Book Review: Powerful Women, Power-Packed Stories
Alpana Chowdhury reviews ‘30 Women In Power’ edited by Naina Lal Kidwai. Power-packed stories of powerful women.
“The best thing about a glass ceiling is that it it’s made of glass. And glass can be shattered.” This comment by Debjani Ghosh, Intel India’s first female managing director in South Asia, sums up succinctly the belief of thirty high-profile women featured in 30 Women In Power, an eminently readable book edited by Naina Lal Kidwai.
Kidwai, herself, is a perfect example of a woman who shattered the glass ceiling at a time when a company like Price Waterhouse and Coopers had the policy of not hiring women. That today she is executive director on the board of HSBC, Asia-Pacific is a story in itself. “Perhaps the more one is discriminated against the stronger one becomes,” she states.
Though the book is about women achievers it would be of interest to both, men and women. For instance, when the National Stock Exchange CEO, Chitra Ramkrishna narrates how the team she was a part of built the NSE brick by brick, it makes for very engrossing reading not just because she is a woman but because, to begin with, she knew “little about the business of bourses”. But the way she and her team grew “slowly, but decisively” through systematic planning and work ethics is a lesson both genders can learn from.
Similarly, when Vijayalakshmi Iyer recounts how she overcame the hurdles at Bank of India when she was appointed its chairman and managing director, she encourages all those facing tough times not to give up. Setting an example by making herself available to both, staff and customers, she brought about a sea-change in the work culture of the 106-year-old bank. “A strategy that I endorse for all leaders is communicating tough decisions directly,” points out the never-say-die banker who started her professional life on a salary of Rs 250 while simultaneously studying for her post-graduate course.
Unlike Vijayalakshmi, some of the women in the book had the advantage of being born with the proverbial silver spoon in their mouth, but that doesn’t make their career graphs any less interesting. Shobhana Bhartia, in fact, faced reverse discrimination when her father, media baron K K Birla, introduced her at his workplace. She remembers the antagonism she faced because “I was viewed as a young cosseted inheritor…(who would) tire in a few days and leave.” To prove the sceptics wrong, this Birla daughter went all out to ensure that Hindustan Times kept up with the times.
Whether it is influential fathers or example-setting mothers or teachers or bosses… all these women of substance give a lot of credit to those who mentored them in their impressionable years. A book on men in power, would, I am sure, enunciate similar influences or support systems.
But while mentors may have shown the way, nothing could have been attained without sheer hard work. Shereen Bhan, much awarded business journalist, works hands-on, eighteen-hour days. Chanda Kochar, managing director and CEO of ICICI Bank Limited takes late night flights to New York, attends back-to-back meetings, then takes night flights back to Mumbai and heads to office the next morning. It is the same with all the 30 women in power.
Does all this affect their family/personal lives? Many of them reveal that if it hadn’t been for very supportive parents/ in-laws/husbands their children may have felt neglected. But wouldn’t that be true of successful, career-oriented fathers as well? As Shanti Ekambaram, president, consumer banking at Kotak Mahindra Bank, points out pertinently, finding a work-life balance is gender-agnostic.
Bankers, consultants, corporate leaders, civil servants, diplomats, IT honchos, legal luminaries, media stalwarts, hotel and healthcare heads, NGO activists…inspirational stories all.
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