An achiever, a fighter, a believer, a woman of action. A woman who has as some would say broken the proverbial glass ceiling to get to the top. A woman who has never let go of her grit, determination and resilience to get to her goals. What is more, she is a go-getter who doesn’t believe in just resting on laurels but in setting new goals, dreaming new dreams and forging ahead. An inspiration, an aspiration; that’s how I would describe this woman achiever. She is someone who believes that either one should work with energy and passion or not at all. Anjali Singh, currently the Managing Director, Deutsche Bank is a woman to be admired and applauded. She has more than 25 years of work experience, mainly in the Financial Services sector. She has worked with big names like American Express, FIS and Genpact carrying out multiple roles in Business, Operations, People Function and Strategy with aplomb.
Anjali lives in Gurgaon with her husband Kuljit and 21-year-old son Karan. Being in the corporate world means that her work schedule is extremely hectic, and it is always a challenge to find time for other things. But like most women, juggling is like second nature to Anjali who finds time to fit in most things that she has to do in a day. So even though her work takes a lot of her time, she has managed to find time to pursue her hobbies of reading and writing. She also runs a blog where, from time to time, she posts articles on issues that interest her. Not only does she have to put in long hours at work, but she is required to travel extensively too. And although travel takes up a considerable part of her time and keeps her away from home, she quite enjoys it. She believes that travelling, in terms of the exposure it can give to a person, is the greatest education one can acquire. It can help one to learn about different places, their cultures, customs and practices. And so a well-travelled person is an open-minded individual with a broader perspective and a deeper understanding of the world and its ways. But what she enjoys the most and looks forward to is the personal vacations she takes with her family and friends, which let her spend time with her loved ones.
When a young girl or any woman for that matter sees this good looking, well turned out, hi- flying corporate executive who is independent in every possible way, wouldn’t they want to be like her?? Of course, yes!! So what made this role model the woman that she is, a woman of substance??
Anjali Singh, the daughter of Kailash Parshad Varma and Premlata Varma, was born at Holy Family Hospital in Delhi. She is their second child born two years after the birth of their son. Her father was a bureaucrat while her mother was an educationist. Having parents who were super achievers in their own right, ensured that Anjali and her brother, Rajeev were inspired from a young age to have their own set of ambitions and aspirations. The environment at home was such where not only were both the parents aspirational, but the aspirations of both were equally important. So if the father who was in the Indian Foreign Service and had to travel across the world, the mother who was an educationist had the opportunity, the liberty of holding her own and not live in her husband’s shadow. This enabled her to teach in institutions across the world, along with pursuing her doctorate at the University of Ottawa. Not only were the parents inspirational in terms of their ambition and drive but also in the way the male-female equation was perceived and handled by them. They never discriminated between their son and daughter. The same set of rules applied to both, and this was inculcated into the children by the example set by them. This made sure that the children grew up treating one another equally and fairly.
The parents with their high standards of academic excellence motivated their children to never settle for anything other than the best. And to get to the best, they had to work hard. Thus from an early age, the siblings understood the importance of hard work. The childhood that was spent in different parts of the world also ensured that they developed a strong bond between them. Since their father’s work meant that they had to travel frequently and change schools ever so often the two became a constant in each other’s lives and a default best friend to each other. They realized that friends might come and go, but the two of them would go on forever. And that belief, that bond has stood the test of time, and till date, the two are incredibly close to each other. As Anjali says, Rajeev has continued to be her ‘go-to mentor’ all her life.
Amongst the many memories that Anjali has of her time with her brother, there is one that stands out distinctly. And it is about how he would patiently teach her Math and never get tired of explaining concepts to her no matter how long it took. Since there were no tutors available, he was not only her default teacher but at her beck and call too!!
A father in a job which involved extensive travelling meant that Anjali’s schooling took place in schools across the world. And each time they moved countries, and she moved schools, she learnt how to adapt to new surroundings, new people and new ways. This was a great life lesson as it taught her how to cope with change and be open and flexible in life. So if she did her Cambridge O levels from a British School, she had to go on to finish her high school from an American school. After that coming back to Delhi, she studied at the prestigious Lady Shri Ram College, University of Delhi for her graduation and post-graduation.
Growing up in a progressive environment with a mother who is a brilliant academician and who worked all her life meant that for Anjali having a career was a given. She grew up believing that like men, women too had to work and be self-sufficient. So, therefore, she started looking for a job straight after her post-graduation. Though initially, she didn’t have much clarity about what exactly she wanted to do, she knew one thing; that she wanted to work and have a career. And so looking for a job after completing her education was the most natural thing in the world for her. So with that clear plan, she started by exploring various options before she could embark on the career of her dreams. Since she liked to write, she applied for jobs in magazines and newspapers wanting to be a journalist or a columnist, but she couldn’t get anything that she liked. The closest she was offered was ‘to sell advertising space’ for Indian Express. She did a brief stint of a few months at British Airways [a job she hated] after which finally her dream came true. She got the job that she had applied for at the American Express. She joined and discovered that she loved the organization and her role in the area of Financial Services, and the rest just followed. She stayed with the company for 7.5 years where after she moved to FIS from where she moved to Genpact.
