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No secret shortcut: Women bosses talk motherhood & boardrooms, and what it takes to win at both

The supermoms also reveal what it takes to raise children for an inclusive, gender-neutral future.

, ET Online|
May 11, 2019, 05.25 PM IST
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Agencies
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Left to right: Neerja Birla, Priti Rathi Gupta, Pushpa Bector.
Boardrooms and play dates, work events and school meetings, office policies and parenting values – being a career woman requires one to don all these hats, and more. However, juggling these multiple roles can often come at the cost of making tough choices, relying on one’s instincts, and fighting the urge to feel guilty.

So this Mother’s Day, as a celebration of their hustle and determination, we spoke to (power) women who are winners both in the boardroom and at motherhood, about the choices that they had to make along the way, and on raising children for an inclusive, gender-neutral future.

Excerpts from the interview:


Neerja Birla, Founder and Chairperson, Mpower

The balancing act
Managing my work and my role as a mother is a work in progress. There is no universal formula. There will be days when your work needs to take precedence, and at times your kids need you more. It’s all about trusting your instincts.



Choosing between the boardroom and school

While my role as a mother is the one closest to my heart, having to pick between office and your kids’ needs can be a daily dilemma for all working moms. It comes down to figuring out which of the tasks is more crucial at that point in time. Instead of trying to fit these two aspects of my life into neat little boxes, I find that it’s a lot less stressful when I embrace a sense of fluidity in moving things around to prioritise between my roles.

Raising them right
Bringing up our children to understand equality and have a sense of empathy hasn’t been complicated within the family. However, the challenge arises when kids go out into the world and come across instances where people don’t agree with these beliefs, creating a sense of conflict and confusion. It’s easy to teach them about equality, but challenging to practise in situations where others might not think similarly.

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Neerja and Kumar Mangalam Birla with their children. (Image: Instagram/ananya_birla)

Talking guilt
I was a mother long before I started working, and when I started my career, there were times when I felt guilty about having to choose work over my kids. I thought that this guilt was part of a woman’s DNA – we play so many roles, and we’re always feeling guilty that we’re not doing them well enough. But over the years I’ve come to believe that the guilt is perhaps unwarranted. Both the roles are a part of who I am, and one part needn’t apologise or feel guilty about the other.

Priti Rathi Gupta, MD, Anand Rathi Group and founder, LXME

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Priti Rathi Gupta believes that 'this idea that we should always strive for a balance between motherhood and work is the reason we never ace it'.


The balancing act
This idea that we should always strive for a balance between motherhood and work is the reason we never ace it. I learnt early on, not to give in to guilt- guilt of overlooking either. It’s the results that matter in the end, which may not necessarily be defined by time spent at either.

Raising them right
I am lucky to have a daughter as my firstborn. She has ensured that we practise equality better not just at home but also at work. Thanks to her, my son is also a champion of gender equality.

Choosing between the boardroom and school
I would sync both my calendars, and choose based on the importance of the event. It also helped make my kids recognise the school events that were important for me to attend. And the responsibility was always shared between both parents.

Talking guilt
Whether you work to follow your dreams or fulfil personal or family aspirations and duties, the end result is a happier, confident woman. There can be no guilt in either.

Pushpa Bector, Executive Vice President & Head, DLF Shopping Malls

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Pushpa Bector credits her kids for making sure she didn't feel guilty. (Image: LinkedIn/PushpaBector)

The balancing act
The trick is to fully immerse and focus on what one is doing, whether it is motherhood or work. Work with full passion, but when you’re being a mother do not let work come in the way. It’s the quality of time, not the quantity that matters.

Raising them right
We need to practise the values we teach our children. I raised both my son and daughter to endorse feminism and equal opportunity. It’s critical to strike the right balance within a family and between siblings.

Choosing between the boardroom and school
I’ve had to make my share of choices. It all comes down to prioritising based on the importance of the meeting or school event. I’ve had to make adjustments in office to attend events – often the work can be rescheduled, but a child’s disappointment can’t be overlooked. For me personally, it was very important as a single parent that my kids felt my presence at school.

Talking guilt
I had no guilt making the choices I did. As a single parent for the large part of my kids’ school years, I was very honest with them about my decisions. The credit goes to them for making sure I did not feel guilty.

Leni Chaudhuri, Country Director, Tata Centre for Development

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Leni Chaudhuri says the trick lies in giving your 100%, and not cutting corners at home or at work.

The balancing act
Be transparent, honest and sincere. Give your 100% and don’t cut corners whether at home or work. Personally, I made sure my family knew my work was equally important, and as much a part of my life as them. Once they understood what it meant to me, it was simpler to have both the things go hand in hand.

Raising them right
I used to take my son for Women's Day rallies and public meetings on social issues. I also made it a point to discuss sensitive issues and those often considered a taboo, openly, at home. We made it a habit to discuss world problems related to violence, exploitation, poverty, inequality, and politics with great ease. This helped in developing a progressive mindset.

Choosing between the boardroom and school:
Whenever I had to choose between the two I had conversations with my employers and family, and most often decisions emerged through a process of consultation. Once my son was old enough to understand, he had no qualms in telling his teachers that I had a meeting or was travelling for a conference.

Once I missed his open house because I was in Nairobi for a UN conference. When I returned and met his principal, she congratulated me for my visit – just going to show how important a role my son played in helping me strike that balance.

Talking guilt
There was never any guilt. While I may have had to miss out on some birthday parties, picking up and dropping him to school, and other daily activities, I took great interest in his overall grooming which helped hone his self-confidence and leadership skills. Today, we sit across the table and discuss my career options and he often has some great suggestions.

Dildeep Kalra, Director, Massive Restaurants Pvt. Ltd.

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Dildeep Kalra says that planning ahead and prioritising the tasks at hand helps get it all done.

The balancing act
Being disciplined, be it at work or family plans, helps. Planning ahead and prioritising the tasks at hand helps get it all done.

Choosing between the boardroom and school
I have always made sure to juggle both the roles by adjusting time of my work meetings. I try and attend all school events because as a mother it is important for me to know the growth of my child, but in the same way I align my time for boardroom meetings as well.

Talking guilt
I did feel guilty initially. But with time, I learnt to balance it. When spending time with my children, I am fully involved with them - keeping my phone and other devices away. We bond over dinner and activities like story reading, play dates.

Aakanksha Bhargava, CEO and President, PM Relocations

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Aakanksha Bhargava says it’s important to prioritise, and choose to do what ignites your passion.

The balancing act
It’s important to prioritise, and choose to do what ignites your passion.

Raising them right
As a new mother to a 9-month-old daughter, I know it is my responsibility to raise her as an independent woman who understands the meaning of freedom, respects opinions, and treats people with respect, while following her heart and making choices.

Choosing between the boardroom and school
While I still haven’t reached the school phase, my 9-month-old effectively travels with me across the globe. Together, we have taken over 20 flights for work meetings.


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Eminent women suggest what you should do to put yourself first.In pic from left: (Shikha Sharma, Diana Hayden, Aditi Mittal)
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