The Versatile Changemaker

Author, leadership coach, facilitator, and entrepreneur Nirupama Subramanian shows how she manages her busy life  

Bindu Gopal Rao

Nirupama Subramanian recently released her second book, “Powerful: The Indian Woman’s Guide to Unlocking Her Full Potential.” It aims to help women grow personally and professionally. And that’s just her most recent achievement.

Looking Back

Subramanian grew up in Delhi and Chennai, an academically oriented achiever in school and college. She enjoyed extra-curricular activities such as debates, theater, essay writing, and creative writing.

“I also learned classical music and Bharatnatyam, but was not great at either,” she says. “I led the normal life of a typical middle-class girl with big dreams. My parents encouraged me and my sister to do well and become financially independent. I knew I wanted to make something significant out of my life. In college I was in the Students’ Union, and I was the cultural secretary in business school. I was sure that I would have a career, but was trying to find my true calling for a long time.”

After her MBA in finance from XLRI, she worked at Citibank but changed tacks to join AchieveGlobal, a firm focused on training and development. She quickly became the general manager.

“That is how I learned to facilitate sessions, and found that I enjoyed this,” Subramanian says. “I set up operations in Delhi from scratch, and found clients and employees. I was running a profit center successfully. This stint made me realize my entrepreneurial abilities and my true calling.”

After her daughter was born, Subramanian took a short break and found freedom and flexibility working as a consultant.

“I also found time to get back to my old love – writing. The articles and stories I wrote at that time lead to my first novel, “Keep the Change,” which became a bestseller in 2010. I realized that I should follow my heart and honor my core values when it comes to my career, rather than just do what is expected by the world.”

Multi-Tasking

Subramanian set up her own practice in 2009 as a leadership development facilitator, and was selected by McKinsey to be a part of the first cohort of external facilitators in India. That gave her great exposure to leadership development and personal transformation.

“I became a certified coach in 2012 since coaching was also an important part of people’s development,” she says. “Since then, I have worked with over 75 organizations and trained and coached more than 25,000 people. My work experience has contributed to my personal growth. I have also found joy and fulfillment in doing the work that I do. I think I have had more impact than I would have had in a conventional corporate career. Sometimes, I can’t believe that it has been 27 years.”

Women First

In 2018, she set up GLOW-Growing Leadership of Women, along with her business partner Aparna because she saw very little female representation in leadership roles, and wanted to do something about it. The company provides personal and professional growth resources for women and helps organizations to create an inclusive and diverse work environment. It was this experience that led to her new book, “Powerful: The Indian Woman’s Guide to Unlocking Her Full Potential.

“Now I am focusing on building the Powerfulife system, which is a unique offering for Indian and South Asian women,” Subramanian says. “I am delighted to offer the first-ever validated assessment for women based on the Six Feminine Powers model that I created. This assessment, along with coaching and workshops, is a comprehensive solution for any woman who wants to invest in her personal growth. My dream is to provide a universal language and resource for any woman to step into her own power.”

Book It

Her first novel, “Keep the Change,” was a fun, lighthearted read, inspired by some of her own experiences as a young woman trying to make it in a foreign bank. But her second novel, “Intermission,” published in 2012, was set in Gurgaon where she currently lives. This is a more serious novel about a mature love story and the lives of different people living in a large condominium. After a gap she started writing more nonfiction, including a column called Women at Work for IBN and shethepeople.tv.

“The research I did for these articles, and my own personal and professional experiences, led to ‘Powerful,.’” Subramanian says “In ‘Powerful,’ I describe the four strategies that have been used to keep women from power for a very long time. We have internalized so many of these beliefs that it is difficult to break the barriers. I saw the wisdom in using archetypes as a way of tapping into our energies. But most of the work in this area has been done with a Western male gaze. I wanted to honor our cultural context and female energy. So, I created the Six Feminine Powers model. We have associated these with certain stereotypes, but I wanted to break the mold and see these as powers. The Six Feminine Powers are Kanya, Apsara, Veera, Rani, Maa and Rishika. In my book, I describe these powers with many examples from our mythology and popular culture. I also share ways to overcome power blocks and harness our powers. It is a power-packed book.”

Power Matters

The Powerfulife assessment is a powerful tool to identify and claim our powers.

“I created this with a psychometrician, and we used a sample size of Indian women across demographics,” Subramanian says. “This is a tool which is valid and reliable statistically. The tool has three versions. The free version gives you the dominant power. I wanted to make the tool accessible to as many women as possible, so the fees are quite minimal. The personal growth version, which is only Rs 1,000, or $12, gives you a comprehensive detailed report on all your powers. There is also a leadership version for women professionals, which gives insights into workplace and leadership behaviors across the six powers.”

Her current plan is to focus on building the Powerfulife system into a scalable, compelling offering for women.

“This is in line with my own purpose of creating a more just and equitable world by enabling gender equality,” Subramanian said. “I am thinking of writing about a version of Powerful for men as well, since many men have been asking about or their unique powers as well.”