From childhood to the longest period of time in my life, I read strictly fiction only loving the escapism that it provided from the limitations of the real world. I took a gradual liking and preference for non-fiction books in the recent past. Today, I am naturally drawn towards non-fiction (including self-help) books. Be it home improvement, cooking, parenting and work.
Devi, Diva or She-Devil: The smart Career woman’s survival guide written by Sudha Menon is the little black book every career woman should own. It´s a hopeful reminder that success can be achieved despite the gender prejudices, bias and glass ceiling.
This book is a keeper not just for its wonderful content but also for the beautiful sturdy paperback book cover, design, mindfully segregated chapters and contemporary feel.
Devi, Diva or She-Devil: The smart Career woman’s survival guide has a universal quality. Yes, it makes a great read for men who not only want to excel in their profession but are just as keen to change the status quo at their workplace. Any dads, husbands, brothers listening here? But, the book is targeted mainly towards women because of their own unique problems that they encounter at the workplace owing primarily to their gender.
Any woman with a dream and passion to live them can easily relate with this book. The book touches upon all the important issues and concerns faced by women- – her dilemma between choosing stability or passion, dealing with sexual harassment, the guilt of a working mom, late bloomers and second chances, coping with failure, handling the naysayers, maintaining focus and more. You name it, it´s discussed in this book.
The book is a documentary style feature of successful women who come from diverse backgrounds, social strata, industries, ambitions and age-groups. There is Karen Anand, Farah Khan, Honey Irani, Mary Kom, Sharda Ugra, Lillete Dubey, Leena Nair, Ipsita Dasgupta, Pankajam Sridevi, Manisha Girotra, Nupur Jain, Devita Saraf, Nisaba Godrej, Anuja Kale Agarwal and more.
Each one of them has a unique success story to share. For banker Manisha Girotra, it was her mother-in-law who gave her a timely wake-up call which helped her take stock of the situation like a true leader. Mary Kom is blessed with male feminists in her husband and father-in-law who egged her on despite the waggling tongues in the neighbourhood.
“I focus on my goal and go after it, safe in the knowledge that I have the support of the people I love. Nothing else matters.” – Mary Kom.
Sharda Ugra is a woman with unconventional life choices – sports journalism career and single life.
“For the longest time, I used to feel a bit weird because I am a single woman in a world where people are constantly getting married and having children. But recently I read somewhere that 71 million households in India are run by single women and that makes me feel good. It reiterates my belief that it is perfectly fine to be a single woman. Anywhere in the world.”
Ipsita Dasgupta, President – Strategy & Incubation at Star India is an embodiment of a woman who can actually have it all.
“My daughters are twenty four months old, and I find that in the last two years I have given up personal time, social relationships, working out and reading for pleasure. If you were to follow my Google searches, you would see that they navigate between the latest Harvard Business Review article on sales force effectiveness and web pages about how to wean your toddler off the bottle and on to the sippy cup. But I would have it no other way – being a mom and having a meaningful career is what makes my life fulfilling and gratifying.” – Ipsita Dasgupta
There are women who had to work hard for success from the scratch and at the bottom all the way to the top and women who were born with a silver spoon and a full-fledged corporate empire to take over when adulthood beckoned. Shruti Shibulal, daughter of Infosys co-founder S.D.Shibulal shares – what she disliked the most was especially as a young adult seeking to share her own identity, was the constant presumption that things were easy for her because she was privileged.
Nisaba Godrej had to bear the cross of nepotism and found her own solution to establishing her identity as a credible business leader.
“My dad never treated me differently from my brother. So, I have no grown up thinking that women are in any way different from men. In fact, I grew up with a strong mother (Parmeshwar Godrej) and so, if anything, I have grown up thinking women are the ones holding the stick in their hands. For me the bigger challenge was not gender, but age. I was in my twenties when I joined the group. It was a long struggle, but eventually everyone started taking me seriously.” – Nisaba Godrej
Devita Saraf experienced failure early on in life when she was completely ignored and denied a place in the school cabinet owing to her privileged background even though she was well-worthy of the position. She had her own unique battle of fighting prejudices owing to her privileged background. While the school authorities denied her the coveted position in the school cabinet, she persisted despite her disappointment. Today, she stands tall as a successful role-model for others to emulate.
Nepotism or not, each of these highly accomplished women had to prove twice as hard as their male counterparts of their mettle and calibre and successfully broken every norm, bias, prejudice and ceiling to get to the top.
What could be better
I understand the dire need for this book to be true, diverse and inclusive to and of all women. To achieve that purpose, the author needs to validate her point with several case examples of successful women who broke the glass ceiling in their area of work.
While there are so many successful women listed in this book which is appreciable, heartening, and encouraging, it can get a bit too much for the reader to catch up, track and keep pace with each one of them. If it were a documentary film, this wouldn´t have been an issue at all. Because you can immediately connect the name to a face and it registers automatically in your brain. However, I found my own solution to this issue. I googled the names, saw their pictures, did my own research, watched their videos and related to the book even more after doing so.
