The topic of the second panel discussion of the evening was ‘Women or Superwomen: Doing it all’. The panelists included [L-R] Suchi Mukherjee, Founder and CEO, LimeRoad; Samina Vaziralli, Executive Vice Chairman, Cipla; Ameera Shah, Promoter and Managing Director, Metropolis Healthcare; moderator Sourav Majumdar, editor, Forbes India; Mariazeena Johnson, Managing Director, Sathyabama University; Sairee Chahal, Founder and CEO, Sheroes; Revathi Roy, Founder and CEO, Hey Dee Dee (Image: Mexy Xavier)
“Very early on in our lives we are told we are different,” said ecommerce firm LimeRoad’s founder and CEO Suchi Mukherjee, adding that this is done in subtle ways that causes us to grow up into adults who are “messed up”.
“When my children nag my husband and say, ‘but papa you’re never there for us’, Sandeep does not feel an iota of guilt. Suchi, on the other hand, goes through trauma. So I’m telling you we’re messed up,” she said adding that there should not be the expectation of every woman to be everything all the time. “Even Iron Man cannot be Hulk at the same time.”
Samina Vaziralli, executive vice chairman, Cipla, concurred about the pressure women feel constantly. “The pressure we put is the pressure we put on ourselves. We play multiple roles—a wife, a daughter, a mother and we are not willing to compromise on each one of those so on every given day, and in every given way, you’re constantly compromising between your roles. You could just edit out, that it’s okay today to be a good mother and not do anything else, and play a different role the next day, it’s fine. But just the way we are wired, we want to give 2,000 percent to everything we do. And that’s a woman thing and I’ve seen that.
At the panel discussion on ‘Woman Or Superwoman: Doing It All’, moderated by Forbes India editor Sourav Majumdar, as part of the Forbes India W-Power Trailblazers 2017 event on Wednesday, the consensus was clear. Women do feel the pressure in many different ways. But what was interesting was the way women, trailblazing and otherwise, are acknowledging this, learning from their experiences and moving towards finding solutions.
Serial entrepreneur Revathi Roy said that balancing work-life was out of the question. “A lot of times people ask me about this balancing act and I think I’m gloriously imbalanced. I’m completely imbalanced, I don’t try to balance, I think I’m only trying to integrate my work-life balance. We just try to integrate whatever we can.”
Others spoke about how they are changing things, from empathy towards other women to building confidence to helping organise sanitary napkins, as managing director of Sathyabama University Dr Mariazeena Johnson has been working towards, to matching skills and the hours women are able to work as Sheroes founder and CEO Sairee Chahal is enabling.
While Vaziralli brought back what she learnt abroad and applied it at Cipla, Mukherjee took the learnings from her years at eBay and Skype which helped her build the work culture at LimeRoad. “I’ll give you an example. When I was pregnant with my first child, in my third trimester I was finding it very difficult to sleep. It’s a biological process, I couldn’t do anything about it,” she said. “So I woke up every morning at 3 am and I worked till about 5.30 am and they were very productive hours. And then I really wanted to get to work at 9 am because that was the official time. So I would be driving and invariably I would be dead tired. And sleepy. And wanted to just crash into something. And I have actually pulled up the car, gone to a petrol station and parked the car and slept in the back seat. Numerous times. Now tell me, why I would put myself through that? And so at LimeRoad our biggest learning was, you know, people walk in at any time. The only commitment we have is that we need to be available for meeting five hours every day. Those five hours will be common for all the 500 people we have.”
The women shared other learnings and nuggets of wisdom. “In our country we are told to believe that jewellery is the best asset you can have right? I’m sorry to disagree with that. I think the most important asset we have and we need to have is self-confidence. As an entrepreneur that confidence gets tested every moment every day,” said Ameera Shah, managing director of Metropolis Healthcare.
And even as parity at the workplace is important, Chahal asked people to rewind a bit. “Let’s go back to schools, you know, and I don’t know why we are taught the Pythagoras theorem and all and a lot of stuff which we never use. If I had my way there are three things girls and boys, women and men, need to learn. One how to cook themselves a meal. Yes, men can’t cook. And I think women are carrying the burden all across the country, you know. The reason a lot of women can’t make it is because every woman who has a job, has another job and the deeper you go the more traditional you go, it gets more weightier and is just hard to carry.”
The second, she said, is driving. “I think as much as a graduation degree does, for a woman or a guy, I think driving is a key skill you know, mobility is a skill… And I think it just gives you so much confidence, it’s a really, really critical skill. And, you know, just basic housekeeping. I mean why can’t we have basic skills like laundry being taught to men? Because ultimately what is happening is women are anchoring a lot which doesn’t get accounted. None of this gets accounted for and the fact remains that more and more women in small town India are sacrificing all their education, all they have gone through, to keep a home, to bring up a baby, because men won’t contribute. And we’ve got to get men to contribute at equal footing in homes.”
As Johnson, emphasising the need for change, put it: “For a woman, when it comes to safety, education and entrepreneurship, nothing changes, just talking is going on. So I hope… more than Digital India we need women progressing in India. That should happen.”