Preeti Singh, India Editor at Houzz | Mumbai, India
Monika: I'm Monika Samtani at The Fem Word and we’re excited to be in India with the amazing Preeti Singh. She was the founding editor for two magazines at Times of India: BBC Knowledge and Home & Design TRENDS. At that time she spearheaded the TRENDS Excellence Awards for Architecture and Design, now one of India’s key design awards. She has been a photojournalist traveling the country covering human interest stories and is now the Country Editor of Houzz India, Preeti, you've broken that glass ceiling and made it to the top in India with Houzz. I feel like there's been a shift in the last few years and women are coming together, joining hands, and speaking up about gender inequality. What do our priorities need to be to keep up that momentum?
Preeti Singh: Well there is a lot of conversation now that's going on about gender inequality and what we need to do to correct it in India. That's partly because we see a greater kind of participation of women in the workforce.
Monika: What needs to be done moving forward? What do the priorities need to be to keep up the momentum and actually create change to close the gender equality gap?
Preeti Singh: Keeping this momentum going and talking about gender inequality starts with women, and together we need to keep speaking up. We need to speak out. That's a very essential feature of it. Fortunately in the workforce between the age group of 20 to 35, statistics show a greater participation of Indian women now, in various kinds of industries. They are much more aggressive. They are becoming an ambitious. They are taking on more roles. I think what would help is staying vocal about issues that they're facing at the workplace. To want to say that, "I’ll somehow manage this and it'll be okay," is not going to work. You'll have to speak up so that conditions are okay for the person who's coming up next to you as well.
Monika: Why do you feel that females advocate for each other? Why do you feel that it's happening more today? And why is that so much more important today?
Preeti Singh: Females are advocating for other women and it is on the rise. And I think it's a fantastic thing that's happening. I think women are finally tasting some of the power in the workplace that they should have had a long time ago and they feel the need to help propagate that further. They see the value in that, and now they're realizing that they need to be champions for other women. We're paving the way for other women, and perhaps it would come back to me and help me in an issue that I might face as a woman in the workplace. I think more and more women are realizing that, and it's a very good thing.
Monika: Take us on a journey of your career path. How did you get to this position? What empowered you to do this?
Preeti Singh: So my career, a lot of people would say it's very checkered. Earlier I used to think that's a weakness, but now I've come to see it as a strength because in the process, in figuring out what I want to do, and I keep wanting to do a lot of things. My professional career will not end with me being an editor. I used to be a photographer. I gave up writing for a big period of time. I went and studied, because that's what I wanted to do.
I went away from this Delhi, Bombay culture of magazines and the kind of high gloss, and I went to small villages and photographed those things. Then I decided I wanted to come back and get back into writing. At some point of time I decided that architecture and design was calling, and this was fueled by my huge curiosity for visual arts. I made the change professionally to go into that bit, and I started editing magazines which were of architecture and design, and of course Houzz, which is specifically on home improvement and design. So I started as a writer, took a break, became a photographer, and came back into writing. But then I changed my focus from general stories to specifically architecture and design, and this happened in Delhi and in Bombay.
Monika: There must of been someone along the way who empowered you. Is there is a role model that you have?
Preeti Singh: A part of the reason that I'm doing today would be credited to my father. Starting very early on he never considered me lesser. Actually, he thought that I could do much more than than his son. For example, if guests had to be driven somewhere, I'm the one who was supposed to drive them. Why should it be my brother? From a small choices like that starting from home life, I was not considered less. I was not considered incapable of anything. In fact, I was expected to do much more than than my brother or the younger cousins that I saw around. My father in small ways gave me inspiration, and he told me that I could do anything.
Monika: What's your hope for women and girls in leadership positions in India today?
Preeti Singh: I really hope women leaders in India understand and realize that they are very fortunate. It's taken a long time to get there. I say to anybody, if you're traveling on a plane and there's a woman pilot, sit back and relax because you know she's worked much harder to get there, and she's much more efficient than the male pilot that could be there. All the women leaders who've gotten to that position have worked really hard to get where they are, and it's a very privileged position. What I would say to them is expand your group and help other women to reach that point, because they're very few in number. We need our voices heard. The world needs to be a better place, and it's not at this point of time because your voice is missing. Do what you can, to inspire and to help other women be like you.
Monika: What motivates you and the decisions you make every day?
Preeti Singh: What motivates me is that I have this thirst for knowledge. Even if I've taken on a project or a target which I'm not quite sure how to achieve, I want to know how to do that very well. If it means learning something from the start, I'm fortunate I have the energy to do it. I want to do it. My motivation would be that if I've taken on something, I want to do it really, really well.
Monika: What does being powerful mean to you?
Preeti Singh: I think for me, what it means to be powerful is to have thought through a problem. Once I've thought through that problem, to be able to present it clearly so that someone else understands that problem as I see it as well is powerful. It means communicating very clearly and consistently and passing on the significance of that particular issue to somebody else. I think if somebody is able to do that, if somebody is able to make someone else empathize with anything, I think that's a moment of power. When you're able to communicate with somebody very clearly, and they understand exactly where you're coming from and vice versa is a very powerful thing.
Monika: Tell us about a moment in your life when you felt powerful?
Preeti Singh: I felt very powerful when I earned my first 5,000 rupees as a 17 year old writer. I was doing two bachelor degrees. I just started doing two bachelor degrees, and I'd taken up a writer's job at this fantastic Delhi magazine. I had worked there because they make the newcomers work really hard. That first month had been terrible for me, and I kept on wondering why am I doing this? And that first time when I got my 5,000 rupees was fantastic. Having that financial freedom was very liberating, and I think everybody should experience that.