It is not about the glass ceiling, it is about the leaky pipeline- Apurva Purohit, Jagran Prakashan
One of India’s leading businesswomen and thought leaders in the media and entertainment space, Apurva Purohit, President Jagran Prakashan and Director, Music Broadcast Ltd. is among the very few women CEO’s in the industry. The author of the national bestseller ‘Lady, You’re not a Man – The Adventures of a Woman at Work’ and an active speaker on leadership issues concerning women at the workplace, Apurva puts her feet up for a stimulating girl-to-girl chat with Yamini Singh.
Had you always been career focused or was that a transition you experienced sometime later in your life?
My parents were very academic focused so yes at some level slacking was never an option. They really instilled in my siblings and me a lot of focus on education. Studies in this sense gave me a direction early in my life. But there was no grand plan ahead. Till I reached college and my mother suggested I should try my hand at enrolling into IIM. Without knowing too much about how this decision will shape my future I gave my CAT exam and got through IIM Bangalore. But still my life was very much education driven and there was no sense of career planning yet. My internship in the summer at HTA, JWT at that time, completely turned my life around as I saw brands, advertising, communication and media and it really excited me. That was the spark. I was 22 years old. 29 years hence and I’m still part of this world, enjoying it just as much.
It is often heard that you should follow your own path and not let parents/teachers coerce you into something. What is your view?
I think my view lies somewhere in the middle. Someone else’s views could be used as an input or stimulus, beyond that you need to craft your own life. I feel views of elders who make up your support system are generally to give you the right direction at an age when most things seem overwhelming. When you are 18 or 19 you don’t know any better and guidance is important to learn from others experience before you have had a chance at yours.
You got married right after college at the young age of 21 and simultaneously took up a full-time job. Did you feel equipped?
I was very unequipped because up till now I had never managed a complete household on my own. But when I look back now it was an adventure where my husband and I figured things along the way. As daunting as it seems life has a funny way of working itself out.
Have you experienced pushbacks while trying to assert your rightful authority to male colleagues?
Most industries in India are unfortunately male dominated and as you go up the ladder there are fewer women. In a direct confrontational manner, no I have not experienced any discrimination at work; I largely try to approach things as a professional first and then a woman. Having said that, I see very subtle reminders of me being a woman by male colleagues. For example, I have often experienced men cutting me off while I am talking, simply to interject and throw their own opinion in. They would possibly be saying the same thing as me but in a far more authoritative manner. Such subtexts exist constantly. Many times you may choose to ignore but you can’t afford to do it too often either. At such times you have to put your foot down and let your voice be heard. You are there because you are a professional who deserves to be there and whose opinion is valued, we must never lose sight of that fact.
There are several young women who look up to you. What is your tip to them for success?
I strongly agree that senior women have the responsibility of being role models for the younger lot and set the right examples. Other women must see you as an inspiration and not aspiration. The difference being that if they see themselves someday accomplishing what you have, they are inspired. But if they cannot relate to your life and journey then you will always be aspirational, they will never identify with a similar success. As far as the tip for success is concerned, I believe that it is important to not portray yourself as a rebel but try and build people and work in a collaborative fashion. Women needed to rebel back in the day when there were several barriers, but today we have our foot in the door, we must use this as an opportunity to build, create and charge forward.
They say it is very difficult for women to progress beyond a certain level in their career. Is the glass ceiling a real thing?
It is not so much about the glass ceiling as it is about the leaky pipeline. 30-40% women enter at the bottom of the organizational pyramid, at the mid-level its 15- 20%, at the senior level its 5% and at the top its 1%. Why the entry level to mid-level ratio drops to half by the time the female candidate is 25 years old is a key issue that needs to be targeted. Women need to prioritize in their own minds and give as much importance to their careers as they would to marriage and bearing babies. Once they start doing that they can induct their family, friends and colleagues into their goals. I think the basic issue is that often women themselves do not give due importance to their career growth.
