Business Today

A Long Way to the Top

Gender parity is lacking in STEM professions and leadership roles, but some women continue, undeterred.
Neharika Vohra   New Delhi     Print Edition: September 23, 2018
A Long Way to the Top

Are you a woman in the field of technology, feeling stuck or pressured and contemplating to give up? A male manager asked to diversify the workforce or one with many women on your team or the mentor of a bright woman who will be just another statistic in a leaky pipeline? A parent of a young girl and wondering if you should tell your daughter to take the beaten path because so few women are doing what your daughter wants to do? A husband who is unable to understand why your wife needs to work so hard? Well, here is a book that will motivate you and help you find some relevant answers.

Pratima Rao Gluckman has explored the unique journeys of 19 women from different parts of the world, all working in technology companies and many of them in leadership roles. In their interviews, all of them appreciated the early head start they had, thanks to a parent or a teacher, which got them to believe in themselves, and how the career interventions and the encouragement kept them challenging themselves. All of them related how they invested in themselves to learn the right skills and remain at the cutting edge. Better still, none felt discouraged for long when hit by a roadblock - there was always a way around it for moving ahead.

The women in this book, as in many books of this genre, speak about the importance of cultivating a network and negotiating with bosses, peers and family members about what they want and what they are willing to give in return. The enabling role of special institutions such as the Anita Borg Institute or the Women Who Code is also evident from their stories. The absence of role models in this space could make one want to give up, but that is why the importance of being a role model to the younger generation becomes a crucial responsibility.

Leadership also requires purposeful action that aligns with one's values and the collective good. The struggle people (both men and women) face when they step up from being producers/individual contributors is etched in many of these stories. The change in role requires new skills, including negotiating for the team, building emotional resilience, taking charge of others' careers and more. So, high-quality leadership training to deal with the well-known producer-versus-leader dilemma is necessary for the leap.

A theme that resonates and is most heartening in the stories is that these women are reflective and consciously trying to help other women. The takeaway: Women owe it to themselves and all those who invested in them and the future generations to make the best of their opportunities and contribute to their chosen fields. In India, where the percentage of working women is declining contrary to the global trend, the need for an enabling system is as critical as women's perseverance. We need more role models and more stories of real women who have managed to crack the proverbial glass ceiling.

Nevertheless... would have been more fulfilling if the stories were tighter and the author put in fewer comments. Allowing readers to make their inferences is always better than telling them what to look for. Some phrases stick, though, telling the truth succinctly. Years ago, when I first read Birute Regine's Iron Butterflies, the metaphor emerging from the stories of successful women just stuck and did so much of explaining. Here, too, it is a good attempt by a writer who is also a woman in tech. It is as much a personal journey for her as it has been for others featured in her book.

The reviewer is Professor of Organisational Behaviour at IIM-Ahmedabad. She has mentored several women leaders through her work and in personal capacity

BOOK TALKS

"I have the responsibility to publish good, solid content."

Milee AshwaryaEditor-in-chief, Penguin Random House India

Q. Your career choice

Milee Ashwarya: To be honest, it was an accident. I majored in English Literature, but was not much into MBA or civil services. There were other options like masscom or advertising, but I was a very confused person at the time. I could not imagine my life without books, though. So, a friend suggested I should work in publishing. I joined Rupa in 2006 and moved to Random House India two years later.

Q. On leadership role

It has been an exciting journey. There is a lot of learning, and I feel very humble when I think of all the opportunities I had. I was young and restless and wanted to try new things, and my bosses helped me push the boundaries. It is our turn to nurture people so that they can take on new challenges, work on their ideas.

Q. Your ideology and the way forward

With passion, comes responsibility. I am not here to promote any ideology; I am not a member of any party. But I have the responsibility to publish good, solid content because it impacts our life. Books are our windows to the world; they leave a lasting impression on our world view. So, we need to be very careful about what we publish. I am also keen to publish many more Indian writers. Discovering new voices and excellent writing is a great experience.

Q. Most challenging project

Exam Warriors by PM Narendra Modi. It is very rare for a sitting prime minister to write for the young people. We made sure that the execution was flawless and finished it in about 10 months.

Q. Three must-dos for new writers

Writing is a tough job and you have to know what it requires. Be authentic and original - be yourself and tell your story. If you are passionate, willing to learn and ready to put in time and energy, it should work. Finally, be disciplined. There could be days when you can't write, but generally, be serious about writing. All great writers overcome distractions. They have set hours, style, rhythm, and you should do the same.

Q. Five must-read books for women leaders

A. Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg and Nell Scovell; Feminist Rani by Shaili Chopra and Meghna Pant; The Inheritors by Sonu Bhasin; Thrive by Ariana Huffington and Daughters of Legacy by Puja Singhal and Rinku Paul.

As told to Sanghamitra Mandal

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