Leading ladies unplugged

By Sapna Nair and Devina Joshi , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Advertising | March 09, 2009
On the occasion of International Women's Day, afaqs! gets into the minds of seven women to find out what being a woman head honcho is all about

Several cups of coffee, nail-biting moments and hitting the 'Backspace' key a million times didn't quite help us think of an introduction that would do justice to these seven powerful women. But being women, we tried anyway.

On the occasion of International Women's Day (March 8, 2009), afaqs! attempted to celebrate the changing outlook of the advertising and media industry towards women.

We finally arrived at a heady mix of seven women - Punitha Arumugam, group chief executive officer, Madison Media; Priti Nair, managing partner, BBH; Apurva Purohit, CEO, Radio City; Sonia Varma Singh, senior managing editor, NDTV 24x7; Mythili Chandrasekar, senior vice-president and executive planning director, JWT India; Shruti Bajpai, country manager, South Asia, HBO Asia; and Hephzibah Pathak, president, Ogilvy & Mather, Mumbai. afaqs! fired a volley of rapid fire questions which drew all sorts of answers: spunky, witty, funny and even conservative from the women who have taken success and power in their strides.

& #BANNER1 & #Over to the women:

afaqs!: What's the best part of being a woman on top (pun not intended)?

Punitha: That you control the act (pun SO intended).

Priti: Well - you can be both feminine and masculine in your dealings without fearing what the world might think (winks).

Apurva: Pressure and stress are pretty gender agnostic. We have to manage people's aspirations and contribute to their growth. Being able to deliver on that promise is the best part.

Sonia: I think it's more about what other people remark about you. It manifests that the glass ceiling doesn't exist.

Mythili: Being asked for sound bites on Woman's Day!

Shruti: It feels fulfilling and great. I imagine it is no different from any person who loves his/her job and is good at it. Being a woman doesn't make the feeling any different.

Hephzibah: No comments.

afaqs!: What are the three attributes that give women an edge over men?

Punitha: Beauty, brains and 'no brawn'.

Priti: Sensitivity, discipline and talent.

Apurva: Ability to multi-task, higher levels of commitment and better organisational skills.

Sonia: We have the ability to multi-task, are less egotistical and calmer than men.

Mythili: Women do not depend on their professional lives for self fulfilment. We are more capable of focusing on the task through the ups and downs and drawing emotional and spiritual strength from within.

Shruti: The ability to multi-task with ease, better listening skills and a deeper sense of loyalty and sincerity in whatever they do.

Hephzibah: I think women have better EQ, tend to be more collaborative and are also better at multi-tasking.

afaqs!: What's your mantra behind achieving a successful work-home balance?

Punitha: At work, 'Live like there is a tomorrow', and at home, 'Live like there is no tomorrow'.

Priti: Never take work home. Never carry your home to work.

Apurva: Don't sweat the small stuff and don't try to be a superwoman. Prioritise ruthlessly and be willing to sacrifice the things that are less important to you.

Sonia: Delegation is the key word. Managing a team and managing the house require the same skills. Having a super mom and mom-in-law and a women-friendly organisation makes it a lot easier.

Mythili: a) Thank the good lord for your maid, cook, Blackberry and plug-in Internet on a daily basis. b) Multitask - If you can revise the earthworm's digestive system as you make dosas and discuss changes in slides 42 to 46 while downloading pictures for the history project - it is a cakewalk!

c) Avoid broadcasting domestic problems at the office; even if you are focused, they'll think you are distracted. d) Lastly, revel and draw fresh strength from people who exclaim in wonder at how well you manage! Never let on that there is actually no balance!

Shruti: A strong will and action plan to make the work-home balance work. Sometimes we don't do enough to strike the balance; we tend to give up easily. Of course, a work-home balance is not possible without an understanding spouse and parental support (both parents and parents-in-law).

Hephzibah: Knowing how to delegate well, cultivating hobbies and other interests and ultimately having a karmic view of life.

afaqs!: What is the best compliment you have ever received in your career, and from whom?

Punitha: A large FMCG client told me that he ensures that he does his homework before any meeting with me.

Priti: 'She is one of the guys,' by my creative directors.

Apurva: Nothing specific that I remember! But lots of young women I meet walk up to me and say that they feel empowered and confident that they will achieve things when they hear me talk about women and work - that feels good!

Sonia: From my husband when I thought of quitting the business. He said, "When you have achieved so much, why do you want to leave it all?" To be valued by the people around you is a great feeling.

Mythili: A couple of years ago a letter of appreciation that I had received from Colvyn with a pair of Mont Blanc pens. But the bigger compliment was to find my teenage son very softly reading out the whole letter to a friend of his on the phone!

Shruti: Too many to remember (said in a lighter vein).

Hephzibah: When somebody I work with stayed back because I asked him to, even though he had an offer that was twice of what we were offering.