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Preeti Singh's picture

TC Enterprise: Rashmee Roshan Lall in conversation with Preeti Singh

Journalist Rashmee Roshan Lall was the former editor of The Sunday Times of India and also has presented ‘The World Today’ for BBC World Service; she is currently based in Abu Dhabi and is an editor at The National.

On Being a Journalist

I’ve been a journalist all my adult life, starting with The Times of India, moving to London and working for the BBC World Service before covering Europe from London. I’ve edited a major newspaper (The Sunday Times of India), travelled, lived and worked around the world (Haiti, Afghanistan, the US, UK and the UAE) and written for major media outlets including The Guardian, The Economist and Foreign Policy. I’ve worked for 23 years. I’m always been entranced about telling a story – making the connection at an intellectual and emotional level with my audience.

As the tagline on my website www.rashmee.com says: Journalism by trade and inclination. For more than two decades, I’ve earned my living with words - how they fit in a sentence and the images they create. And the contemporary stories they lay bare. To me, this is hugely exciting – and a new chapter to be written anew everyday. It drives me – I haven’t tired of it in 23 years.

Your personal brand

I’d like to think I’m incisive and inclusive and live the philosophy of intelligent management. I want to build a team, sharing information, ideas and vision (and home baked goods) across the group to promote cohesion and esprit de corps. I take my day job very seriously and I’m always prepared to go the extra distance and invest as much effort as it takes to get it right.  In one workplace, when I joined, my team was demoralized – because of pay cuts and the fact that they thought their voices were unimportant. I worked closely with them, encouraged them to identify issues they felt passionate and move towards delivering their best work. It worked, and my team felt empowered thereafter.

Managing Male and Female Colleagues

There is a distinct behavioral difference between one particular sort of man and everyone else. I mean, the rather old-fashioned grizzly bear of a man’s man who is inherently sexist and doesn’t believe that women deserve to be in the office at all, let alone in a position of authority. In general though, in my experience, male colleagues are best approached (by women managers) in a collegial way, suggesting more joint control than fiat.

Gender bias is real, and yes, I have not always been able to resolve it. I remember one particular instance when a senior journalist was going to miss a deadline for my Sunday edition. He did not bother informing me till Friday, and when I confronted him, he turned to me and asked, “Is it your time of the month?” I responded by saying that “never mind whether it’s my time of the month, it’s certainly your time of the week to get this story in.” He shut up. Sometimes, though, one just has to let it go and achieve what’s possible, and not waste unnecessary energy on people intent on using gender, or race as an attempt to re-focus the issue away from the story or the deadline.

Nurturing female talent

I really believe in the sisterhood but unfortunately, I don’t think women always see it that way and start to feel jealous of a female protégé’s rise to prominence. My strategy towards talented women colleagues is to empower them to achieve what they really want, while understanding that they may need flexi-time (it doesn’t have to be formal, just a verbal arrangement that allows the job to get done). For example, when I was editor of The Sunday Times of India, I asked the team (there were a lot of women on it) what they really wanted to do and encouraged them to specialize with columns of their own.

Women are not less confident, but they often see it as politic to appear a bit more hesitant than they would naturally be. It’s a fact of life that a supremely confident woman risks being criticized as aggressive and too much “like a man”. There are many academic studies – and much anecdotal evidence – that suggest that women should use emotional intelligence rather than traditional male patterns of management.

I don’t think the glass ceiling will be shattered by tokenism, symbolic gestures or ticking boxes. It’s more about being so damn good (and working twice as hard) that you get to where you should be, and if one doesn’t, then ask the right questions about why not. Ask again. And again. It may not work but at least it doesn’t consign sexist discrimination to the outer margins of the unheard debate.

The best advice I ever received was  - this too shall pass – and I share this with all my colleagues. It’s the Rumi philosophy – however good or bad something is, it will pass. In other words, it’s important to keep things in perspective, and not get derailed by life happening to you.

The three things women at work should never do

Never bawl, never crawl, never stall.

A professional success that you are proud of

When I joined a major daily, I inherited a woman journalist who everyone considered to be a nuisance. She was insecure, protective about her work, and did not seem to be a team player. But I saw a woman fiercely committed to working hard, with the keen observation of a good journalist, and who needed a bit of encouragement and validation of her intelligence. Her success made me proud, and she is one of the finer young journalists in India today.

Is work-life balance a myth or reality?

Work-life balance is a reality but I’ve generally managed it because I’d invested so much in my family that they were prepared to support me wholeheartedly during the times I was consumed by work. But I never wanted to give up my work. It is my mainstay – I live to write. But all along, my family has been the fulcrum of my life. While my parents were alive, my focus was on emotional support for them from far away and maintaining a close and loving relationship despite the distance; raising a daughter with good habits and a good attitude, a fulfilling (and fun) level of togetherness with my husband and remaining engaged with my sister and her family.

A professional choice you wish you had not made

With the clear eye of hindsight – and no chance of a re-run of that old movie of my life – I rather think that every professional choice I made took me forward in the sense of teaching me something new, stretching me and ensuring that I never slackened. That’s what’s important to me – I believe it distinguishes man from other beasts.

How do you unwind?

By reading and writing.

One skill you wish you had developed in your career

Taking regular sabbaticals to write creatively.

Things that make you smile!

Completing ‘The Pomegranate Peace’, my novel on the absurdity of American efforts to re-build Afghanistan. Till then, I never thought I could.

Reading its reviews, particularly the one in The Huffington Post, made me smile - a lot!

Your wishlist

I want to write creatively, switching the news to a background noise rather than the soundtrack of my life. I think that is where I want to be in the next few months and years – writing a book, writing many books!

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