Anju Jain, founder of Chai Pe, a platform for developing professional women, has released her book ‘Step Up’ with Penguin India. The author talks to SheThePeople.TV about which strategies women can use to succeed professionally and her own journey as a professional, entrepreneur and author.
What was your research process like? What kind of data were you looking for?
The research primarily involved observations and conversations with real people — ordinary people. These were women and men from different professions, industries, and who brought up common issues and thoughts to the women in the workplace. This information was gathered over Chai Pe and other interactive platforms. While those anecdotes made the bulk of the book, I have also incorporated scientific research to substantiate many of those learnings. These are studies conducted at universities across the world sharing statistics on women’s representation, the roles women play, their issues, marital relationships, impact on child development and so forth. All this information forms an integral part of the Step Up narrative.
Can you give a few examples of the practical strategies you advise women to use?
There are four strategies that are targeted towards women and the ones they need to execute.
One, they have to be clear about what they want. This requires negotiating, determining how important that purpose is to them and then committing to achieving it. Because once women are clear about what they want, they can figure out a way to get there.
Having aligned themselves to that, they need to next on-board their families to their vision. Create a domestic bliss strategy by initiating a dialogue with spouse, children, parents, in-laws — whoever is critical to their success.
The third strategy is to diffuse the organizational perceptions, assumptions, or the smoke screens as I call them. By having a conversation with the influencers or the stakeholders and sharing their vision with them. Articulating their negotiables and non-negotiables with them. Believe it or not, the organization needs to know how far they are willing to go.
The fourth strategy is about onboarding their networks. Seeking help from friends, family, colleagues, maids, drivers, cooks and many others. The idea is about making their life easier, free of tactical work that can be easily outsourced so women can focus on their other priorities. It is important they see this as an investment in their careers.
Which demographics of women are these strategies mostly catered to?
Everyone can relate and leverage these. Young girls, professionals, stay at-home women irrespective of their levels or age will find it of relevance. However, they are targeted more towards professional women. Because all these strategies highlight the fact that whatever your pursuit of choice, you need to align yourself and others to achieving it. It simply doesn’t happen in vacuum or single-handedly.
You studied developmental psychology and in the introduction you mention that it helps give you context for the book… Can you tell us a bit more about how that informed your discussion of gender roles?
Developmental psychology posits that development happens in a context, not in isolation.We all are surrounded by an environment that shapes us, moulds us and hence impacts our behaviour and outcomes. Early on, boys and girls are socialised to behave in distinct ways.
So the environment or the culture impinges on the individual. But having said that, it is not a one-way street. It’s a bidirectional impact. The individual also influences the environment. Look at the many women who, despite the cultural challenge,s have taken a road less travelled.
They have actively influenced the environment around them. And that’s the message for all of us — you don’t have to be limited by the environment you have; you can challenge it, change it, and pave a future for yourself.
You have interviewed many women who are at the top of their fields. Are there any common leadership attributes that they share? If so, can they be learnt?
Absolutely. Having a personal vision, focus, determination, working smart, and seeking help are all common attributes for success. Having the skills is a given. And yes, all of these attributes can be learned and enhanced.
What, according to you is the biggest problem for women at work?
Two things. One, a belief that their career isn’t that important as the men’s. Because if it was, they would have figured out a way to manage that with their other priorities. Two and relatedly, their assumption that they are fully responsible for the home and hearth. Because of which they opt to handle it all by themselves thereby not having the time or the energy to dwell on their careers.
Can you tell us more about the challenges you have faced personally, first as a professional, then as an entrepreneur?
Just like anyone else, I too have encountered similar challenges. Being a part of the larger society, I struggled with the gender prescriptions. Should I take a break or not, how will it impact my future, dealing with labels — being called aggressive. Do I lead or should my husband lead? Who should compromise, etc. have been an integral part of my journey. The biggest challenge I faced was when I got an offer from my dream company and I had to say no because that would have warranted splitting my family which wasn’t acceptable to me or my extended family.
To be an entrepreneur, I believe the biggest quality one needs to have is to be able to talk about yourself and the great idea you are implementing. This wasn’t my cup of tea at all. Being a silent worker, I had to step up and come out of this. It was a very intentional gesture for me. I had to talk about it, and positively too. Sometimes, women are just too honest to the extent it can hurt them. So one has to learn to be authentic and yet put yourself across in a respected light. Holding your ground and be able to ward off the negativity around you are two big learnings for me personally.
What advice would you give to future women entrepreneurs?
I am not a very experienced entrepreneur, but from what I have learned, I would say align yourself to your vision, and align others to it too. Having that support gives you a huge safety net if you fall. Two, work with a team or a partner. Carrying the burden alone can be hard and at times a demotivator too. Build a team that can supplement your weaknesses. So find those right people and then drive it forward, full throttle.