All too often, women in India are forced to give up on their career aspirations because of the societal pressure to conform to the roles of wife and mother.
Even if some have the support system to bypass these gender hurdles, the weight of societal judgement makes many women feel guilt for choosing their ambitions over wifely and motherly duties. Monisha Nakra, Vice President of the Data and Analytics function at Citibank India, is one of those few women who have found career success despite the demands of domestic roles.
Speaking to MAKERS India, Monisha (38) recollects how, as a mother of toddler, she made it to MBA course at the prestigious Indian Institute of Management – Bangalore, and went on to soar high in corporate jobs.
Prioritising motherhood over onsite opportunities
After achieving a degree in engineering from the Motilal Nehru National Institute of Technology, Monisha started working at Tata Consultancy Services as a software developer in 2004.
At a time when bagging an onsite opportunity was considered an enviable milestone for IT professionals, Monisha had other plans. She narrates, “Typically, people in the IT industry take up onsite roles in a few years; but I went on a break to take care of my first baby. My daughter was born in October 2006 and I quit TCS the following year.”
Pursuing higher education while being a new mother is something unimaginable for most women, but not for Monisha . She says, “I started preparing for CAT (Common Admission Test) during my maternity break. It was challenging to take care of a baby and find the time to study. But with the support of my family, I was slowly getting there. I had cracked the exam on the first attempt and had calls from the top six IIMs.”
Climbing the corporate echelon
Being a student again after having entered parenthood was an uphill task for Monisha. She recalls, “In 2009, my daughter and I both joined school – I joined IIM Bangalore and she started pre-school. That was possibly one of the toughest times for me personally. My daughter, who was two-and-a-half at that time, was living with my parents in another town. I would leave campus every Friday, travel 200 km to meet her, and be back early morning on Monday to attend classes.”
Although the MBA program was stressful, Monisha calls herself blessed, as she had emotional support from her family. She says, “I was the only woman in a batch of 350 students, who was married, had a child, and was living on campus full time. When I look back at those two years now, I find it unbelievable that I did it. It was only possible because of the unwavering support of my husband, parents and mother-in-law.”
After completing the course, Monisha bagged a placement offer from Citibank in 2011. Since then, she has made frequent pitstops at different functions of the bank – initially as a product manager, later as a business analyst, and then manager, before her current role.
She says, “Citi is a university in itself and one of the biggest highlights of my journey here has been the opportunity to do something new every few years. When the work is rewarding in itself, you feel like jumping out of bed every morning with the curiosity and enthusiasm of a child.”
Monisha, who was promoted as Vice President early this year, says that her team is focused on working with data to generate insights that help drive business goals. She elaborates, “It is cutting edge, exciting and immensely gratifying. I think one of the biggest challenges that professionals in all industries have faced is the constant need to stay relevant in an ever-changing context. Citi offers many knowledge platforms to foster an environment on continuous learning and growth.”
Self-realisation during the Coronavirus pandemic
Life has always been a balancing act for Monisha, and she has been doing the same in these unprecedented times – since the Coronavirus pandemic made work-from-home the new normal.
Monisha says, “I am fortunate to be working in an organization that pivoted to ‘Work from Home’ so instantly and easily, with the absolute support of our entire leadership. I have learned how to remotely manage my team effectively. I have learned how important it is for leaders to emotionally connect with their teams and operate from a place of complete faith and respect,” she says, adding that she has also learnt to be more patient with her kids now, and not apologize for background noise over conference calls.
Appreciating the privileges that her life offers, Monisha opines, “The past few months have also taught us that it is extremely important to have the drive to upgrade oneself by learning new skills tools, and accepting that sometimes one has to un-learn and re-learn,” she signs off.
(Edited by Athira Nair)