The other issue is that even extremely talented women seem to underplay their confidence at work. Women don’t volunteer for challenging roles, projects or even ask for increments, as a result they lose out on promotions. I have thought a lot about why women tend to be this way and am led to feel that women are tentative largely because of the way they have been brought up. The society and family by asking girls to not speak loudly, or jump around or sit in a certain fashion has constantly made her feel smaller than boys her age. This translates into insecurity and other issues as the girl develops into a woman. And when you’ve been brought up to stay unnoticed how could you ever ask for a promotion!
Why do we see such few women CEOs and leaders?
I was speaking at a big MBA institute in 2015 and I asked the female students in audience how many of them wanted to work after college. They were appalled by my question and expressed that they all planned to work. I asked the boys who all wanted working wives and surprisingly only 10% put up their hands. Unfortunately men have been brought up very differently compared to women in our country. Even today men are groomed by their mothers to look for a wife whose sole purpose is to manage the household and bear babies. I feel that’s added reason for women like us to continue working so our sons are brought up differently.
Jealousy is said to be an inherent trait in women and being manipulative is an inborn skill. How true is that in a professional environment?
We often take the word manipulative in a negative light. I feel that because of all the challenges women have had to face they have figured out ways to get what they wanted without being confrontational. What some may call ‘manipulating’ others may perceive as ‘reasoning’. I do not agree so much about the jealously bit. I think that is a myth. Men can be equally jealous too if not more. What happens is women naturally assume that a female boss will be more supportive than a male boss. And when they are not given that special benefit based on their gender they develop a sense of resentment, which is often misconstrued as jealousy.
Is being ambitious good?
Being ambitious is very good. By that I do not mean stepping on someone’s toes to move forward. It means trying to become the best version of yourself- the best wife, a great mother, a talented painter if I desire. Ambition in anything pushes you to excellence and achieve more and more. If we do not strive for ambition then we will just stagnate.
But then what is contentment?
I have also had this conflict- whether to be ambitious and strive for more or be content with what I have. I was listening to Swami Chinmayanand once and he said that if you set a goal to build a Rs 5 crore house, and soon enough you are able to construct it, then will you not aspire for a 6 crore house? If you reach a certain goal that you’ve set for yourself, does life get over after that? No, you have to keep at it, onwards and upwards. But I wondered to myself what contentment meant in that case. Interestingly the answer to my quest of balancing ambition with contentment came from my young son sometime ago who explained that ambition means constantly pushing towards a better future- be it spiritually, physically, monetarily- but at the same time being content with what you have. They are not opposites but complimentary. So essentially it means I may have my 5 crore house but what can I do to get my 6th crore. and I’m not unhappy while I’m at it.
What are some of the challenges faced by you as a career woman?
Raising kids while doing a fulltime job is never an easy task. I think the toughest phase in my career were times when I had to leave my sick child and get to work for an ongoing project or I had to skip familial commitments in my pursuit to meet a work deadline. Besides this there were times when my husband would be transferred to another city and we were left with the hard decision of whether I would leave my job to be with him or opt for living in separate cities. These are some pushes and pulls that are commonplace with most double-income households. In our case we decided what’s best for ‘Purohit Inc’ whenever we were faced with difficult decisions. We took informed decisions based on what would work best for not individuals but the entire Purohit family.
What are your priorities in life in preference of order?
Right now it’s about Individual growth. My son is now old enough, self-sufficient and working, as a result of which my commitments towards family have been greatly reduced. Also as you get senior at work you have set certain things in place and that momentum leaves you with a little more time. I want to now use this time for individual growth to learn new skills or explore new hobbies. I want to now focus on things that I enjoy! My other active focus is on giving back to society. The idea is to increase my scale of influence in a positive manner and try and make people’s lives easier. I’m also focusing on my health and fitness more than ever now.
These are my top three agendas in life at the moment.
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