Be yourself, be a wowmen

On International Women’s day, I wanted to share some thoughts with women colleagues, friends, and women just entering the workforce.

We often talk of how difficult it is for women to build their careers and also run the household and care for the family. And I agree with all the issues women share with me. But despite these challenges, some women have built very successful careers, and we have some incredible women leaders in Eurofins.

Over the past few days, I had the opportunity to spend some time with my boss, Natalia Shuman, and also engage with women leaders in Eurofins Bangalore. I have crystallized my discussions with them in these thoughts for women building their careers.

A) Don’t chase a mirage: Family – Work life balance doesnt exist. One discussion was about trying to balance work – home which is a challenge for most women. Natalia spoke about the concept of “blend” as against balance. In balance you are trying to find time for both work and home but always feel that you are short changing one of the two. Instead, think of life as a blend, and there will be times and situations where you are focused on your kids / family, but then there will be days when your priorities and time is focused on work. Once you accept this, you are able to do both. Balance is an over rated idea.

B) Stop feeling guilty: very often, women live in guilt that if they are spending time at work, then family suffers, and when focused on the family, work suffers. Throw away this guilt. Men don’t have this guilt ever, even though they are making similar choices. Why should women ? This guilt can become a barrier to being your best in either roles

C) Control your own calendar: There will be ocassions when you have to make trade offs in your work, in your time allocation. Don’t keep seeking permission to make these trade offs. For example, women returning from maternity leave will speak to their boss and request if they could travel less for a few months. Will men returning from sick leave ask ? No. Men will simply reduce their travel. By asking the boss, women are reinforcing the wrong belief that they are not equal.

D) You have nothing to prove : a lot of women are working with the desire that they have to prove something, to yourself, to your family, friends, etc. By carrying the baggage that you need to prove something, you are inside yourself admitting that you are not equal. Don’t live with that sense of low confidence. Be confident about yourself. You don’t need to prove anything to anyone, not even to yourself. 

E) Step up : often I see women are hesitant to take on larger roles, additional responsibilities because of the fear of how will they ‘balance’ priorities. The risk of not doing well in a larger role is a risk that is equal for both men and women. But men often put up their hand and take a chance. Women often don’t. As you think of advancing your career, be confident in asking for more …larger roles, enhanced responsibilities. And once you get the opportunity, don’t hesitate in asking for support. There is no need to be perfect. Just do your best

As a woman, to be successful, in some ways you have to work like a man ! But blend that with the empathy and emotional intelligence that women often bring more of to the table.

Be the wowman. Be yourself.

Happy International Women’s Day

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The Past as a shaper of our Future

I just attended a 2 day session with my leadership team. Was a unique learning experience, where over exercises, discussions, drinks and cigarette breaks…I got a chance to hear the stories of each of them. Each story is different. Each story is intense. And each story is more powerful than the other.

There was one common thread across all the stories….there is so much about each of us today that is shaped by our past. Sometimes it our childhood, sometimes it’s our earlier bosses, sometimes it is a medley of things….but we are behaving today, and creating the future anchored in the past. A self-made leader, who has lost everything and rebuilt his life, is rightly proud and arrogant in his success today. A leader from a very humble and challenging childhood embodies simplicity even today. A leader, snubbed early in his career, has made learning and knowledge his forte.

But a question that runs through my head is that in a world that is so dynamic, rapidly changing, a VUCA world as many call it, is being anchored and shaped by the past a strength or does it make us a prisoner in the future. Are we as leaders like large destroyers of the Navy, stable and moving ahead with purpose, but the wrong craft for today’s battle. Do we need instead, to be like speedboats, that change course rapidly, but can not be anchored in the sea. To stay afloat, they have to move with speed in the rough seas.

Our past shapes us. But does our past prepare us for the future ? That is the essence of these learning sessions.

Can we use our past not as an anchor but as a google map, showing the street view to our speed boat pilot ? Can we look in our past to find the right questions to ask today, and not focus on the answers we found then, because those may have been relevant in a different time and place.

Our past shapes us from inside. Provides the basis for our values. But how do we change these values, how do we adapt them to be more relevant today. I have valued risk taking all my life. But when I ran a Rs 500 mn business, growing at 100% a year, maybe that was a great value to have. But running a Rs 1 bn business, with 10 senior leaders, is this the value that shall take me forward, or do I instead need to build new values of empathy and affinity ? Can I make this leap, this change? Will my past, that shaped me so well till now, become the anchor that bogs me down ? Can I dig deeper into my past and find a new set of values ? Or can I look into the past of someone else to acquire the values that may serve me better in the future ?

