As women’s day approaches, I am already being engaged in many celebrations organized in companies across India. I love to attend these events this time of the year, anchoring a discussion or participating in panels because I learn so much by interacting with other women. In these discussions, there are always a few questions which stand out. These questions do not have easy answers but it is in the dialogue that surrounds these questions that one finds value.
1) How hard is it to make it to the top? Can I do it?
Many women at junior or middle levels perceive reaching the top as a very difficult journey. Once they make it to the top, with their consistent hard work, many women leaders look back and actually realize that it was not as tough as they had perceived it to be. There has been a lot of research on what is called ‘confidence gap’ in women professionals, which means that the perception of readiness for the next role is lower for women than men. A man will tend to feel ‘ready’ for the next role versus a woman, even if he is are at the same experience and skill level.
2) What are the tradeoffs that I will need to make? Is it all worth it?
Many women as they grow in their career get also caught up in this internal conundrum of what sacrifices they will have to make and will it all be worth it eventually. In the Indian context specifically I have seen this question being very relevant as there is a fear of ‘losing’ something one has if one continues to aspire higher. For example, the dialogue goes something like this, “If I am successful, what if my career goes faster than my husband’s, is it worth it?” or “What if I need to travel a lot, will I lose touch with my children? Is it worth it?” It is in the question that one can find the answer. So the question needs to be answered differently if one aspires to grow “How am I going to try and keep what I have and value, while I achieve my career objectives?” There lies the path of keeping what is dear to you while you grow up the ladder.
3) How does one create a supportive environment at home? I don’t have it.
This is how the story goes: there is a couple having an argument at home and the wife tells the husband, that when he comes home, he comes with sense of entitlement whereas, when she gets home, she comes with a sense of apology and guilt. Many heads always nod when this situation is shared. Regardless of your current environment at home, some people are luckier than others in having a naturally supportive environment, but others have to work to make it happen. What one can see among these women leaders is their sense of control and balance in making it happen. They have come to realize that sometimes there will be compromises on both sides, be it personal or professional. The key is not to fail the right person on the wrong day. It is about talking those choices and staying at peace with them.
4) As women, we don’t ask enough for ourselves. Is that correct?
This is the typical situation where women work very hard and expect the organization to notice, recognize and reward that commitment and effort with career growth. Well it does not happen like that and there are two serious reasons why it does not happen. First, when one works hard without asking for more, it signals that they are satisfied and happy with the current situation. The other reason is that women find it difficult to articulate their will. They seldom plan these conversations and more often than not, when these conversations happen, it is not the right time or the right way. If one starts the conversation with a lot of pent up frustration from waiting, sometimes the anger and discontent comes out clearly and the conversation is not as professional and structured as your manager would want it to be. So plan these conversations, don’t feel scared to have them (the worse that can happen is that your manager may say not now), don’t keep it inside you (as it will eventually come out) and show the right signals that you are ready for the next move.
5) What advice will you give to your younger self?
This is a question I personally love because there is always so much wisdom in all the answers that I have heard. Many are around the idea of not taking things so seriously, or not to over worry (as simple as it may sound) as things always get simpler after some few days or weeks. This is something I have experienced in many examples related to life changing moments in a women’s professional life; what looks impossible to cope with, in a matter of day’s starts looking more feasible; that realization really helps overcome obstacles because suddenly the feeling is familiar and hence one learns to overcome it.
Questions are a great source of wisdom as they bring women and men together to dialogue. They bring the fears, the ghosts and the challenges out in the open and are the starting points of new possibilities. In 2015, as you celebrate women’s day at your workplace, what are the great questions you have heard? Share them and become a part of the conversation.