Can I Have it All?’ captures Anuranjita Kumar’s experiences of traversing the global corporate leadership journeythrough the eyes of an Indian woman from a small town. It is a narrative of her personal experiences and observations as a woman leader in a complex, global corporate environment. It encompasses the variety of dilemmas and challenges that women face through various stages of their lives such as education, marriage, maternity and mobilityas they aim to strike it big in the corporate world! Using real-life anecdotes of her experiences across the globe in the corporate world, it aims to provide women the courage to move forward and challenge paradigms that create a hindrance in furthering their careers. The book will be published by Bloomsbury Publishers and will be out in the bookstores soon.
What led you to pen down the book ‘Can I have it all?’ Tell me about your experience of working on the same.
Sometimes women are not able to fully realize their potential as they get bogged down with day-to-day challenges or issues. A lot of women tend to get caught up in the crossroads of caregiving, marriage, and mobility. As a result, women leave the corporate workforce much faster, especially at the mid- or senior-levels. I started writing the book first as a journal sometime in December. The idea was to share similar challenges that we women face and pen down the different experiences that we have had and how we navigated those challenges irrespective of whether they made us successful or not. In the early days, I attended a lot of forums and did some work around the whole gender diversity field by reaching out to the larger audience.
When I started writing, it was a 50-60 page document which eventually increased to a 200-page document. That is when I started talking to colleagues to get it published so that it reached a larger audience. The whole narrative is not very prescriptive and can be applied across culture, gender or age. It talks about how women can manage senior stakeholders while handling the workplace politics successfully. My story is a reference book for anyone who wishes to learn what constitutes the leadership journey and obviously there are more observations about what women encounter in their careers and personal lives; along with how they can probably leverage learning out of other women’s journey. There are a lot of stories in the market about how some senior women made it to the top. My idea was to reach out to some very simpleand ordinary women, who are just starting out, and write about how they go about it. These women don’t have any mentor backing them and don’t come from privileged backgrounds. They also do not have any kind of support system in the corporate world. Writing the raw material wasn’t a big issue, but editing work on the book took three-and-a-half months.
You’ve used real-life anecdotes in your book. What’s the inspiration behind that? Can you cite one or two anecdotes?
We learn more effectively through stories as we can relate to them. I wanted to send out the right message through the book and I felt that sharing anecdotes was the best way to illustrate that. A lot of real-life incidents have been cited in the book and the people who were part of those experiences will probably understand it when they read it. The book celebrates not just successes, but also failures because failures – it is here that your learning comes from. Coming to your second question on what kind of anecdotes I have used in the book, let me illustrate with one instance: Often, people asked me how I travelled Delhi-London and Delhi-Mumbai for a long period of time. It required both the mindset and the discipline. But, there was a moment in time when everything started to crumble. One evening, whenI started to pack my bags to go back to London, my seven-year-old son looked at me with teary eyes and said, “Mama, I’m getting a really bad feeling in my heart” and it was one of those moments when you started to question what you are doing. When I talked about it to my husband, he said, “Guess what? He does the same thing to me. So, don’t feel bad about it. He will be fine tomorrow.” The next day, my son was fine. What I learned was that there is a separation anxiety when you leave a loved one for a short period of time, but this could have happened even if I was in India or overseas with him. I think as mothers, we tend to take it more personally and feel guilty about it. Today, my son says that he’s glad I’ve not left my job.
Through your experiences, how difficult or easy is it for a woman to traverse the global corporate leadership journey?
I would divide the journey into three parts: Junior, mid-level and senior level. The junior phase is relatively easier. The female campus recruits are talented and are raring to go. Then, at the middle-level comes marriage, maternity and mobility. It is these three crossroads that hit the women slightly harder than they hit men. When women get married, they willingly give up work. Maternity is also a key feature that drives attrition across companies. While I think taking a short break is fine, I think women don’t explore the concept of support systems enough. Hence, many women struggle to come back. There are women who like to travel the world or those who want to work but can’t, and then there are women who don’t want to work but have to because of financial reasons.There are also stay-at-home moms who are happy with their choices. It is the middle category, which is the largest category, where we struggle to retain these women or bring them back to work. The landscape is changing but not as fast as it should change. It is the combination of how you manage internal and external variables, and being at the top of the game will help you get where you are. Women can manage work and family if they wish to manage it.
What kind of effect do you think the book will have on the corporate world?
I hope that it gives women the right level of courage and confidence that if someone like me could make it, maybe a lot of them can. The women I am looking to target are from junior to mid-level. By the time you reach senior level, if you haven’t fixed some of the drivers at the beginning, it only gets tougher. For men, it is all about a partnershipbut they can really help in the leadership journey.