I don’t have answers to these questions. The journey to answer them is life. But they maybe interesting questions for each of you to ask yourself.

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Tears …

Like a little drop of morning dew on young green leaves, tears can be beautiful. They can be a sign of deep love for one another. They are shed in joy and happiness.

Like the few drops of rain falling on the parched land, tears can bring out pain. They can be a sign of deep anguish and loss. They are shed in sorrow and grief.

Like the flow of water pouring out of a punctured balloon, tears can be pressure and emotion released. They can be a sign of deep hurt and feelings. They are shed when we feel wronged.

But tears are not always shed….

Like the water rising in the cracks of the canyon, tears are held back, by fear, by shame, by our insecurity.

Like the shimmer of the placid ice lake, tears can be just glazed eyes, hiding our emotions, protecting us from public glare

But when tears are truly shed, they are pearls from our eyes, …..

Not to be wasted on emotions that are shallow Not to cry for people who don’t matter, for judgements that are not relevant.

To be shed in abundance, and with gusto, and with free flow, ….

For the love and loss of dear ones, for happiness and grief that knows no bounds.

Tears are so beautiful, so precious … like those basra pearls, to be treasured, to be reserved, for special people, and special moments ….

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A Suitable Boy

Many years ago, or maybe even today, parents plan, even worry, about what to teach their daughters to make them more “marriagable”. Cooking, stitching, manages the households, loves kids, very ‘adjusting nature’, takes care of her parents (a suggestion that she will do the same of her in-laws) are things that I heard to describe girls I met 20+ years ago…going through the Indian arranged marriage circus.

Some things have changed for sure. Parents are talking about their daughter’s education, her job, her career aspirations….so that’s a change.

But a brief exchange of messages with a friend got me thinking… the world around changes, as the role of partners in a marriage evolve, as women begin to make more conscious choices about the man they want to marry, are we preparing our sons for marriage ? Are we ensuring they remain eligible ?

Should a man in the “marriage market” 10 years from now also be able to cook, stitch, like kids, manage the household ?

Is this what I should be teaching my son? I hope not. And I hope no parent is thinking like this about their daughter either.

Men, and Women, should learn to appreciate each other, accept each other. They should be more empathetic, more willing to adjust. They should learn to enjoy the greys of life together, laugh and cry together. Men will need to accept that in many ways, women are no different from them. And in many ways, can never be like them. This is a dichotomy that men have to learn to appreciate.

A Suitable Boy shall be one who is not just a Man, but also willing to step into the shoes of a Woman. A Suitable Boy will perhaps be one who is willing to make the same effort for a successful marriage that he expects his spouse to make. A Suitable Boy will be one who is willing to make the same career sacrifices that he expects his wife to make.

A Suitable Boy will be one who is not looking for a spouse, but a partner. A Suitable Boy will be one who understands that this is a 50-50 partnership, not a 51-49 !

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Choose to Challenge ….. my interpretation…

Choose to Challenge……the theme of the 2021 International Women’s Day, got me thinking. What does this mean, atleast to me. There are 2 underlying concepts that I picked out from this phrase

CHOOSE … means Women should get a choice.

A choice of what they study : i have a relative, a brilliant woman in school who was not allowed to do medicine (she got admission) because it would make it more difficult for her parents to find a boy for marriage !

A choice of what they do in life : “hamare ghar ki bahu tho naukri nahin kad thi hain”. How many women have heard this statement, in modern India. Does anyone say this for their son’s after marraige ?

A choice of whom to marry, or even whether to marry : we still see it in movies and read it in the newspaper, but pretend it is distant and does not happen any longer. Yet all around, women are prevented from marrying of their choice….”the boy is too poor”, “the boy is not of our caste”, “the boy is not of our religion”, ….

A choice to take a break when they want : working men want 4 weeks holidays at work, the weekend off, the younger generation talks of work-life balance, but has anyone thought that a home maker should also have a day off ? She also needs work-life balance ?

And there are so many more types of choices that Women should get, but dont. Has the time come for Men to ask themselves whether Women have a real choice to Choose ? And the women need to ask themselves….if you want to Choose, are you fighting for the choices you deserve to get ?

