 30 Women in Power: Their Voices, Their Stories, edited by Naina Lal Kidwai, executive director on the board of HSBC Asia-Pacific, and chairman of HSBC India

Through honest and contemplative revelations, these leading ladies answer questions that confront all working women — from how best to balance the personal and professional to how to dismantle gender biases. Equally, the essayists consider seminal issues that concern every committed professional, man orwoman: What are the qualities that define a leader?

Where does one find a mentor? What ingredients make for the perfect success recipe?

In these narratives — told up, close and personal — the women achievers speak of the guiding principles that have held them in good stead, the role models who have anchored them, childhood influences that have shaped their values, and the interests outside the world of work that have revitalised them. Coming from all walks of life, these empowered women discuss their many successes and their dreams for the future. Yet, they also venture to disclose the setbacks that have preceded hard-won conquests, the barriers, psychological or otherwise, which may have held them back at certain points and the compromises they’ve had to make to reach the top.

Through the essays, Kidwai tries to point out six keys to success. While passion is essential, Kidwai highlights that ambition is not necessarily bad.

Humility is a hallmark of success and every woman in this book has admitted to being humbled by accomplishment.

The fourth “key” to success, as per Kidwai, is integrity. Most of the women in this book highlight integrity in the list of values they cherish; for them, there are no shortcuts or quick fixes, no stopgap arrangements on the road to success. ICICI Bank MDCEO Chanda Kochhar begins her essay by recountingher father’s refusal to make concessions for her brother, despite being the principal of the college her brother wished to apply to. There are no shortcuts in life, and none can prove it better than some of these women leaders. Lastly, Kidwai quotes Robert Kennedy by writing that “only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly”.

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