“I was guided into this vocation, to work in gender balanced workplaces. Working for and with women. Everything seemed like it ‘fit,’” says Kalpana Tatavarti, partner at Interweave Consulting Pvt Ltd, a boutique consulting firm offering solutions in diversity and inclusion. Born into a family of strong women, innumerable aunts and four sisters, the choice of working with women was quite natural for Kalpana. She remembers, in her very first interview, when the Head of Marketing asked her, “What is your dream?” pat came her reply – “I want to do something for women- to enable them move beyond their jobs at home and fully express their potential.”. Oddly, it wasn’t even related to the role she was applying for.
Kalpana’s focus areas are women’s leadership development, prevention of sexual harassment and diversity sensitisation in corporates. Prior to Interweave, as Founder at Maarpidi, Kalpana worked closely with several organisations in building their leadership pipelines.
She credits the confidence and self belief she needs now to take up such challenging work. One among four sisters, she was brought up like a tomboy, which she thought was normal. “None of us sisters were made to be aware of differences; we were not considered any lesser,” says a proud Kalpana. As a child, she had no interest in studies. She only wanted to play; hated school.
It was the experience of always being surrounded by talented women that made Kalpana realise how much difference they could make if they participated in the economic sector. Grandmother, mother, aunts, sisters, neighbours and, after marriage, two mothers-in-law (Her husband’s natural and adoptive mother) , Kalpana always was in the company of powerful women. She recalls her mother confessing now she had a prestigious job, but gave it up soon after marriage. “With time, and in the company of so many powerful women around me, I became alive to the fact that women in the older generation were not able to express themselves fully due to the restrictive gender roles,” says Kalpana. That set her thinking; this was the key focus of all her work with gender.
Kalpana now also sits on the board of an NGO, Durga, which does extensive work in the area of personal safety for women in public spaces. She also works closely with other NGOs in enabling women in economically disadvantaged sections of society to become small scale entrepreneurs. She is a mentor with the Cherie Blair Foundation, as well.
The challenges in her work
Her biggest challenge is the mindset of society towards gender. “The work I do will take years to fruition. People, both men and women, resist it. The fact that the ‘home’ is seen as women’s work is, the fundamental reason why we are unable to see women as part of the economic activity of the world. certain chores are seen as ‘women’s work’ is what I stand up against. Families don’t even realise that they play an important role in shaping their children’s mindsets on gender equality,” rues Kalpana.
At Interweave alone, she’s trained and coached over 1,500 women and more than 600 managers across the country.
Kalpana’s work is, indeed, interesting. She works closely with organizations to retain female talent; on enabling them to create inclusive workplaces; on helping women re-orient their thinking that work is as important as their homes and family; and to grab opportunities with both hands, and turn them to their advantage.
Kalpana has worked with many organisations to build their female talent pipeline. Recently, Interweave conducted a study with the University of Southern California on the impacts of their interventions on retaining women in the workplace. And they found a positive result – retention & growth improved significantly at organizations where Interweave ran their women’s development interventions (Pathways to Success). Kalpana says that the number of organisations waking up to the need to hire more women is also growing. These companies are now committed to creating gender-balanced and inclusive workplaces.
Her other side
In her individual capacity, Kalpana identifies women in the economically backward classes and gives potential women entrepreneurs interest-free loans. She says a great deal of change comes in once these women are financially empowered. “They do not put up with abuse any more, and their children learn so much from them. It is important to have women take part in the economic sector. No wonder that the UN is giving so much more emphasis to roping in women in the workplaces across sectors,” says Kalpana.
Kaplana is motivated by the fact that her work everyday is on the cusp of changing society. “Every mindset I change, is changing society. To change society, one has to work with the individuals. Organisations are microcosms of society; they offer large populations of people we work with,” says Kalpana. Despite her exhausting schedule, she feels motivated to keep going as the work she does is meaningful and important to society at large. To her, achievements means a call from a friend from a workshop who often call to share their success stories with her. “I feel motivated to touch more minds and lives,” she says.
All women are Kalpana’s role models – the busy working woman, the successful entrepreneur, the steady home maker, her domestic staff, the budding women entrepreneurs in low economic areas too.
Huge support from family
Kalpana’s husband and children are very proud and supportive of her work. Her husband has, in fact, initiated many inclusion practices at the organisation he heads. Deeply interesting in teaching mathematics to girls in government schools, Kalpana’s 16-year old son has submitted a paper in school on ‘Eradicating Rape.’ He is all set to start gender sensitisation sessions for school children, too. Her daughter (20) took part in the One Billion Rising Movement at her college in Ohio, and raised funds for them. “It begins at home. I wish more families realize the big role they play in this. In the dinner table conversations a family has, they are creating society!”