30 Women in Power: Their Voices, Their Stories
Edited by Naina Lal Kidwai
WHEN I was born, my grandparents refused to come to the hospital to see me because I wasn’t a boy. As my mother wept, my dad consoled her saying, ‘If I have a third child, I want it to be a girl…’” Kirthiga Reddy was born into a middle-class Reddy family, and even her grandparents would have never thought that she would grow up to head social media giant Facebook’s India operations. “When I tell my mother about a presentation I am worried about, her answer is always, ‘Oh you will be awesome’,” writes Reddy in her autobiographical piece in the book 30 Women in Power: Their Voices, Their Stories, edited by banking baroness Naina Lal Kidwai, chairman of HSBC India.
As the name suggests, the book is a compilation of 30 such riveting short autobiographical stories of India’s women leaders.
When she was young, Reddy writes in her autobiography The First Woman, “I didn’t have many female career role models to choose from; so I looked at the men occupying top and mid-level posts and asked myself, ‘How am I less capable? Why can’t I do what they do?’” She ended up doing a lot more—she is also a mother of two children.
The book outlines the difficult but interesting journey of a woman’s life, as she moves to the top, breaks the glass ceiling and challenges men around her.
One such story is that of Zia Mody, founding partner of AZB & Partners, one of India’s largest law firms. “When I told my father my career ambitions and my desire to study law abroad, he expressed some surprise,” Mody writes. In the 1980s, there were very few women lawyers. Hardships were plenty, as no one would take a woman in the profession seriously. “If a woman in the court was an oddity in the 1980s, a pregnant one was unheard of. There are stories still doing the rounds of me, heavily pregnant, rushing down the corridors of Bombay High Court,” she writes.
But then, success is sweetest after hardships.
What Mody did in the field of law, Debjani Ghosh did in the field of technology. In 1996, in a job interview, someone asked her where she saw herself two decades later. Pat came her answer: “As the head of Intel India.” And that’s exactly where she reached. However, even today as a leader, she is unable to understand why it’s okay for a man to raise his voice to make a point, but not for a woman. But she understood one thing: “Accept that if you are a professional woman, you have to work a little bit harder than your male colleagues to prove yourself.”
30 Women in Power celebrates the success of women who have reached the highs many men aspire for. The book moves you at times, even to the point of tears. Other times, you find yourself smiling and respecting each and every individual featured in the book. One thing is for sure: this is not a business book. It is, in fact, a refection of the many lives of these Indian women leaders.
It would be unfair on my part to end this review without mentioning Shereen Bhan, managing editor, CNBC-TV18, who is the most famous Indian face on television when it comes to business journalism. This is how her story begins: “Holding onto a metal handle for support, pulling myself up with every ounce of strength a seven-year-old could muster, I would clamber into the truck—a seven-tonne, as we would call it. Without a care for flying skirts or prying eyes, I would clutch the sides of that massive chunk of metal for my dear life. Not once did I feel fear,” Bhan writes. That is how she went to school every day.