True grit: The ones who beat the odds

A collection of true-life stories from 24 women who fought the tide to emerge as some of the most powerful in India, and beyond.

In 1974, a young Sudha Murthy had to fire off a postcard to Telco admonishing them for a job listing that had the disclaimer: ‘Lady candidates need not apply’. And in 1981, Murthy gave Infosys’ founding fathers her life savings totalling Rs 10,000 and offered to take care of the family’s financial needs for three years while husband Narayan went about setting up what is now India’s second-largest IT company.

Indra Nooyi, of Pepsico, remembers the time she got back home one day only to find her mother asking for milk. She had been appointed the head at Pepsi and was waiting to break the news but the milk had to be bought first.

And then, there is the story of how Super Administrator Chanda Kochhar transformed ICICI into that ATM-in-every-corner bank, despite that crisis from the Lehman Brothers years. Kochhar is also famous for her secret monthly meetings with 20 staffers chosen at random — across the board. These meetings allow the eagle-eyed boss to know everything about her 70,000-odd employees.

Priyanka Chopra went from a beauty pageant in Bareilly to the lead role in a US TV show. For the actress who reported to work just four days after her father’s death, “there’s no such thing as pressure”.

She Walks, She Leads, by first-time author Gunjan Jain packs in it a collection of such stories from 24 women, who’ve helped redefine the way India lives and works.

Why only women? Well, Sudha Murthy had to walk a full mile to use the washroom set aside for the only woman on IISC’s campus in the late ’60s. Lawyer Zia Mody — the go-to lawyer for foreign companies hoping to make an India footprint — turned up for work one day at the Bombay High Court of the ’80s only to be given a once-over by a senior counsel who said, ‘abhi thoda salwar-kameez shuru karna chahiye’. Nooyi, clocking “48x7” work weeks once famously declared, “women can’t have it all”. And in 1978, a 25-year-old Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, firing all pistons, was told material suppliers “preferred speaking to a man”. Try setting up a company surrounded by people who have a problem with what you are and the answer to the ‘Why’ will eventually surface.

“I read once that one of the main reasons Indian women drop out of the work force is “daughterly guilt” which basically means the pressure to take care of the elderly in the family. This occurs mostly when they are at the start of their careers,” author Gunjan Jain tells DC. “All of these women clock work days that last well over 12 hours. They have no concept of man or woman, take risks and invest a massive amount of time and energy to build good teams.” Nooyi is a good example who believes a woman’s bio-clock and her career clock are in “complete conflict”. “When you have to have kids you have to build your career. As you’re rising to management, the kids need you because they’re teenagers. And that’s the time your husband becomes a teenager too. And as you grow even more, your parents need you because they’re ageing,” she once said. Is the ‘why’ still switched on?

In a country that’s still trying to kill the girl child, these stories of successes matter. Because in that crib lies a resilient, multi-tasking, all-purpose force that only needs some encouragement and for you to get out of the way. And for these captains, while serving out life's many demands, the top floor of the office always seemed to be getting farther away. A certain tenacity elevated them and that’s a quality worth much applause.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
Next Story