International Women’s Day and all things Meryl Streep!






Ever since I won my first award 11 years ago in 2006, I have been a regular on the IWD speaking circuit in India. Come International Women’s Day month and I am in demand!  I can safely say that over the last decade and some, I have addressed at least 75,000 women at over 500 organizations!

In that time, I would also have authored at least a few hundred articles on how women can manage work and life, get the buy-in of families to support their aspirations, handle guilt, upskill themselves, coached them on re-entry opportunities and advised them on navigating the workplace.

Completely unconnected fact: The NSSO reports that during roughly the same time, there has been a 2% decline in women’s workforce participation. Ladies and gentlemen, my speaking skills or my advice are not to blame!

Anyway, I thought on the occasion of International Women’s Day 2017, why take the risk? So this time, I am not about to offer any career advice. Instead I’d like to talk about movies. Hollywood movies. More specifically, Hollywood movies with strong women characters. In fact, movies that have the legendary Meryl Streep as the protagonist (or antagonist, if you choose to see her that way)

Have you watched “Mamma Mia”? “The Devil wears Prada”? “It’s complicated”?

You might not forgive me if I listed the 8 other movies of hers which I have watched, pondered over, been mesmerised by, so I will stop here. I am a big big fan of Meryl Streep and I believe she can play and pull off every role that she wants including Wolverine and Kung Fu Panda, but these movies are among my favorites.

In these movies, Meryl Streep plays various characters.

In one, she is a free spirit with a lovely daughter about to get married, running a resort in a Greek island. And she gets to marry Pierce Brosnan! In another, she is the fearsome boss lady, the nemesis of everyone, the woman who everybody loves to hate. And in “Its complicated”, she is a divorcee who has an affair with her own ex-husband! Three different movies, very different characters.

One commonality.

Not Meryl. But her intentionality. In each character that she played, Meryl showed intentionality. She showed persistence, she showed fortitude and she demonstrated what it was to be intentional.

What is this Intentionality? In research terms, it is a concept that has been created and curated by AVTAR, after a longitudinal research study consisting of over 2700 plus subjects across their early career, mid-career and matured career stages.

Spoiler alert! While you might like to go online and visit our website and check out the entire report on Intentional Career Pathing, here are my key takes:

  1. Intentionality is Gender Neutral. But, how it plays out, is gender nuanced. In women, Intentionality is the ability to shape the world according to your desires. How many of you like Kangana Ranaut? I was not a big fan, until I saw her on the “Koffee with Karan” show. Three things about Kangana stood out for me: a) She spoke her mind very boldly, very clearly, but in an unoffensive way, b) She revealed that she was on a upward trajectory – she was upping the ante, she was growing from strength to strength, c) She showed that she was a ‘business brain’. Not just a pretty face! These are skills, which are nuanced to a woman. They are not in-born, they are learnt. Just like how Meryl allows her awareness of how she has moved on to determine her decisions in “It’s Complicated”, so too does the concept of Intentionality help you in strategic decision making.
  2. Intentionality is what you do, who you are, when you have already finished the day’s work. It’s the ability to stay calm, believe that you have done your best and prepare yourselves for another fulfilling day. That’s key. Pursuing fulfilment. Not balance, not perfection, but fulfilment.
  3. The theme for this year’s Women’s Day is #BeBoldforChange. And that’s the other core of Intentionality. It’s the ability to change those things that need to be changed. And putting in enough introspection, gathering enough opinions to take an informed change decision. It means mastering that amazing skill of pursuing a life that fills you up. And the change that is required to do that.

And when it comes to change, I have to speak about the men. If you think that women have learnt a hell of a lot in the last 25 years while they have been in the Indian workplace, then take the case of men and double that! Men have learnt how to handle emotions, how to handle crying, how to handle post-partum depression, how to handle mood swings and PMS – wow, they have really learnt a lot!

Change is not easy. We cannot always bend the world into shapes we want, but we can try. And because you are already here, reading this article, you are predisposed to success. You are a seeker who already possess many of the tools required to become successful. You have the right environment, the right set of people, mentors, advisors. Am I right?

I am deeply spiritual and I believe we are here for a short time. That time is precious and we need to use it to rise to the fullest of our potential. I don’t want to sound pretentious, but please don’t waste your time on earth. Don’t be a half-you, a person that could have been 100%, but is only 50%. Don’t allow those negative thoughts to tell you that you cannot. That is a waste of time of earth. And don’t waste it.

Of course there is only one exception to wasting time and that is searching for that lovely shade of lipstick online!

Happy Women’s Day, everyone!

Author: Dr. Saundarya Rajesh

Founder - President, AVTAR Group, SME on Diversity & Inclusion and Women's Workforce Participation