Men need to share power for women to be empowered
‘I got my own back.’ - Maya Angelou. These words hold true not just for the legend who said this, but for a lot of us, especially women. I was 21 years old when I travelled abroad for the first time for higher studies at a top Ivy League school. I had also recently got married. I learnt quickly that balancing my personal life and my commitment to my studies in order to get a good job was going to be challenging. I’m listing a few key learnings from my journey that might be of use to other women facing similar challenges.
1. Stick to your guns and believe in yourself
I started my career on Wall Street at the age of 22. I was lucky to have role models at work. Strong, determined and successful women, who were pursuing careers in areas they were truly passionate about. They were meticulous about work, multi-tasked rigorously and set a striking pace for accomplishing results. Sadly, they were often stereotyped as ‘too strong’ or ‘bossy’ while fun loving ones were labeled as ‘easy going’ and unambitious. I also noticed that women worked twice as hard as their male counterparts to ensure a seat at the table, both at work and at home. This taught me the importance of sticking to your guns, being who you are and doing what you believe is right. I also realized early on that as we multitasked, it was okay to settle for a good 90% outcome rather than always aiming for a perfect score in everything.
2. Play to your strengths
Both women and corporates have a role to play in accelerating pay parity. In the corporate world, it’s important that companies look at women board directors in the true spirit of diversity and not mere tokenism.
History is populated with women breaking stereotypes and redefining the discourse on gender narratives by just focusing on what they’re good at and being unstoppable. Recent examples include India's first woman full-time Finance Minister-Nirmala Sitharaman, India’s first-ever woman to fly MiG-21 solo, Avani Chaturvedi, the first woman to score a double hundred in Test Cricket, Mithali Raj, or Muthayya Vanitha, one of the major players in the Chandrayaan 2 launch, they have each contributed in a major way to their respective fields. This is only possible when we believe in ourselves, identify what drives us and then pursue our goals relentlessly, with tenacity and determination.
3. Build a strong support system that includes men
The battle for gender equality must start at home, in our schools, playgrounds and continue in the boardroom. Like any movement, we can only be successful if we proactively engage with and build allies with key stakeholders. While women need to support and mentor other women, men are equally important in the journey for gender equality. Like us, they’re also subjected to years of patriarchal conditioning and need to be sensitised to a better way. As a board member of various organisations, I always engage with men proactively and have those corridor conversations to understand their positions and share information with them about the challenges faced by women. Our success lies in our ability to build a dialogue that avoids constructing ‘us vs. them’ positions.
The battle for gender equality must start at home, in our schools, playgrounds and continue in the boardroom. Like any movement, we can only be successful if we proactively engage with and build allies with key stakeholders.
4. Stand up and speak up for yourselves.
If not us, who will? There’s enough research to prove that organisations with higher levels of diversity and more women in leadership positions perform better. According to the latest Monster Salary Index survey, women in India earn 19% less than men, reflecting the high gender pay gap in our country. This problem persists across the world and women still struggle to establish basic pay parity. In fact, the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report estimates it will be another 217 years before we achieve gender parity.
Both women and corporates have a role to play in accelerating pay parity. In the corporate world, it’s important that companies look at women board directors in the true spirit of diversity and not mere tokenism. We could start with declaring the same pay scale for both men and women, redraft job descriptions that eliminate gender bias and redesign policies that make the workplace more inclusive.
As women, we need to be more confident in our abilities and our decisions. Be more assertive. Ask for what we want. If we want the world to take us seriously, we need to start with taking ourselves more seriously.
And above all else, stop compromising for everyone else. Be you, the world will adjust.
Vaishali Nigam Sinha is the Chief Sustainability, CSR and Communication Officer at ReNew Power. The views expressed are the author's own.