CHALLENGE …. is a word that can be interpreted in many ways. In traditional societies, a challenge is seen as rude, as insolent. In 21st century India, many bosses, many fathers, many leaders don’t want to be challenged….they dont like it. Maybe the fear of being challenged comes from insecurity, from being afraid that one cant defend one’s position, from the change that the challenge can bring about. And that is what this Women’s day is all about. Its about Change. Its about questioning the status quo. Its about asking why.

Choose to Challenge requires us all, men and women together, to ensure Women get the choices they deserve, atleast the same choices Men get. It means encouraging Women to exercise those choices, encouraging them to question the ‘choices’ their mother’s or sister’s had to make.

It means making Choice a driver of Change.

One Choice at a time, One question at a time, One Challenge at a time, Change shall occur

Happy Women’s Day….to both my men and women friends.

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An audio story for kids…a battle between dinos and animals

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Lil Bo Peep goes to Jupiter

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Lil Bo Peep goes to space—-a-3-part-fun-series-eopgbm

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2021….there is hope

2020….a year like no other. When one thinks of uncertainty, one did not have 2020 in mind. We lived through extra ordinary times. COVID came as a shock, and an awakening to me, like it probably did to you. On the one hand, it reinforced how powerless we all are in the world. On the other hand, it showed how everyone can make a difference, whether small or big. I was fortunate to be working in a company (Eurofins) that played an active part in fighting the pandemic, in keeping people safe and healthy. I was fortunate that I got an opportunity to volunteer in our neighbourbood to help people feel more reassured during the trying times. And I was fortunate to get the support of family, friends and healthcare workers when I contracted COVID myself. And through all the months, I was humbled by the many stories of courage and sacrifice one read from all over the world, of how Drs, nurses, paramedics, scientists and simple human beings did their bit to extend a helping hand.

2020 was also a year in which two major health milestones were crossed for us as a family. Namita, recovering from her breast cancer was declared disease free. She had won the battle. Her enduring spirit through the journey was inspiring. I embarked on a journey to lose weight at the beginning of the year, and whilst it is a long journey, but am happy that I have set the clock back 20 years. Like every year, December marks the month of Mihir’s birthday celebrations. And as he turned 9, his curiosity and empathy continue to foster his similarity and his difference from us as parents. His sometimes simple statements and questions, reflect a maturity beyond his age.

The year ended with more twists ; a twisted ankle caused a tendon rupture which shall extend my work from home for 10 more weeks. Europe & the U.S. continue to see a resurgence of cases, and the UK is seeing a significant new mutation of the virus. But at the same time, India was closing the year with a record low number of fresh COVID cases, and the world was beginning to see the first round of vaccinations.

Definitely 2021 can only be better. I leave 2020 behind with a deep sense of gratitude. Thankful for what we have, thankful to family, friends and colleagues, with a realisation that we need to live each day to the fullest, for the future shall always be unknown.

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Conversations with a teenager

I had a long and intense discussion with a 13 year old today….and came out impressed, with what our youth today represent. The young woman, and I call her that with intent, had strong views, was willing to argue and defend them, and was not intimidated by questions around them. If there was a rebellious streak, it was only to not be shaken in her beliefs. We need this youth, because they are the future which can change our present. And if the present is a repetition of our past, it is only because I or you, were not like these teenagers. We were too willing to accept everything told to us.

In this conversation, there were some key messages I tried to convey, which I am sharing with you. I think they are relevant to other teenage kids, and also to me and you:

1. Being an adult is about accepting that we will have to do things that we dont always like

2. We are making decisions everyday in our life, some big and some small. Find time to reflect back on these decisions and learn from them

3. We have to be making mistakes in our decision making. Identify those mistakes and learn from them. If you can’t find any mistakes, it only means that you aren’t taking decisions or you are not reflecting on them enough

4. If you want the freedom and independence of an adult, you have to learn to bear the cost and consequences of being an adult.

5. You need to ask yourself constantly….” when was the last time you did something for the first time”….and if you can’t remember, you need to go out and seek new experiences.

6. Learn to present your thoughts and arguments in written form. Most battles will not be won by arguing verbally, but by the written word. And learn to do this with precision, and with brevity.

7. Reach out and talk to people to understand other’s points of view, and to learn. Listen to know more, and not to argue your own point better. Have an opinion, but don’t let it limit your ability to listen

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