The Gender (Un) Bias – It’s all about perspective!
As all little girls’ dreams do, mine constantly changed as well.
My earliest memory is of me as an 8 year old. My father was posted at the Indian embassy in Paris. We were there for a little more than 3 years. I was deeply influenced by Mary Lou Retton – a gymnast who won a gold medal at the 1984 Olympic games. I wanted to become a gymnast like her.
I also remember wanting to become an architect at one point. Before I knew it, the glamour of being a commercial pilot became my new dream. However, ever since I can remember, my primary goal in life was to become successful. And that hasn’t changed, ever.
On being ambitious
Right from my childhood, I knew that I wanted to work. I don’t ever remember a time when I didn’t feel that unrelenting drive to be a successful working woman. True, interests varied along the way, but I remained undeterred. Based on my experience, I firmly believe that one is the average of the five people they spend the most amount of time with. I was fortunate that during my formative years, my immediate peer group consisted of people who shared a similar drive to be self-made.
While I wasn’t academically brilliant, I knew right before college that the field of advertising and marketing was my calling. During my MBA, I constantly seized every single opportunity that came my way in this field. I proactively worked on several projects with many advertising agencies.
Being a girl who was brought up in a middle class family in India, it is no surprise that my parents were worried about sending me to a new city to begin work. Despite them coming from a traditional mind-set, my persistence made them eventually give me the freedom to live my dreams.
On changing perspective
There is a plenty of on-going conversation regarding intangible barriers in the corporate world in the context of women rising to the top. However, I was fortunate that through my stint in the agency as well as the corporate world, to have not faced these barriers.
Today, there is growing emphasis on putting the right people in the right place. The focus is on aptitude, skills and intellect. I think it is important for a woman to focus on developing these characteristics and fight to keep gender out of the equation. This would earn them the right attitude to break through the proverbial glass ceiling.
A considerable number of studies depict a gender gap in senior leadership across sectors. Today’s reality is that this gap exists not because of gender disparity, but due to a lack of a proportional pool of successors at every level. If a woman has the drive to succeed, the ability to sustain and actually makes the decision to do so, then she automatically joins the pool of successors where the only comparative context is one’s ability to perform and lead.
On women rising
So what is required of a good leader?
Business, strategy and financial acumen, self-confidence, the ability to engage others, negotiation skills and of course, the drive to succeed. The first thing I always kept in mind is that these requirements remain the same for both men and women. The second is that leadership has to manifest at every level.
A common thread that can be seen across stories of successful women leaders is that none of them ever felt encumbered by their gender. None of them used gender as a basis to set standards for themselves. They all looked up and ignored the glass ceiling. Their focus was, and has always remained, on doing whatever it takes to succeed.
I have not had one single mentor through my career but have been fortunate to learn from several of my bosses and super bosses. I have kept an open mind to learn and grow all through my career and still continue to do the same everyday. In the beginning of my career, the mentoring I received was more in the areas of execution. However, in the recent years, it has been more about strategic growth.
I remember in my early years of advertising how one of my bosses told me during the appraisal that I should be hounding her and not the other way round. She insisted that I should consider her as one of my resources to take my work forward everyday. Before that I used to wait for her to follow up with me on key activities and their progress. Post that one conversation, I ensured she never had a chance to follow up and I kept her on her toes.
Another incident, at a later stage in my career once I started having a team reporting to me, one of my bosses told me “my job as a boss is to make myself redundant”. That advice stays with me even today. It is constantly my mission to make myself redundant and empower my team members with the right knowledge and skills for them to grow. This inevitably leads to my growth too as I can then take on larger tasks.
The way I function with my teams is to set the right expectations in time. I get involved in the planning process and ensure I add value at that stage. From then on, the team is empowered to take forward and execute the plans as per their individual working style. I stay on top of things through regular reviews against the initial plan. I also ensure that I am always available and accessible to my team to help them overcome any hurdles they may face to achieve their goals.
On striking the perfect balance
Work has always been an integral part of my life and adds immense meaning to it. My work adds to my self-confidence and is the reason I get out of bed every day. So when I became a mother, I thought my priorities would change. And they have, without any compromise on my work.
It took a combination of things to achieve that balance in my life. Right from ensuring I took complete time off right in the beginning to spend time with my child, and then learning to trust my partner to take care of her when I had to come to work. Today, I have two reasons to wake up in the morning. One may be considerably more important to me, but neither gets in the way of the other.
The conversation around work-life balance today is more relevant to an emerging millennial mind-set rather than being confined to a gender driven agenda. Whether it is in the case of a working parent who wants to spend time with his/ her child, a youngster who wants to have a social life or a senior level executive who wants to develop his hobbies, there is a growing need to find that perfect balance between work and life.
On sailing through those inevitable life stages
Organizations are aligning their HR policies to today’s reality; partners are becoming more progressive and supportive. If you change your perspective, you will be on the lookout for what works best with what you want from life.
Life choices aren’t black and white anymore. It’s just about making a decision and owning it. Whether you decide to work, marry, have kids and not work, do all three at the same time; it is your decision. Look for the grey and define your own colour.
On being a mother, and a leader
Today, I head the marketing operations for national brand in one the country’s iconic lifestyle companies. I get to work on something I love and mentor a team of 6 youngsters. More importantly, today I am the mother a charming little girl who is just 4 years old.
In my perspective, whether we live in a (corporate) world of equal opportunity or not, it is up to a woman to seize the ones that come her way and achieve her dream. Gender bias is a mental perspective that hinders self-confidence and growth. Own your decisions, and get a seat at the table. The only person, who can enable or hinder this, is you.
The one piece of advice I would want to give to the girls today, is best articulated in a phrase by Kiran Bedi, “It is every girl’s responsibility to explore the opportunities available to her.”
I remember hearing these words for the first time when I was 12. I have believed in them ever since.
– Submitted for the Women in Leadership Contest.