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Radhika Gupta's memoir Limitless made me ask - how can we address the issue of the difficulty women have in breaking the glass ceiling, without addressing patriarchy and its stifling, death grip around women’s necks?
Trigger warning: This deals with suicide ideation and may be triggering for survivors.
I picked up Limitless by Edelweiss CEO Radhika Gupta expecting the usual preachy, advice ridden material that has become the norm of all entrepreneurs’ and CEOs’ life stories. Stories that pretend to be authentic, but in reality are cloaked in privilege and entitlement, lacking nuance.
Limitless, however is different. It is a story of a woman who at age 21 wanted to jump off the 19th floor of a building after being rejected by 7 consulting firms. It is also the story of an ambitious woman who had to deal with challenges, challenging the norm and setting up a business in her 20s.
Coming from my position as a banker and coach, Radhika’s style of drawing analogies from financial instruments and creating a narrative of how investing in yourself, not very different from investing in mutual funds, resonated with me. What the reader needs is bite sized personal stories of courage, resilience and braving the odds, and the book has plenty of those.
Radhika delves into the human reserve and makes a case for how really the possibilities for success are limitless, if you get a few things right and learn how to unlock your potential. In the book, she traces her journey from an undergraduate student at UPenn, to her career start at McKinsey, her tryst as an analyst at Wall Street, and then finally her career defining shift to India to start her own asset management company Forefront Capital Management, that grew profitable and was acquired by Edelweiss Asset Management Limited, whose CEO she is now.
Since the book borrows heavily from financial concepts, it is peppered with risk taking analogies. This could benefit those familiar with the jargon, but could be a bit hard to those who don’t get the terms, like the part where she writes about Stocks and Bonds being two important financial instruments.
Bonds are safe and guarantee a fixed rate of interest, while stocks are volatile, unpredictable, and create real wealth in the long run. In a near comparison, what is your choice of career, is a question that would decide if you would be happy simply collecting predictable coupons (salary) or if you would like to create an exciting story for yourself that would challenge you at every step. I admit, this one was hard, and I spent many minutes mulling over what it meant for me.
After Forefront was acquired by Edelweiss, Radhika’s journey changed from that of a founder to a business leader, having to lead the enterprise to sustained profitability. When the Govt of India invited bids for the country’s first corporate bond ETF Bharat Bond, Edelweiss won the contract, and grew what was initially forecast at Rs 10,000 cr to a Rs 45,000 cr product line in 2 years flat. The lesson from this win was a little company punching way above its weight with an audacious bid and securing the deal.
Here are some important takeaways from the book that are worth repeating for everyone.
When one looks at their own resume, do they see just a collection of labels and degrees that could belong to anyone, or a string of experiences that have contributed to shaping them into an individual with unique skills?
While Radhika Gupta had the best of labels under her belt – UPenn and McKinsey, what really shaped her were her experiences at Forefront, that built her distinctive style of leadership and kept the business interesting for her.
A dilemma faced by many (especially women) at the workplace, the author says she faced it too.
After the merger, Radhika wanted the CEO’s role but wasn’t able to ask for it for fear of being turned down. Mustering courage and drawing on the strength from her family, she decided to go for it, citing her unmatched passion her single biggest asset. She did get the role and now advises people who are just graduating or in the early years of their career to “Ask for opportunities.”
While being rejected is a legitimate fear, if the chance of an affirmative answer is even 1%, isn’t it a chance worth taking?
As one moves up the corporate ladder, aggression is perceived to be important. But is it possible for aggression to co exist with empathy?
Radhika Gupta mentions a personal incident when she had to take time off for a health reason at a crucial time. Empathy was needed, and she was fortunate to receive it. At another time, she broke down during a performance appraisal and felt guilty for months later.
Her advice – don’t judge yourself for displaying normal, human emotions at work. She learned that opening up to her team helped foster closeness and empathy, leading to better team relations and higher productivity. I loved her concept of having a ‘purple couch’ in the office that anyone could occupy while holding space for themselves, and even maybe shedding a tear or two.
What use is it to compare another’s career journey to our own? We run our own individual races, at our own pace.
While corporate spaces foster competitiveness, it is important to make a distinction between comparison and competitiveness. As the author says earlier on in the book, isn’t our journey about collecting individual experiences? We are the driver of our life and its CPO. The Chief Purpose Officer – that decides the trajectory of our journey. Does anything else matter really?
While rejection can feel unsurmountable in the here and now, Radhika says ask yourself if it will matter in 5 years. Careers are a combination of ‘choices and chances’.
This deeply insightful statement, I believe would help those starting out in the corporate world as well as those who struggle to make jumps or shifts in their jobs. Unexpected rejections, some forced and conscious choices, and some chances, are pretty much how an average career of an individual plays out.
Indira Nooyi says, no we can’t.
Radhika Gupta perhaps does not answer it quite as unequivocally, but as a banker and coach myself – I would tend to agree with Nooyi – not because women don’t want to, but because society and its norms have made it nearly impossible for us to have it all.
Radhika Gupta provides overly simplistic solutions in places, despite herself stressing over a domestic worker issue on a very important day of her life. She draws from the belief that more than work life balance, one must achieve work life integration.
But how many women in the work force can really achieve that?
Women in privileged positions, with domestic workers and a robust support system might be able to spout such truisms, but what is the reality on the ground, for a majority of women?
How can we address the issue of women breaking the glass ceiling without addressing patriarchy and its stifling, death grip around women’s necks?
What needs to change so there are more Radhika Guptas in the world?
If you’d like to pick up Limitless: The Power of Unlocking Your True Potential written by Radhika Gupta, use our affiliate links at Amazon India, and at Amazon US.
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Image source: Economic Times, and book cover Amazon
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I am a banker, author, poet and an intersectional feminist. Speaking up on social issues, mentoring and coaching and cooking up a storm for friends and a certain strapping 21 year old boy are what read more...
Women's Web is an open platform that publishes a diversity of views, individual posts do not necessarily represent the platform's views and opinions at all times.
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If you want to get back to work after a break, here’s the ultimate guide to return to work programs in India from tech, finance or health sectors - for women just like you!
Last week, I was having a conversation with a friend related to personal financial planning and she shared how she had had fleeting thoughts about joining work but she was apprehensive to take the plunge. She was unaware of return to work programs available in India.
She had taken a 3-year long career break due to child care and the disconnect from the job arena that she spoke about is something several women in the same situation will relate to.
More often than not, women take a break from their careers to devote time to their kids because we still do not have a strong eco-system in place that can support new mothers, even though things are gradually changing on this front.
A married woman has to wear a sari, sindoor, mangalsutra, bangles, anklets, and so much more. What do these ornaments have to do with my love, respect, and commitment to my husband?
They: Are you married?
They: But You don’t look like it
Me: (in my Mind) Why should I?
Why is being married not enough for a woman, and she needs to look married too? I am tired of such comments in the nearly four years of being married.
I believe that anything that is forced is not right. I must have a choice. I am a living human, not a puppet. And I am not stopping anyone by not following any tradition. You are free to do whatever you like to do. But do not force others. It’s depressing.