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Boss ladies, change yourselves first, says Apurva Purohit

Apurva Purohit, President, Jagran Group, is among the very few women CEOs in India. She has over three decades of experience in building and scaling up high-quality businesses in the private equity and listed space.

An ardent advocate of gender diversity in the workplace, Purohit inspired a lot of young women to achieve their full potential in their careers, face the challenges and achieve a successful work-life balance through her best-selling first book – ‘You’re Not a Man’. She has always sought to embolden and encourage women to reach their full potential through her books, mentorship and lecture series.

Purohit has now released her latest book – ‘Lady You’re The Boss’, published by Westland, which is a lesson in organisational building. As she said, “A lot in this book is about women and the issues that they face, but there are also a lot of leadership lessons for both the genders. The second part of the book is all about how to be a good leader, a balanced manager, build successful teams, good communication skills, how to get your focus right and prioritising. Those lessons are important for anybody who is trying to build an organisation.”

In conversation with Adgully, Apurva Purohit candidly shares her views on the state of gender parity at Indian workplaces, lack of empathy among male bosses, changing mindsets and the huge challenges in this process.

What was the thought behind writing this book?
I wrote my book ‘Lady, You’re Not a Man’ five years ago, which was more freom the perspective of a manager and not just of a woman. What I have realised is that though a lot of young women are joining the work force, many are leaving mid way. It’s not due to lack of desire or enthusiasm, but the moment they get married they quit their jobs and that is why we are seeing such high attrition levels. It actually came from a business need and the thought as to why are these women leaving. After interacting with a lot of young women I realised that more or less all had the same problems – lack of support at home, young kids, feeling of guilt, etc. ‘Lady, You’re Not a Man’ was more about telling these young girls how they can succeed. The book was like a practical guide as to how they could adapt, accept and achieve success; how to balance one’s life. Anything can be achieved through hard work and perseverance.

I didn’t intend to write another book, because I thought I had done my job as the young women in the workforce were feeling challenged and I have given them a solution. ‘Lady, You’re Not a Man’ did extraordinarily well and sold about 75,000 copies. I still have women writing to me saying how those tips changed their lives.

My second book, ‘Lady You’re The Boss’, has come at a time when women are in senior positions today; they have worked hard and have now reached the mid-management level. The question now is after that what? At that level you still have women leaving. The pyramid in a work place comprises 30 per cent women at the entry level, 15 per cent at the mid-level, and 3-5 per cent at the top position. The question is what is happening to the women who are leaving. This book has been especially written for women in the middle management level, telling them that there is yet another set of challenges that they will face – some will be internal, where they might feel that they have achieved everything and there is nothing more to do. Today, at age 35 many women are suffering from mid-life crisis and decide to give up. This book seeks to tell such women that you can’t give up and that there is much more to do. You can take up leadership roles and grow in your jobs. If you are an entrepreneur or a doctor, you can become the best version of yourself. Don’t give up because of the biases you are facing; explore your potential to the fullest. The book is telling you that now it is your time or ‘me’ time.

How important is this ‘Me’ time?
‘Me’ time has become a clichéd phrase for most of us; we think getting into a spa is ‘me’ time. There are two parts to ‘me’ time, when are you giving time amidst your busy schedules to reflect on things that matter the most. All of us don’t do reflection. Every morning, especially women, have a list of activities which we tick off as the day goes by and at the end of the day we say we have done a great job. My question is, when are you reflecting on your life? How good or bad were the jobs that I have done? Have I grown? Have I done anything for fun? What do I enjoy? Most of us have no answers. From the time you reflect on what is important to implementing it – for me, that is ‘me’ time.

How much time have you put in for this book?
I have a full schedule, so I have done it over the weekends or on flights. It was not very difficult as stories were already there in my head and I had to put it down on paper. The reason I made it anecdotal was that I felt that we women need to talk amongst ourselves, as most of us face the same issues in our personal and work lives.

How much has the workplace changed for the young people today?
I think the pace of change is very slow and there is a report which says that it will take 202 years for economic gender parity to happen at this pace. There is a lot of talk, policies like the Board reservation policy, etc. The government as well as companies are trying to bring in a change and women themselves are trying as well, however, the society doesn’t change so easily. We are the privileged ones. One still sees the same things happening everywhere as we women have been conditioned from childhood to sacrifice.

How do you see the millennials and their mindsets when working with them?
I actually see three generations – one slightly more senior to us, then it is us, and finally the millennials. In the generation before us, women had no identity, throughout their lives it was always family first for them and they rarely flourished. Our generation has done a little better, but we are conflicted. We picked up the good Gandhian values of our parents, but we also got a lot of materialistic wealth and we did a lot better than we ever thought. But this also came with a lot of guilt and I call our generation the ‘Bridge generation’. We are the dutiful generation, having seen the sacrifices that our parents have made, but we also want to break free, which makes us conflicted. Our children, the millennials, have come into their own. They are smarter, more confident, independent, more aware and more individualistic. From a woman’s perspective, I see the young millennial woman completely at ease when dealing with a man and she considers herself to be an equal.

You have worked with a lot of bosses, many of them male bosses. What is your working style? What are the lessons learnt on the way to be a Lady Boss?
Most of the male bosses who I have interacted with, had very little empathy; males per se have no empathy. One aspect I don’t like about the male leadership is that it is always about ME; I am not getting into male bashing, but this is the truth. As long as you show loyalty it is okay.

For me, it has always been the team; no individual can survive in the long run, only a team can survive. I don’t want them to work for me, I want them to work for their own improvement. They should feel that they are getting some value addition and what is the value addition that I can give them by teaching them. I prefer a coach/teacher-leader philosophy rather than the more directional old world hierarchical leadership style. That’s what the younger generation looks for in a boss.

What are you observations on the gender parity at work places in India? Have women achieved their rightful status?
No, they have not. Look at the figures – there are only 3-5 per cent women in leadership roles, and this has not improved over the years. Date from the last two years shows a decline gender balance in India, now the figure at the entry level is just 26 per cent. It is really sad. We have a long way to go in terms of gender parity, in terms of salaries. There are a few industries and organisations where the gender skew is not very glaring, for instance, in Media/ Publications, but generally in other sectors there is neither gender parity in terms of pay nor is there enough diversity. Unfortunately things have not changed despite organisations trying to do enough for women in the work place.

What more should Indian organisations do to provide a supportive environment to help women achieve their full potential?
Organisations have introduced a lot of policies for their women workforce, such as flexi timings, maternity break of 6 months, etc. In these matters organisations are doing reasonably well. However, where they are failing miserably is the leadership challenge as there are not many women leaders in the top. After a point of time the paternalistic mindset or bias sets in; though it is not verbalised, a sub-conscious bias exists. Once they get the women in the workplace, after a period of time they don’t allow them to grow. They are not doing it deliberately, but subconsciously, where they are saying I can’t give her this role because she cannot travel, or I can’t give her sales because she can’t stay late. They believe that a woman can’t do this or that, and the mindset is I am keeping her safe. Actually they are ‘bonsaiing’ the women. I am not saying only men do it – we women also do it when our maternal instincts kick in. This, for me, is not protecting but clipping their wings.

What the big thing organisations need to change is when a women comes back from her maternity leave, treat men and women the same. Give the women the hard work and force them to carry that load. There is also another point – quite a few women themselves are also happy not to get certain roles as their priority is their family. In that case, one shouldn’t crib and be happy in the middle management role.

The mindset has to change both ways. My latest book talks about this. Whenever I talk to women, I keep saying that organisations change, biases change, society changes eventually, even though it may take a long time. But first and foremost, we have to change ourselves.

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