Author Apurva Purohit: Women who read, lead

Updated: Nov 03, 2019, 07:59 IST | Jane Borges | Mumbai

Making a habit of finding a place among India's most powerful women in business makes Apurva Purohit just the author to read if you want to be the woman who is "everything she ever wanted to be"

Apurva Purohit
Apurva Purohit

She says it without hesitation: "I wash the dishes at home". But when you watch Apurva Purohit fervently punch the keys of her MacBook, the tortoise shell glasses resting on the tip of her nose, it's hard to imagine that someone this commanding at work, could make peace with domesticity.

Purohit, who holds the position of President at the Jagran Group, one of India's largest media conglomerates, admits she has heard this before.

Once, during a conversation with a mentee, a young woman employed with a real estate firm, Purohit had casually mentioned how she was "elbow-deep in dirty utensils" when she had phoned her at home. The mentee was flabbergasted.

"When I was growing up, there were very few women role models, and even they perpetuated the myth of the woman as goddess. Everyone admired them, but nobody felt that they could be like them," she says.

Purohit wanted to change that. Three decades of successful corporate life, of which a significant portion was spent in key positions, while managing the roles of wife and mother, meant that she knew it was possible for any woman to be everything she wanted to be. That's how her first book, Lady, You're Not a Man!, happened in 2014. The national bestseller was a primer of sorts to help give a fillip to the morale of women, especially those considering dropping out of work after marriage or around motherhood. "The problems I saw them face resonated with me. I wished to tell them that those who are successful, are not so, because they are extra special," she says. "I wanted to give them practical solutions to look within and change the way they approached life."

Her latest book, Lady, You're The Boss! (Westland), is the second installment in The Adventures of a Woman At Work series, and continues the conversation she began five years ago. Only now, she spells out the challenges that women face at senior management levels, while providing leadership tips. "They need to be cognisant of external factors stymieing their growth," says Purohit, who has been ranked among Business Today's Most Powerful Women and Fortune India's Most Powerful Women in Business.

In December last year, the World Economic Forum reported that while the global gender gap had improved slightly, at the current rate of progress, it could take another 202 years to close the schism. Citing the report, Purohit says, "Nothing has changed [in all these years]. The pace of change has been extraordinarily slow. Of course, there are more formal policies in place [in favour of women], but I don't think the intent and spirit is quite there."

And it's possible that women haven't quite helped their own cause. She discusses how at work, they get pigeon-holed into role traps—the Seductress, the Pet, the Iron Maiden and the Mother Hen—and, instead of resisting these tags, they continue to play on "in order to fit social norms and the dominant patriarchal culture".

"I have played the role of a mother at work, from the age of 25," she confesses. In the book, Purohit writes of how often, as the only woman in a boardroom, playing self-appointed matron has helped her discipline her way through meetings. The idea was to not get reduced to a token representative. "First, we have to recognise that we are being typecast. Although being maternal and nurturing comes naturally [to me], sometimes, we do it deliberately, because we are comfortable in the role. Only self-reflection can help us figure this out. The moment we realise it, we can break the barrier."

But what she finds most problematic, is women choosing to remain silent in the face of smaller and bigger push-backs.

"At a certain point in our lives, we [women] stop fighting. Though I have a more than equal marriage, I find myself asking, 'Why did I take on double the share of work at home? Why did my husband have time for his hobbies and not I?' I was always rushing back from work to manage the house. I look back at my own life, and think, may be I did it to keep the peace. But then, why is maintaining equilibrium my job alone?"

When Purohit was able to articulate reasons for this, she started acting on it. "Now, if I am tired, I leave the dining room as is and retire."

Women professionals, she says, are no different from male colleagues.

"But, the one thing I think women do better than men is collaborate. Because we have been brought up to understand different viewpoints, we listen more empathetically and carry others with us."

Purohit, however, feels that there is a need to create safer spaces for women, so that they can operate with greater freedom, minus the fear of judgment. "The world is designed for men. But women are slowly occupying these spaces. Digital has done a fabulous job. #MeToo would never have been a campaign, if not for social media. You can be sitting inside your home and connect with other women who went through what you did. We need this kind of sisterhood. The more we come together, the more empowered we are going to feel."

Reacting to feminist statements

Gloria Steinem: A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.

I like men. I think we need them. They are good at unscrewing bulbs and driving us around (laughs).

Freida Kahlo: Take a lover who looks at you like maybe you are a bourbon biscuit.

I'd rather that he looked at me in an adulatory manner.

Madeleine Albright: There is a special place in hell for women who don't help other women.

Yes.

Martha Gellhorn: I know enough to know that no woman should ever marry a man who hated his mother.

Ya! Absolutely.

Laura Bates: Women who lead, read.

I think it's the other way around. Women who read, lead.

Michelle Obama: For me, being a mother made me a better professional.

I totally agree. Parenting is the best leadership lesson.

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