Enabling gender diversity through adversity
Feminism manifests itself in different ways. Some do it by taking to social media and starting discourses, while others do it by rising against odds, and setting examples for others, in their spheres of influence. Lorraine Rodrigues (Country General Manager, Fidelity India) belongs to the latter category. She has had a remarkable journey in her career thus far, battling several challenges, and emerging victorious each time. On the occasion of Women’s Day, Ester Martinez (Founder and Editor-In-Chief, People Matters Media) interviewed her to discuss the future prospects of women in business, and about the points of inflexion in her life. Here are some excerpts from the interview:
As a woman leader, you bring a different perspective into the agenda of gender diversity and inclusion. On one hand, we have several research reports suggesting that there is a correlation between gender diversity and business performance. But on the other hand, the reality is that organizations (especially CEOs and boards) still struggle with short-term orientation, and hence the gender agenda gets sidelined. What could companies do to prioritize that?
Firstly, gender diversity does matter to business, and all organizations know that. One of the reasons why they are lagging behind, is that we generally have men in senior leadership roles. Now men have a tendency to hire men, and women have a tendency to bring more women into the structures. In order to fix this, we need to ensure some sort of intervention, and that’s what we are doing right now. If we don’t do it, at some stage the governments will tell us to do it. In the UK, for example, ’Her Majesty’s Treasury’s ‘Women in Finance Charter’ has companies like Fidelity International sign up to gender diversity targets. These targets are important because they help us to focus our attention on the issue and hold people managers accountable, for addressing this gap.
Even in households, women are major influencers in financial decisions. Most women play an active part in the day-to-day as well as long-term decisions at home. Hence, we must have women in strategy, product design and policies of companies, to reflect that; otherwise we’ll miss the mark somewhere.
We often make a lot of interventions in the workplace, but only a few of them actually work. If you were to pick one or two interventions that you have found to be effective, which ones would those be?
The main impact point, as we know, is appointing more and more women. If we’re talking about it and not doing it, we’re not being authentic. So, action is one of the key interventions.
I have also seen that simple things, like busting the myths around women can sometimes go a long way. To bust the myth of women being reluctant Fund Managers, we recently had a competition, where we had women with no prior investment knowledge developing successful investment portfolios as Fund Managers. We also had a treasure hunt, where men were navigators and women were the drivers, just to dispel the misconception that women are bad drivers, and that men don’t ask for directions. These sorts of things help us change our perception of women.
We’d really like to hear from you, about some critical moments in your life, when you had to make hard choices; choices that have shaped your career.
My first moment of truth was when I took up my first offshore posting in Vanuatu in 1995. I was working in Australia, and had a 3 year old boy, then. The difficulty was not in getting the job, but in deciding whether to take it up or not. My husband had to give up his job, and I was not sure if this would be fair to him. In addition to this, I had to face resistance from my family (I have an Indian background), who were wondering why I’d be working, and why would my husband not be working? If it were not for the willingness and courage shown by my husband to support my decision, I could never have done it. In many ways, this support is equally important, as the choices we make. Sometimes, women really need that support.
Another moment of truth was when I decided to come to India, in 2006. By then, my son was 14 years old, I had to make a very tough decision, of leaving my son with his father, and coming to India. At one point, I was concerned about what friends, family and society would think of me. In fact, my mother told me that I have a neglected child at home, and I am being a negligent mother. But then I sat down and thought about it. Am I really being a negligent mother? Being the primary bread-winner of my family, is my decision not logical? Would a man have faced similar backlash in such a situation? That’s when I realized that my decision was right, and I learnt an important lesson: don’t go by social norms; go with what feels right, for you.
What is the best advice that you’ve ever got, from someone who has influenced you?
Well, I might come across as a calm person, who is pretty centered and grounded. However I too, like others, have moments when I doubt myself, wondering whether I am good enough. One of the best advices that I got was from my boss, Fred Bertrand. He realized my self-doubt, and said to me, “When you wake up in the morning, look in the mirror, and give yourself a thumbs-up.” Whenever you fail at something, or things don’t go the way you want them to, following this advice helps a lot, psychologically. Ultimately, we have to take control of our emotions, don’t we?