Tinystep COO Anupama Tej’s book explores the stories of 5 women leaders who chased their dreams

Anupama Tej, COO of the parenting social network Tinystep, wrote the book to inspire other women and mothers to follow their dreams despite the innumerable challenges in their path.

Anupama Tej is the COO of TinyStep, a parenting and childcare platform, which has received funding from Flipkart. Started by Suhail Abidi in 2015, the multilingual parenting social network reaches 25 million mothers in a week and provides information on topics ranging from pregnancy, childbirth, parenting, and emotional support. 

Heading operations at Tinystep, Anupama had witnessed the struggles of women she had interacted with. She also drew from her mother’s struggle to give her and her sister the best education and other experiences in life. 

Anupama Tej, COO of Tinystep and author

“Millions of mothers interact on our platform and all these mothers face very similar challenges but that doesn’t stop them from doing the best for their children and family,” says Anupama. Her experiences pushed her to write the book, From The Ashes She Rose: Stories of Women Who Chased Their Dreams and Became Unstoppable.

The book captures stories of five women leaders in the corporate world, and includes Madhavi Irani (Chief Content officer, Nykaa), Malika Sadani (Founder of The Moms Co.), Nandini Sarkar (Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion, The Boeing Company), Ria Shroff Desai (Head of People Operations, Sula Vineyards) and Nayana Udupi, (Marketing Manager of ThoughtWorks).

“I drew parallels between the lives of these women and connected it with the inspiring stories of women leaders. These mothers are on the right track, and if they keep moving forward, they will achieve their goals,” she says. 

The book was published by Notion Press in December 2019 and is a testament to the courage and strength of these women who truly chased their dreams and became unstoppable. 

In an interview with HerStory, Anupama Tej talks about these incredible women, what powers them and what we can learn from them.

HerStory (HS): What prompted you to write this book? 

Anupama Tej (AT): It was my mother’s journey that prompted me to write the book From The Ashes She Rose. I’ve seen thousands of mothers going through similar struggles during my tenure at Tinystep. Some who could not be independent, and others who couldn’t achieve their dreams after motherhood due to traditions, societal pressure and guilt. This has become a pattern and it is terrifying that women have to let go of their own life goals after becoming a mother, though it didn’t stop them from being the best mums. 

I wanted to capture inspiring stories of women leaders who have faced these challenges, overcome them and become influential leaders. I want people to know that it is okay; they are not alone on this journey and the most important thing to remember is to keep moving forward.

HS: You talk about your mother making sacrifices for you, can you tell us how she inspired you?

AT: Only after getting married (at 19) did she realise the troubles and perils that fall on women who aren’t financially stable or have no voice of their own because of lack of education. She didn’t want that for me. So, she ensured her daughters got a good education instead of rushing into marriage. This is exactly when the hurdles began and till date, she deals with them like a boss. No matter what, the only person rooting for the both of us was my mother. When I look back today, I can see that her persistence and faith in me has made me who I am today.

My mother’s timely and life-altering decisions helped raise my sister and me without these gender stereotypes. She even fought against society to send us to schools to receive an education that changed our lives.

HS: Why a book about women in the corporate world?

AT: From The Ashes She Rose is based on my experience at Tinystep, where I witnessed so many mothers facing challenges, and I wanted to give them the reassurance that everything is going to be okay. You will get there if you don't give up. 

I have selected industries that are traditionally considered male-dominated. For example, Nandini Sarkar heads diversity and inclusion at The Boeing Company, an aviation industry; Ria Shroff heads People Operations at Sula Vineyards, an alcohol brand; Madhavi Irani, Chief Content Officer of Nykaa, a billion-dollar beauty and wellness e-commerce for women; Malika Sadani, Founder of The Moms Co, personal care products specially designed for mothers and newborn; and Nayana Udupi, marketing manager at Thoughtworks and a transwoman who has fought against society and her own family to become who she wants to be. 

All these women have faced very tough choices in their journey - prioritising work or family, going into work days after childbirth, taking up roles in what has traditionally been considered male-dominated fields. A lot of people will be able to resonate with these stories. 

HS: What was your writing process like? 

AT: When I started working on this book, I wanted to capture stories of women who come from different backgrounds and are successfully breaking stereotypes across industries, especially those considered to be male dominated. I was fortunate to talk to founders, leaders, CXOs of various organisations.

The best part about writing this book was getting a chance to interact with these fantastic leaders who had an enormous amount of knowledge and experience to share. I was fortunate to hear about their experiences of childhood, early life, struggles and vision. 

Every story I listened to, I could relate it to my mother’s journey and thousands of stories I had heard from other mothers at Tinystep. 

HS: What story was the most difficult to write?

AT: The story of Nayana Udupi was extremely difficult for me to write. Her journey is very inspiring. Being a transwoman, she struggled a lot, and faced rejections from family and society. She never gave up. She always dreamt of working in a corporate firm, even when she was on the road begging. These challenges never stopped her from moving forward. Soon, she acquired the essential skills to join a company and today she is the Marketing Manager at Thoughtworks. The challenges and struggles she has faced are beyond our imagination. 

HS: What was one story that was most inspiring to write?

AT: It's really hard to pick one. But I think that Malika Sadani’s journey was most inspiring. As a new mother, she wanted to give the best to her daughter. Something, every new mother can relate to. She went on to create safe and natural products, for her daughters and for every mother who is looking for similar solutions. She faced a lot of challenges during this journey, balancing family and work life. Being a woman leader is hard and the effort it takes for a woman to prove herself is disproportionately higher to the effort a man makes in the same domain for the same position. 

HS: Whose story touched you the most?

AT: Madhavi Irani faced a lot of challenges as a mother without a support system - handling both work and family. She had to make some tough choices. Those choices made her tougher.

As she says, “One thing I’ve learnt is that life is tough but I'm tougher. There are going to be so many challenges, ups and downs, good days and bad days. But when you look back at your life, look at all the things you've overcome to come out shining - you will know that nothing can get you down forever. You have to keep getting up, dusting yourself off and moving on.”

HS: What kind of struggles did you face in your own journey?

AT: I grew up in a small town called Shimoga. I was born in a conservative Indian family, where girls don’t have the rights that others enjoy. Be it education or health, I’ve seen the huge gender gap that forces women to drop out of school, marry early or even have children against their choices. I went to a school that hardly had any teachers; it had broken ceilings and no benches. Education seemed to be a privilege. I watched my mother giving up her aspirations just because she didn’t have any financial independence.

Even during all her struggles, she kept repeating one sentence to my sister and me: “Education is the most important thing for a girl to become independent.”

My mother’s struggle against the world was a huge battle and as I became older, I realised that for a woman, financial independence and education are very important. Later, it also opened my eyes to the unfortunate fact that society sees childbirth as a hindrance for women to further their aspirations. 

It does not matter if a woman is educated and qualified. Women are forced to leave the workforce, to fulfill gendered family roles.

As I grew up, I had limited access to information and opportunities and limited encouragement, other than my mum, to become who I want to be. And because of her constant support, I never had to give up on my dreams. 


Edited by Rekha Balakrishnan


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