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ME POWAIKAR September 2018

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If you think the story below is just a happy tale, think again because it’s an account of sheer determination and grit mixed with enough doses of fun.

Imagine an ordinary family; father’s job requires moving all the time with the stay-at-home-mom often picking up assignments wherever possible to indulge in her passion to teach. Kids grow up mingling with new people, different communities every few years and learn to interact and adapt. In the days when everyone wanted to be a doctor/engineer, Aruna had no specific dreams or ambitions. She only knew she wanted to be in the science stream, preferably associated with pure sciences. She got a BSc degree from St. Xavier’s College followed by an MBA degree from Gujarat University and a match was suggested by a relative.

Luckily things clicked in the very first meeting. It’s interesting to note what a broad-minded family Aruna was getting introduced to. On Aruna’s first visit to Murthy’s home, her to-be-father-in-law asked his wife and daughter to continue chatting with Aruna while he and Murthy heated the meal, laid and later cleared the table. This was what helped Aruna make up her mind to marry into this modern family which had no set roles for gender; that believed in equal share of work. Soon Aruna wed Murthy and the couple flew to USA almost immediately.

She had a whale of time those first 6 months. They had a lovely house in Manhattan. She wandered around all day, exploring New York, visiting museums but soon the excitement paled. By then Murthy was moved to Washington and she picked up a job in a bank where she got bitten by the technology bug and her life switched lanes. During her 2 years at work, she saw technology being used massively in the bank. Her interest piqued and she applied and got admission for a Masters in Information Systems from the University of Maryland, USA. It was tough to give up the good money she’d been earning to go back to school but Murthy’s unwavering encouragement and an assistantship coupled with her determination to make it, saw her through.

A few years later, they decided to return to India and Murthy joined IIT as a Professor in the Biosciences Department and Aruna joined the tech arm of Citibank where she continued to work for 20 years, till she moved to Kotak Mahindra Bank group of companies as Chief Technology Officer. She provides senior oversight on all strategic technology initiatives across the group companies and builds technology innovation, collaboration, and standardization, across the teams. She brings a global perspective to her role, having worked across international markets.

Back to her career, Aruna has had a wonderful support system and great infrastructure. She travels a lot, keeps long hours and life is hectic but having in-laws at home helped.

Her daughter’s birth was the high point in her life.  As a direct result of having a working mother, this kid got independent and learnt to manage on her own at a very young age. As a 6 year old, she once craved brownies so without feeling sorry for herself, she called her grandma for the recipe and baked them all by her little self, calling Aruna only to clarify the setting of the microwave because grandma gave her the electric oven temperature. At 10, she hosted dinner for her parents’ friends who had been stuck and couldn’t go home thanks to the floods. Emulating her parents, she developed a passion for reading. Her treasured possession is a bookcase with shelves from floor to ceiling filled with all her favourite books.

Aruna is constantly doing a balancing act; between home and work.
Despite being a woman in a competitive corporate world, she still has to ensure that she fixes breakfast and lunch etc for the family. Her love for travel takes a backseat despite all the work-related travel she does, she wants to rush back to her loved ones soon as possible. She craves leisure in everyday stuff and wishes she had time for friends and relatives, to potter around the house, be relaxed and just kick back with no big bang thing to achieve. But she shakes it all off and gets her nose back to the grind, knowing a time will come when she will have relaxed time. Right now her priority is work, followed by family commitments.
Reminiscing, Aruna talks about the time they moved into Hiranandani in 1999 when this area was quieter. Their building felt spooky because it was so empty. There were good clean roads with lots of gardens coming up. So in a way, they have witnessed the growth of Powai.

To explain my title, even today it is difficult for women to climb the corporate ladder to rise to the upper rungs of management. Aruna has managed to breach this unseen barrier and progress in a man’s domain, shattering the glass ceiling.