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Debjani Ray
4 Jan 2016 . 4 min read

5 successful women leaders who achieved a work-life blend


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What makes a business leader, who is also a woman, tick?

Think of successful women and one of the first names that come to mind is Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, pioneer of the Lean In Movement. In a recent posting on the question-and-answer site Quora, Sandberg described how she plans her day, attributing part of her organisational inspiration to two posters in Facebook’s office in Menlo Park. "Two of my favorites say 'Ruthless Prioritization' and 'The future belongs to the few of us still willing to get our hands dirty,'" she writes. "Those posters influence how I plan my day - I spend my time on what matters most, and I still get my hands dirty every day." Perhaps that’s the reason Sandberg is able to leave office at 5.30 pm sharp, everyday, to sit for dinner with her family. She’s got no qualms about it, and neither should women who feel that putting in unearthly hours at work is the only way to reach the top.

For SBI Chairman Arundhati Bhattacharya, mother, wife, daughter and India’s top banker, the secret to work-life blend lies in team building, which comes from not considering herself indispensable – neither at work or at home. “That (considering oneself indispensible) comes from a sense of insecurity,” Bhattacharya says. “But more important than that, once you step out, the team should take over. I always focus on team building—both in office and at home.” When she goes for a long tour, her husband, a software professional based in Kolkata, comes to Mumbai to give company to their daughter.

As a working mother, you have to have plenty of mental strength. Chanda Kochhar, MD and CEO of ICICI Bank, works hard to ensure she is around for her family. On her numerous “day trips” to New York on official work, Kochhar takes a late night flight so that she can reach her destination early morning NY time. After a day of back-to-back meetings, she is on the flight back home the same night. That means, though she is away for three days, it’s actually one day because of the time difference. “More than physical strength, one requires mental strength to do this day in day out,” Kochhar says.

Kirthiga Reddy, who heads Facebook in India, has her work-life philosophy cut out. “This is to work hard while the children are young and in protected environments, and to create flexibility as they got closer to the teenage years,” says Reddy. While working at a director level in her company, conflicts arose between her parenting goals, such as nursing her second child Ariya, and work goals such as travelling to meet clients, Reddy found out ways to accomplish both by travelling with Ariya, finding local babysitters, and nursing her between work meetings.

Tech queen Padmasree Warrior, CEO of US for NextEV, an electric vehicle company, objects to the term work-life balance. “There is no such thing,” she says. When her son was born, Warrior was in charge of a factory at Motorola. It was a 24/7 job that put enormous stress on her family and herself. At one point, she moved her treadmill into her son’s room so she could exercise while looking after him. In later years, she says she came to realise that operating like this was a big mistake. In an interview to a website, she said, “The important thing to remember is it’s not about balance; it’s about integration... to really focus on making sure you’re integrating all four aspects of your work, your family, your community and yourself. And it’s not about trying to spend equal amounts of time on everything you do each day on each of these things, but making sure you’re paying attention to all the things that make it up as a whole human being.”

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Debjani Ray
Debjani Ray is a rebel in her quiet way. She loves reading, binge watching movies, and likes to think of herself as a writer. Her most significant body of work is an argumentative eight-year-old who keeps her on her toes.

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