She was a little girl when she wrote in her class essay that she wants to grow up and become a lawyer. In 2015 she became the only lawyer to be featured in India Inc’s Rising Women Leaders list.
Vinati Kastia is a dreamer who dared to make her dream come true. She is a Senior Partner M&A at AZB Partners, one of India’s top corporate law firms.
“I come from a conservative Gujarati family where advance education had not been a priority for women let alone have a career. My parents were really taken aback when I expressed my desire to study further and have a career,” remembers Vinati.
“The family was also going through some tough times financially and paying for my education was a real struggle. But we somehow managed and I got my law degree from the National Law School, Bangalore,” she adds.
Even though she is very independent minded and strong willed, one thing Vinati doesn’t like is, going against the people she loves. “I like them all to be on the same page as me. Sometimes it takes a while to convince them to my point of view but eventually I manage that and only then do I proceed.’’
Despite her father’s apprehensions about her academic and career aspirations, he never stopped Vinati from doing what she wanted to do. In fact, he even urged her to go to one of the best law schools in the country once she had made up her mind to do law. “He never thought I would pass the all India entrance exam,’’ she says mischievously.
“Law school was a whole new world for me. I went from a conservative and protected environment to a campus which was a melting pot of ideas and ideals. The debates and dissent broadened my horizons.’’
“I met my soul-mate in the very first year of college, who later went on to become my husband. We came from completely different backgrounds. His father was a civil servant and his mother a teacher and a professional dancer. He always told me that sky is the limit for you. Do whatever you want. He has a beautiful mind and has always been the wind beneath my wings,’’ shares Vinati with a smile.
After she graduated, she and her husband decided to settle in Bangalore but she wasn’t able to get the right job opportunities. “Things were not working out for me in Bangalore and when my husband realized that he decided that we should move to Delhi,” she explains.
Soon after the move, she joined Amarchand Mangaldas a leading corporate law firm in Delhi in 1996. “I wanted to do litigation and argue my cases in court. Here I got the opportunity to work with both Mr Shardul Shroff and his wife Mrs Pallavi Shroff. I used to assist Mrs Shroff in litigation but started helping with some corporate work during the court holidays. It was during that time that Mr Shroff convinced me to continue working on the corporate non litigation side. Even though I loved doing litigation, I also started enjoying corporate non litigation work immensely,’’ she avers.
Always a hard worker and extremely focused Vinati became a partner at Amarchand Mangaldas at the age of 31. She joined AZB Partners in 2004 as a partner and has risen to be a senior partner in the ensuing years.
“I was very lucky to have amazing mentors, starting from Mr Shardul and Mrs Pallavi Shroff to Mr Ajay Bahl, who is the co- founding member of AZB.’’
“I do a lot of mentoring now. I have mentored a few students who did the Young India Fellowship started by Ashoka University and one of the students took up law as a career and will be joining my team in August,’’ she further adds.
Although she says that more women lawyers in India make it to partnership and management levels as compared to the larger international firms, yet it has not always been easy for her to be in a profession dominated by men.
“Well there were instances where I would be the only female present in an all male room and I have heard my share of sexist and derogatory comments. Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether men do it deliberately or inadvertently so I give them, the benefit of doubt,’’ she smiles.
“To be honest I have never felt unequal to men simply because
I do not think I am. And I think instead of gender equality we should speak of a genderless society where things are based on merit and competence. Gender should not be a card to be played as and when required,’’ she says firmly.
“Sometimes working women try to do everything themselves right from having a job, to raising their kids and looking after their homes. They need to strike a balance and they need to encourage their male companions to share responsibilities at home instead of aspiring to be “super women” or “super moms”. We need to create a whole eco-system that allows all working members in a family, be it man or woman, to balance things out.’’
“In fact, when my first baby arrived I was ready to give up my regular working hours to be a more hands on mother but my friends, family and colleagues dissuaded me and I continued to work full-time with their support and help. By the time the second one arrived, I had created an eco-system of help and support around me which was very important,’’ she advises.
She has been named a rising woman leader, what qualities should a leader have?
“A leader should always be open to criticism. I have been fortunate to have colleagues and friends, who have been open with me and it has helped me evolve as a person. So, being a leader is to be in a constantly fluid state and not be static and stagnant with your mindset,” says the rising leader.
It is not all work that occupies Vinati. She is an avid sports person who plays tennis, loves swimming and has a small cycling group. And when she is not doing any of those activities she is busy baking cakes for her children and friends. “My life has never been more balanced,’’ she says with a grin.
Her mantra is live in this moment. Don’t plan too much. Don’t have too many rules. Don’t stress yourself and always be open to new things and ideas.
Rohini Sharma is a former journalist who has worked with leading print and electronics media groups. She is currently associated with environmental communication.