By now you know that collaboration is something we keep returning to at Dysco (you can read our other recent feature on collaboration here). It is one of our founding values. As part of a special series where we deep dive into our favorite collaborations between people and businesses, we are thrilled to present this latest interview chock-full of practical advice and philosophical insights in equal measure. Meet Christina MacGillivray who is an award-winning filmmaker and journalist from Minnesota, but has been living in Delhi for the last ten years. She is the founder of Mummy Daddy Media. And we have Aditi Mittal who is a writer, director and one of India's best-known standup comedians. She has starred in two Netflix specials and multiple successful global shows. The duo host the popular Women In Labour Podcast which explores a host of topics related to women, work, family, power, all inspired by the statistic that since 2005, the percentage of Indian women in paid work has dropped from 35% to less than 24%. We got on a socially-distanced call (because that's how you do things now) with Christina, who has been living in lockdown with her family for the last two months, and Aditi in Mumbai, on how this collaboration came to be and their biggest takeaways from it. The mutual fondness they have for each other and the team is immediately palpable over the call and is evident even when you listen to them on the podcast. "Aditi makes our podcast light and bright," said Christina about her co-host and "She is infuriatingly thorough," added Aditi with a smile. Edited excerpts of the interview:
How did the Women In Labour project take off?
Christina MacGillivray: Laura (Quinn), who co-created the podcast with me and now takes care of strategy at WIL, and I first came up with this idea together. Both of us have lived in India for 10 years each on average. At this point it seems like we know India pretty well, but, obviously, when you’re an import you can only know a country so much. We both ran businesses in India for about six years and we used to have weekly breakfast meetings that we cheekily called Nashta ki Entrepreneurship where we used to get together once a week and try and figure out how to make things happen as women entrepreneurs doing business in a foreign country. So we had first heard about this drop in women’s participation in the labour force in India about a year ago and we decided to do something about it.
Aditi Mittal: I think I influenced the fact that this should be a podcast. I was like, 'Listen- I, whose whole job is to be in front of an audience and make jokes, get conscious the moment a camera is thrust in my face. If you are going to have the kind of unselfconscious conversations we were planning to have with all these women, it should happen through the medium of voice.'
How did the two of you (Christina and Aditi) find each other and how was the rest of the WIL team assembled?
CM: I had just finished directing the UN’s first stand up comedy festival in Geneva, Switzerland around the topic of migration.That’s when I decided that we should use comedy to investigate and tell the serious story of women and work. I just left a text for Aditi (after learning that she is one of the best known names in Indian stand-up comedy) on Facebook never expecting her to respond. She responded immediately and said, “Let’s talk.” Aditi and I have very different and yet complementary styles. The fusion between a comedic and a journalistic approach is really interesting. Comedy is also very ingrained in a place and Aditi has really brought that to the table. As for the rest of the team, Laura and I put out job descriptions and we were overwhelmed with the responses we got. So now we also have on our team Maanya Sachdeva who takes care of marketing, Sonakshi Chaudhry who makes sure everything is thoroughly researched and all the facts are checked and Nandita Gupta who is our creative producer.
AM: Christina wrote to me on Facebook and it went to the ‘others’ section of the chat. I was suspicious because here was a person using a photo of a strikingly beautiful white woman asking me if I was interested in co-hosting a podcast about women in the workforce—I really thought it was a man trolling me! But she was persistent and we eventually talked about it and I was hooked.
The Women In Labour team
Could you give us an insight into your collaborative process?
CM: Let’s talk about zeroing in our guests for instance. We started with putting down the questions we had about the situation. Is it power dynamics in the workplace? Is it how women are socialised? Is it unpaid work at home? We came up with 10 such questions, put it up on a board and then together arrived at who would potentially be the best people to answer these questions. We have a diverse group of guests because we did that process as a team. Everybody brought a different perspective on who the guests should be. Similarly, post production where a conversation spanning an hour-and-a-half is edited down to 22 minutes is also a collaborative process. The team gives feedback collaboratively on what parts of the conversation are to be retained and what needs to go.
That sounds really rewarding. What would you, therefore, say are the unsaid rules of collaboration?
CM: I think there are two big ones:
1. Having faith in the team: Everyone comes at this with different strengths and you’re just so much better if you can trust that everybody brings their best to this.
2. Creating a great environment where people feel encouraged to bring their best ideas. I hope to do that on any project I am working on and with any team I am part of.
AM: I have two more to add to that:
3. It’s okay to not know everything and admit it, especially when you’re working collaboratively with other people in a team. In a male dominated stand-up world I’ve always had to assert my presence by pretending to know it all.
4. It’s totally okay to let someone else take the lead in areas they specialise in. For instance when it came to design I was happy for the others to jump in— it’s something I am not great at.
Aditi and Christina take a break
One of things we often discuss at Dysco is that when it comes to collaborations and teams, how do you ensure that everyone involved benefits in the course of the project? That people’s individual goals are met?
CM: It’s important to acknowledge that for everyone on the team the project is temporary. It is part of someone’s career and trajectory. So one thing I try to ask myself is ‘what would the best next steps be for that person? What is their dream?’ I try to think about what can we integrate into the podcast that could help further that? Whether that is writing op-eds or an interest doing podcasts more longterm, whatever it may be. And in my experience the project only benefits from that.
If you look back on this time a few months or years from now, what do you think will come to mind first? How do you think you will remember your time working on Women In Labour and with Aditi?
CM: I can think of so many times in the studio when Aditi would have us in stitches. There’s so much tape of us having fun together and going completely off-topic with our discussions. Another thing I have fun memories of is that we’d have these long recording days and outside of the studio time, we’ll all be of us just sitting on the floor of the studio sharing things about our personal lives— it is this kind of genuine friendship that informed the whole project.
AM: I remember this one time we were all set for an interview and power went off in the studio.We couldn't lose the recording day so we packed ourselves into two rickshaws and quickly moved to another studio and began recording. It was so much fun!
You may be tired of being asked this, but how have you managed to continue collaborating in the course of this pandemic?
CM: Fortunately-no one has asked me this, just yet. One thing I feel incredibly grateful for is that we wrapped up production right before the lockdown was put into place. We did our interviews from Dec 2019 to March 2020 between Delhi and Mumbai. I am now working out of the US handling post production. We do lot of 8 AM calls which is 6.30PM IST (laughs). I do think in some ways this lockdown will change how we view work generally— it proves that a lot of it can be done decentralised. We’ve been able to keep it going.
You can listen to the Women In Labour podcast on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. If you're interested in collaborating or working with Women In Labour, you can chat with them on Dysco here.