At a recent summit I had the opportunity to listen to a mentally stimulating and deeply engaging talk by Dr Kiran Bedi who acronymized (in true Dilli style) the four factors she believes hold women back in leadership- 4 M’s: Mettle, Marriage, Mobility and Motherhood and a 5th: Me was added by Debjani Ghosh of Intel, who was a co-panelist.

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Women grow up with choices in Independent India: to work or not being the primary selection, one that doesn’t exist for men who are preordained to be breadwinners & family providers with no choice but to survive. Honoring a woman’s choice to be happy is Dr Bedi’s recommendation too but for those of us women who chose to pursue our passion and are committed to our professions, what stops us from achieving success in leadership and progressing further?

Also Watch: Debjani Ghosh On India’s Gender Story

Dr. Bedi studied this phenomenon of women disappearing from middle management and above at great length (yes apart from being a retired super cop she is also an academician and has been awarded a doctorate by IIT Delhi’s Department of Social Sciences) and provided the list below basis her academic research and experience.

(An easy share infographic for Social Media is provided below)

1. Mettle:  A woman of mettle has an indomitable spirit to fight the odds, challenge status quo, develop herself despite challenges but remain a fighter who competitively and on merit keeps winning & never gives up.

 Dr. Bedi recounted her own childhood where as a tennis champion she had to wait for a tennis court with slots being reserved for the boys; she didn’t give up but kept fighting and the rest is history – She was the national champion and won many competitions playing professionally.  Dr Bedi talked about sport inculcating a spirit of learning, perseverance,  helping to develop the right attitude & mental strength to deal with loss and learn from it.

A Woman develops her temperament and spirit from overcoming challenges, playing competitive sport, facing tough situations personally/professionally and making failure a sound teacher than an impairment in her personality development.

Leadership is demanding for all genders: those who succeed are mentally tough and know how to handle the pressure to deliver and perform. Women who have proved their mettle will rise to the top and unleash their brilliance in their respective areas of excellence.

2. Marriage – It is a choice but the true test of whether it was a good or a bad one is made with the passage of time. If it is with the right partner it can be the best asset that sets you up for success in your life else it can bring baggage that strains your personal and professional interests. 

Dr Bedi in fact remarked that a Modern woman is not about breaking her marriage but not breaking herself.  Her own marriage is unconventional with she and her husband Mr. Brij Bedi choosing to stay in different cities but it worked for both of them.

The choice to be married or remain married sometimes forces a woman to push boundaries and limits of her own mental and physical wellbeing that also impacts her career moves and progress. Managing baggage is exhausting and takes the focus away from career pursuits. Additional responsibilities from being married have to be taken care of which can be fulfilling but may inhibit meaningful progress also.

Also Watch: Anuranjita Kumar of Citibank on marriage, maternity and mobility

3. Mobility– Leadership positions demand travel to manage teams, meet clients and customers, evangelize the company’s products and services etc but this also means staying away from home and your family for extended periods of time. Sacrificing mobility to prioritize family responsibilities is a dilemma every working parent is confronted with but this is accentuated for women because women are considered primary care providers for children (being naturally better equipped maybe a reason)/elderly parents and in laws.

 Dr. Bedi spoke about her own marriage where she had worked out an arrangement with her husband to pursue her ambitions including staying in different cities which didn’t interfere with her family life as she had a support system in her family and she always had her family to come back home to since she was in Delhi but her husband was in Amritsar

Isn’t it time for men to share the responsibility? Shouldn’t couples work out a system based on their goals, available support system and plan their respective career paths, so that each individual’s career path is prioritized in certain phases with the partner taking a back seat for just that time frame (irrespective of whether it’s a man or woman).

John Donahue (former eBay president) and his wife Eileen worked out their own mobility challenges when Eileen was appointed US Ambassador to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva and John served as the eBay President. John minimized his travel while Eileen moved to Switzerland.  

4. Motherhood – Motherhood was described as the mother of all issues and it couldn’t have been more appropriate. A woman may have all the three influences outlined above ironed out to suit herself but it all comes to a not when a woman becomes a mother and she is either forced into a long break from her career or has to deprioritize her career ambitions to manage new family needs.

Dr Bedi gave the example of her daughter who was raised by two mothers: Dr Bedi and Dr Bedi’s mom who lived with her when she was posted in Delhi in Indian Police Service. Her daughter grew up with family support while Dr. Bedi contibued her progress to becoming India’s top cop and earning recognition from home and abroad.

 Developing a support system to take care of the baby goes a long way to balance career and personal goals. With more companies offering longer paternity leave, this will be the starting point for fathers to take on a more active role in their children’s parenting and share this responsibility with their wife

5. Me –Debjani added a 5th M to the list which is focusing on the person who she is, becoming the best version of herself to work and having the belief to make things happen. Debjani gave her example of being the only girl in her household with many brothers where she never felt like she couldn’t do something just because she was a girl. Debjani attributed her success to her father who always egged her on to do whatever she wanted and had set her mind on. Having solid conviction and strong belief in your own abilities is a must for women to achieve what they want. The question to be asked is: do you want to do something?

So what do you think ladies? Which factors have impacted you and how have you overcome them? I would love to hear from you -Post any feedback or question you have in the comment box below, or tweet to me @jasuja on Twitter.

About the author: Monica Jasuja is a Payments Ninja specializing in Digital Payments Initiatives to further India’s progress as a less cash dependent economy. She is a Product Strategist with work experience in 4 geographies globally and brings knowledge and firsthand experience of designing, developing products with the wow factor. This article expresses her personal views, and not those of any of her employers—past, present or future. Monica is available on Twitter: @jasuja