While her career graph was on an upward trajectory, her personal life was also moving on. She met her future husband Kuljit quite staidly [as she says] at his parent’s place over a casual dinner. But what was supposed to be casual turned out to be something profound and long-lasting. Not only did it bring the young couple into contact with each other, but it also resulted in their discovering that they liked each other’s company and wanted to get to know each other. So although they did not fall in love immediately, there was a connect. The fact that they had similar jobs and lived in the same area also contributed. It resulted in Kuljit picking Anjali up from work and the two going on dates over tea and chicken sandwiches at the Delhi Gymkhana. And after two years of dating and getting to know each other, the two decided to tie the knot and have recently completed 26 years of being with each other.
A working woman on account of the numerous and diverse roles that she has to play always needs support and encouragement from her loved ones. And Anjali is no exception. But she feels that she has been extremely fortunate in that respect. If she had supportive parents, her husband was no less. He has always been there for her, with her. He has always respected her career and the choices she had made to take it further. And to add to it, her in laws and in particular her mother-in-law was also always there to support her.
As a couple, she had Kuljit have always taken decisions to support each other’s work as much as they can. As both had to do a lot of work-related travel and also had a child, very early on in their lives, they had made a simple rule which was of ‘one parent in town’ so that their son would never feel lonely or alone. Of course, the extended family of grandparents was always there to extend their share of support.
But despite support from all quarters, a working woman has to juggle between her various responsibilities and motherhood is one of them. A working woman as Anjali says can never get as much time with her child as a homemaker. So what does she do? Kill herself with guilt ?? No, not at all! As Anjali says, a working mom has to make sure that the time she gets with her child is’ qualitative’ and she can pick her ‘moments of truth’ where she just has to make sure that she shows up for her family no matter what the official pressure. So Karan’s mom made sure that she never missed a critical sports match, the Sunday soccer mornings, the PTMs and was there for all special events like birthdays, festivals and milestones. So while it may not be possible to devise the right balance between work and family but setting up priorities and defining boundaries can go a long way in enabling a working woman to be where she is required to be.
When we speak of working women, a question that immediately comes to mind is how easy or difficult is it for a woman to give a start to her career. Even if the family is supportive, a conducive work environment is also needed if she has to succeed. Issues like gender disparity can go a long way in making or breaking a career. So what was it like for Anjali?
According to my woman achiever joining an organization like American Express gave a perfect starting point to her. The company has always prided itself on being a fair and employee-centric company. And so because of that their employees and in particular, their women employees never feel that they are at a disadvantage. Being with them gave Anjali the comfort, the support that every young girl needs at the beginning of her career. And somewhere that comfort and support paved the way for Anjali to start working in the space of women equality and empowerment when she got the chance to do that.
For the past decade, she has been actively involved in this space at a personal and a professional level. She has worked with leading Women Leadership platforms and firms like Catalyst, Beyond Diversity, the UN Compaq Gender Equality Core Committee, Nasscom and Anita Borg Institute for Women in Technology. She has regularly been a speaker or a panellist at the events organized by these companies. She has also featured in magazines like Business Today, Business Week and the Vogue sharing her views on this topic.
Anjali has mentored many women and formally coached a number of them on how to manage their careers. She closely works with NGOs like Udayan and Aahaan to sponsor and coach young girls who are in school or college. She has taken upon herself the responsibility of the education and boarding of two young girls. It is a subject that she is passionate about and likes to devote her professional and personal time to it.
The world, despite all the progress and advancement, is still very harsh when it comes to women and the judgements it places on them, and especially so if the woman has done very well for herself. It is as though people want to take away as much of the credit as possible and make it seem as though she gave up on something critical to get to where she has. People love to pick holes, to find flaws in her and her life, it as though she must have either done something or not done something to get to that pinnacle of success. And mind you it is not only the men who do that. Women also are not too far behind.
So as Anjali feels, there are all kinds of people out there who react in different ways to a successful woman. There are the ardent supporters who are always there for you and those whom you can’t live without. Then there are the overt disapprovers who firmly believe that working mothers cannot parent their children as well as the stay at home mothers. They will not bat an eyelid before taking a working mother on a guilt trip and will never tire of doing that. Then there are the passive-aggressive people who appear to be supportive but are most questioning about a woman’s capability, and success who she feels are the worst. But like she says the world is full of all kinds of people and everyone has to deal with their share of the good and the bad. And she has been lucky enough to have had some great mentors and supporters in her life who have enabled her to keep moving forward.
And in any case, as she says,’ Kuch toh log kahenge….’, it is best not to worry too much about them and stay true to one’s purpose.