Because, this is a non-fiction book in the ´self’-help´ category, it can tend to sound repetitive for some readers. I was okay with that fact because that´s how self-help books are normally. I like to use a highlighter or underline sentences I loved with a pencil for instant motivation whenever I need it. It was no different with this book where you will find several quotes by these inspiring ladies beautifully highlighted in my copy of the same.
But if there is one portion that could have been completely avoided and honestly the only true flaw of this book, it is this – the complete endorsement of Pepsi Co´s Chairman and CEO, Indra Nooyi´s statement that women cannot have it all. Maybe the author genuinely found resonance with Indra Nooyi´s infamous statement. But, the fact is that the face of the contemporary woman is changing drastically. Recently in the beginning of 2018, Indra Nooyi came under severe flak for her sexist idea of launching feminine chips. Women across the globe are questioning norms like never before now. Parenting today is not seen as only the mother´s job solely. It is equally the father´s responsibility. Workforce dynamics are being challenged. So, when the author bares her heart out about mother´s guilt in all honesty, it will not entirely resonate with the women of tomorrow. Ironically, in the same book, you have Mary Kom and Ipsita Dasgupta who endorse just the opposite – that women can have it all. The issue is not stay-at-home mothers versus working mothers. Either ways, both are working. The bigger question is – “Are we respecting their choice – to work at home, from home or at the office?”
About the author
Sudha Menon has worked as a journalist for over 20 years at The Hindu Business Line, The Independent (Bennet Coleman) and Mint (Hindustan Times Media) before becoming an author, columnist and writing coach.
Her debut book, Leading Ladies: Women Who Inspire India was launched in 2010. In her own words – “It takes a woman to understand another woman’s dreams, her highs and lows. We women create a community, a sisterhood based on love, empathy and our readiness to be there for each other, no matter what.”
Quickly following suit, her second book ´Legacy´ (Random House India) was launched in 2012. It is a rare collection of personal and evocative letters from parents to their daughters where they share the qualities and values it takes to lead a responsible, accomplished and fulfilled life. During her Filmfare Awards acceptance speech, Deepika Padukone read the letter addressed to her sister and her from her father, Prakash Padukone. This excerpt was taken from Sudha Menon´s book ´Legacy´ and her interview with Prakash Padukone. Consequently, two other letters from Legacy went viral – Narayana Murthy’s letter to his daughter Akshata and Chanda Kochchar’s letter to her daughter Arti.
In 2014, Sudha Menon along with co-author V.R.Ferose launched ´Gifted: Inspiring stories of people with disabilities´ (Random House). This book is the answer to a pertinent question – “Why is that we often forget to celebrate a very important manifestation of diversity: the diversity of ability?” . The book looks at disability with a unique and empathetic lens. It is on my ´to-read´list for 2018. Sudha Menon´s books have been translated into Hindi and Marathi as well.
Sudha Menon is the founder of several writing workshops such as ´Get Writing´ which helps people to get over their writer´s block and kickstart their writing career, ´Writing in the park´, an initiative to get people to write in outdoor spaces – public garden, parks etc and ´Telling our stories´, a voluntary initiative to help senior citizen based in Pune to write their stories and share their legacy to the world at large.
She is also a motivational speaker conducting various leadership workshops and sessions for corporates, educational institutions and NGO´s across India. She was one of the speakers at TEDxPune 2013 edition.
“My father believed we owe it to the world to care for fellow human beings. So, I was always drawn towards stories of the underprivileged, the downtrodden, and the exploited.” – Sudha Menon
Some quotable quotes
“It is possible for a woman to have it all – a career woman, homemaker, mother. I have proven it. Giving up my dream has never been an option for me.” – Mary Kom
“I am totally unapologetic about my ambition. I want everything for myself and am willing to work hard for it. I hate the way an ambitious woman is labelled negatively in our society. Often I am asked if I have sacrificed my personal life for my career and chosen to be single. My answer is simply this: I don´t want to be married as yet because I don´t want to be torn between my work which I love and my home or family, both of which I would be totally committed to.” — Rohini Iyer
“Learning about failure is as important as learning to cope with success.” –– Devita Saraf
“I believe in the 10,000-hour rule. Don’t expect results on day one. You have to first prove yourself, put in the required number of hours, and dedicate yourself to your cause. Decide what you want to do – motherhood, career or both – and, once your choice is made, have confidence in it and stand by it.” – – Nisaba Godrej
“Who we become and what we do is all about self-belief.” – – Honey Irani
You can pick your copy of ´Devi, Diva or She-Devil: The smart Career woman’s survival guide´ written by Sudha Menon here: https://www.amazon.in/Devi-Diva-She-Devil-career-survival/dp/067008932X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1520325028&sr=8-1&keywords=Devi%2C+Diva+or
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