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Women's Day

The empowered women: Making her mark on her own terms

“We don’t grow when things are easy, we grow when we have challenges to face, ” says Meghna Ghai Puri with a profound conviction and resounding wisdom. Being the daughter of the biggest showman in Bollywood Subhash Ghai, if she had wanted she could have chosen to go straight to success and easy rise to fame, but she chose the opposite route which took her through a lot of learning and experience.

After acquiring her education and skills from London and a brief stint of working abroad, she returned to India with dreams in her eyes to fulfill the wish of her father to build the best film school in the world, and that is what she has done today. There are ten best film schools in the world according to The Hollywood Reporter, and Whistling Woods is one of them. 

The president of Whistling Woods International (WWI), Meghna Ghai Puri, believes it is her responsibility to develop the careers of her students, structure the Media and Entertainment industry, while mentoring the WWI workforce as well. As Meghna has endured a challenging journey, she was initially intimidated by obstacles; however, as time passed on, it became clear to her that she was learning more from them than she could ever have imagined. According to Meghna, “We’re always blazing the trail to innovation, so challenges always lead to new and exciting opportunities”. I had the pleasure of sitting down for an insightful conversation with Meghna regarding her journey to success, the challenges she faced, maintaining a work-life balance, and the challenges she sees for women in the field she works in. In addition to pointing out the problems, she also offered solutions.

Q. Can you describe some of the challenges you faced along your career path? How did you deal with them?

“We don’t grow when things are easy; we grow when we face challenges.” And an institute like Whistling Woods International had the good fortune to have many such opportunities to grow. Initially, challenges would intimidate me, I would get anxious at the outset of any adversity – however, over time I realized how much these same challenges have taught me and helped me grow. Being the President of an Institution that is unique in each and every way meant, we are always trailblazing our way to innovation, so challenges always lead to opportunities. Our biggest challenge at the start was creating an institute of such a magnitude that was unique not just for India but for the world. We wanted to create an institute entirely dedicated to the media and creative arts industry, tutored by industry experts to ensure our students are not just Job-ready by industry-ready too. But the even bigger challenge is to keep abreast with growing and latest trends in an industry as dynamic as ours. For instance, not just staying in sync but staying ahead of times, with technological advancements. Being an educational institution, we have embraced this challenge and are always striving to stay ahead of time. Students associate with us to attain an education that will enable them to carve their niche in the industry; hence, it becomes very crucial for us to stay ahead of times with new technologies, ways of working and new academic advancements as well.

Apart from this we have overcome several other challenges like creating awareness regarding the need for formal education to create a successful career in the media and entertainment landscape. Also finding and retaining good faculty is a challenge in an industry like ours. Over the past 16 years, we have grown as a premier institution with our students imbibing knowledge through industry experts and international faculty. I, too, have grown immensely as a person, and as an educator by gaining immense learning in various facets of operating a business 
and an institution from architecture, landscaping, business development, marketing etc. I am extremely proud and glad that we at Whistling Woods International could take our founder’s vision and are taking it to newer heights with every year that goes by.

Q. Can you identify any pressing issues you face as a woman in the workplace or society that should be put on a top priority list?

I did face issues like everyone else does but I was fortunate to have a great support system who also was there to lift me up and believe in me. The industry 20 years ago was more male-dominated than now and my endeavor as a woman leader was to ensure that our Institute is inclusive and is balanced when it comes to gender. Women will always face the glass ceiling as we choose to do something different with our lives like starting a family. Men too start a family but they don’t necessarily need to take a break from their careers to do so. I encourage all men and women who work with me to equally distribute the responsibility, so neither of them has to sacrifice when it comes to their careers. I believe if we as women can find a way to feel less guilty and own our careers and family life equally, we would be able to break through the
existing glass ceiling. I truly believe women have an amazing quality to be able to do it all. They decide to. And with the conducive work environment – I am certain they can achieve that and much more. The key to this is to see education become more democratized and workplaces to empower women with equal opportunities and equal pay.

Q. How do you maintain a work-life balance as an entrepreneur?

When we laid the foundation stone for Whistling Woods International, we had to execute several responsibilities to manifest our dream into reality. Just within a year of us starting WWI I got pregnant with my first baby. I was determined to be an example of a working mom to many who looked up to me then and hence I worked till my 9th month and was back in work after a short 2-month maternity break. I was fortunate that I could bring my baby to work with me and have a great support system. Yes, there were days when I broke down too or felt overwhelmed by challenges on both fronts but it is then when I learned that it is not important to find the perfect work-life balance. It’s important to find a balance within you – that way you are able to take better decisions and even if you drop the ball, you forgive yourself and move on quicker. Over time as a leader, I learned that I must empower my teams at the institute and let them experience a sense of ownership. Not only did that lead to a seamless relationship but interoperability among departments allowed me to create a better balance in my life too. I encourage each member of my team to take holidays or days off to spend time with family and
that is how we are all able to achieve a better work-life balance together.

Q. In 2022, women are still facing the following issues. How do you see them?

Body Shaming: 
We are a gift from nature and should accept each other sans any inhibitions. I believe in healthy living. It is important to stay fit and exercise regularly to keep the body and mind healthy. However, success cannot be determined by the way we look or what shape we are in. We are recognized for the work we do and that defines us. Shaming someone for the way they look or their weight is the worst and leads to immense emotional damage for the person at the receiving end. We must speak up and correct those who even casually or as a joke make comments on someone’s appearance. It’s time we changed the way we think, act and move away from stereotypes that look down upon people and discourage them from pursuing their goals and ambitions. 

The age gap between girls and their husbands:
Once again, I feel these are stereotypes of the past and in 2022 we really don’t need to be the judge of other people and the lives they live. It’s their decision who they marry when they marry and I urge every section of our society to support each one in their decisions. By discouraging women and controlling how they lead their lives we are taking away the essence of womanhood from them and pulling them back from excelling in their respective fields. 

Reservation for women in politics is still a far cry:

While a lot has changed over the decades, women all around the world at every socio-political level still find themselves to be under-presented in politics and distant from several decision-making levels. Women who want to enter politics often discover that the social, political, and cultural environments are consistently hostile towards them. Attempts to pass reservation bills for women have faced many obstacles. However, there are many women role models in politics now, so I am hoping more and more young women decide to take this path if they are passionate about it. Women’s active participation in politics alone would facilitate women-oriented laws and more significantly, see to their implementation, which would truly be wonderful for our country.

Meghna Ghai Puri, The president of Whistling Woods International (WWI)

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Divya Khanna is the youngest member of the team, with a background in political science. She has joined High on persona print magazine in order to gain hands-on experience in various aspects of editorial coordination as associate editor of the magazine and news site. She has a penchant for writing and enjoys meeting new people and interviewing celebrities. She has a passion for writing, she has an eye for details, loves traveling, and a quick learner. She comes from the Mecca of Indian Journalism, Delhi.
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