On 20th November, 2015 a summit conducted for women led to a startling discovery. “Women in the World Summit”, revealed the fact that the percentage of women in India dropping out of white collar jobs in mid-career is as high as 48%, as compared to the Asian average of 21%. Though this number has not improved much in the last 2 years, there are various root causes that have led to this significant dropout.
“Indian women have an inherent quality to feel guilty, despite doing well professionally and contributing significantly and financially at home”, says Anita Sharma with 32 years of work experience in leading journals and corporate giants. Like many professional Indian women, Anita Sharma had her own share of high and low points in her professional and personal life. Regardless of these challenges, she was determined to never let these challenges stop her from getting what she wanted in life. Her confidence, persistence and determination to succeed has made her the Assistant Vice President, Corporate Communication at Honda Cars for 6 years and is still connected with them today in advisory role.
Born in a middle class family, she followed her passion by pursuing English Honors from the prestigious St. Stephen’s College. After completing her degree, she opted for a 1 year post graduate diploma in journalism from the Indian Institute of Mass Communication, which was widely known for its intake of foreign students and delegates.
Her first big break was with Press Trust of India, a premium news agency, as a trainee journalist. While working with PTI, she decided to pursue post-graduation in English Literature. In spite of facing opposition from admission authorities, who doubted her ability to juggle between work and studies, she convinced them and successfully added another feather to her hat. “Education never goes waste, and my need to constantly re-educate myself, is the key factor of my success”. She points out two major learnings of her life which she shares in a candid conversation with the Lean in India Team.
1. Journalism is an unconventional field to work in. The number of hours of work is undefined, with a normal day ranging from 6 hours to pulling an all-nighter before the day of publishing a magazine. Her first learning was when she was blessed with her first child in 1989 and her second in 1992. Coping up with household duties and handling night shifts was no piece of cake. “The only break I got was a 4 month maternity break. In those years, there were no crèche facilities or corporate policies to make my work life easier. All I had was the support of my husband and in-laws who took turns to take care of my children when I would go off to work. It wasn’t easy to resist the temptation of being a stay at home mom. There were emotionally draining moments like when my son was about a year old and he cried a lot when I was leaving for work. It wasn’t easy and I would question if it was worth it.“
To all the women reading this article, it is important to note that Anita never took a career break. She never left her job and found a support group at home to help her manage home and work.
2. Her second learning came when her work challenged her to get out of her comfort zone and be adaptive to change. After working with PTI, she started working with India Today. Destiny had something else in mind for her and she got her second big break during the internet boom. She was recruited as Editor of News by Indiatimes.com, an internet subsidiary of The Times of India Group, under which some of the largest websites in India, The Times of India, The Economic Times, Navbharat Times and Maharashtra Times, operate. This role was challenging as she wasn’t very tech-savy and the environment was completely different. I had to think differently and I learnt a lot of things I had never done before. I was made to experiment with articles, features and gained lot of exposure. Her creative bend of mind and flair for writing made her a mentor in her team. She was then moved to indiatimes shopping which was a completely different ballgame. “To handle the business side of that field wasn’t to my liking. I opposed it and ranted about it to my boss, telling him it was not a good idea. I was to report to someone younger than me, work with people half my age, and I was an outlier. Nevertheless, I went along with it and worked very hard, giving in my best shot at every assignment, and after a while people started to appreciate my work. My team was very big at that time with 25 people, coming out from graphic colleges, and we used to put content on pages, on photographs, and that’s when I learnt what worked with customers and what didn’t. I began to understand the ropes of business. Coming from the field of journalism where I wrote and read majorly about politics and current events, I slowly started reading the business section in the newspaper. This helped me later to get jobs in Corporate Communication in Hyundai which eventually led me to Honda.”
She never thought about quitting her job because she loved every bit of it. Quitting never came to her mind and she was a fierce fighter through all her battles. As someone rightly says, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going”. One advice that she would like to give all the ambitious women out there is, “I am not going to judge anyone who took career breaks, because their circumstances are very different, maybe they don’t have enough support to take care of their children or family. I was a little lucky and I would like to admit that I was a little stronger, even if somebody said something I didn’t like I wouldn’t mind it, because I loved my job and worked as hard as I could. All I can say is that I think women must keep themselves connected to what they worked on professionally. You don’t need to give 12-13 hours of your time but keep doing something that keeps you in touch with your work. And when the opportunity is right, grab it and try coming back to the workforce. It won’t be easy, and you may lag behind your colleagues, but if you are good, committed and passionate about your work you will cover up. If you don’t cover up, you should not get disheartened, because if you like what you do, and with your hard work, if you reach somewhere, that is a great achievement in itself. The best thing about women is that they are multitaskers, they can manage homes and professional lives even when it is hard to do so. There are times when a child needs a mother, and it is okay to put your profession on a back burner, but don’t get into your comfort zone. This is a temporary situation and you must get back. Children will outgrow and have their own lives, and then you will question your worth. You need your time, and when your children grow up they will respect you for your choices and make your family proud of you.
“Some women fear the fire, while some women simply become it”. And Anita Sharma is the fire that our world needs.
Please note: The views, opinions and beliefs expressed by the authors in the articles on the blog are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect those of Lean In India.