Gender equality and getting more women into leadership roles are trending topics. More awareness and conversation on gender is surely a good thing, but is this “noise” masking a lack of real action and progress? There is still a significant lag in fulfilling the promises of equality at work, with a 100-year gap from female representation in leadership to pay equity.
In this interview, People Matters had the pleasure to host an interview with three women leaders of 3M India, Shreya Bhagwanth, Executive Director – Human Resources, 3M India, Priya Menon, Executive Director & General Counsel, 3M India, and Mamta Gore, India Region Finance Leader, 3M India who during the conversation shared the challenges and opportunities for female leaders in the future of work, how they personally empowering women at the workplace, and what are some of the practices at 3M that is aimed at developing more women leaders like themselves.
Here is an excerpt from the interview:
Q: What are some of the factors or obstacles that deter women from actively pursuing leadership roles?
Shreya: Personally speaking, I am uncomfortable looking at the “problems of women” in actively pursuing Leadership roles. It innately assumes that “women” need to be fixed. More fundamentally, a 360-degree view is needed from society, government, and organizations that address the current gendered nature of caretaker (childcare, eldercare, and other family priorities) roles that women are expected to assume.
At an organizational level, we must ensure a consistent and ongoing review of gender balance in HR Metrics – hiring, promotions, pay equity and ensure equal access to opportunities. Leadership commitment, advocacy, and ongoing review of diversity targets are fundamental. Organizations must review and ensure policies to facilitate support to women in the critical life stages when they need it the most. A one size fits all approach rarely works. A bouquet of options facilitates women in their early and mid-career career stages with the flexibility that they may need. Organizational Culture is of course fundamental to driving an Inclusion mindset in all processes and initiatives. The absence of any of these will come in the way of the organization developing women into leadership positions.
Q: As a female executive, what were some of the biggest challenges and lessons learned thus far?
Priya: As a legal counsel, leader, wife, mother of three, friend, and colleague, the foremost challenge was finding the right balance. A tightrope and juggle at best. In our journey to make a difference, we tend to overcomplicate life. We try too hard. We create obstacles and pre-judge people and situations. I have learned that one needs to stop and believe in oneself. Be authentic and comfortable in your own skin.
An important lesson is about trust– I have always strived to build and nurture trust within an organization. At work or in relationships, trust is key in the impact it makes and how it influences an organization. It is pretty amazing, and contagious. Learn to trust and earn trust.
Mamta: Balancing work with personal responsibilities has been a challenge over the years. Especially as a mother of growing children. As the years went by, I realized that the concept of‘ work-life balance’ seems to be a myth. The life of a career woman is about constantly prioritizing. Each person’s journey is unique, we have to find our own path and balance.
Q: What do you think are the biggest challenges ahead for the next generation of female leaders?
Mamta: First of all, I would like to say we should move away from differentiating between male leaders and female leaders and look at them as just leaders. Today there are several companies that have adopted and are consciously promoting the Diversity and Inclusion Initiative which gives females an equal platform as males in the selection, training, and career growth process. Of course, the expectations of their performance are also the same. And rightly so.
Coming from this new starting point, females will face the same challenges as their male counterparts, to navigate through the rapidly evolving VUCA world. They have to constantly be in tandem with the changing external markets and match the required skill set. Speed and agility towards change management, risk-taking and decision making, managing teams, personal well-being, and career growth are some of the myriad balls to juggle all at the same time. Only the most determined can move up.
Priya: To know what they want and continue to be passionate about it. So many career options have opened up and it is becoming difficult to hold on and be passionate about only one. The next generation is exceedingly impatient and gets bored easily. As developing leaders, they need equal measures of patience, tenacity, and focus. Without that, it will be a battle lost sooner than later. Work on developing core strength to go after your ideals, sustain and grow them.
Q: What do you think are the most important traits we need in a leader today, male or female?
Shreya: Authenticity, Compassion, and Empathy, an innate sense of Optimism even in challenging times, and a Growth Mindset are in my personal view key requirements for Leaders today. At the foundation of course is the base of unwavering integrity.
Q: What are some strategies that can help women achieve the success they want in their workplaces, especially in male-dominated roles or industries?
Mamta: Have a thoroughly professional approach to your work. Be on top of your work game, be it the domain knowledge of your function, or acquiring skill sets to match the changing requirements of the job. Chose a mentor within the organization. Most importantly have an impeccable work ethic.
Priya: The strategy is simple – be confident and authentic. Stop second-guessing. Insecurity, overthinking situations, and being judgmental can be detrimental. Not only are we being unfair to ourselves, but to our male colleagues as well. Connect, collaborate and ask for help – it is not a sign of weakness. Women are too harsh on themselves and can sometimes forget that the male peer standing next to us is equally stressed and nervous.
Q: We have three women leaders in this interview, it is in itself a great example of how organizations are acknowledging the culture of equity. Please tell us more about some of these initiatives or cultural parameters at 3M that is leading more and more women to be in a leadership position?
Shreya: As a global company, 3M is diverse by our very nature, but we are intentional about making 3M a place that is inclusive, we welcome, accept and celebrate our true selves. Culture is at the core of this. “Powered by inclusion.” is one of our five cultural elements and is reinforced in all our processes and actions.
3M created the global Inclusion Index, to measure inclusion and employees' sense of belonging in our workplace, based on employee survey data. Our Goal is simple - a 100% Inclusion Index In 3M India, the Women’s Leadership Forum (WLF), and the New Employees Opportunity Network (NEON) are active. We expect to add more very soon. We emphasize psychological safety, which means ensuring employees feel comfortable bringing their authentic selves to work and sharing their ideas. An important area of focus is training which encourages participants to move beyond allyship and find ways to become an advocate for diversity at work and in their personal lives. As a company, we have committed to doubling our pipeline of Diverse talent.
Q: When it comes to capability development, can you share some of the programs and initiatives for 3M women employees to accelerate their career growth?
Shreya: 3M’s focus on inclusion leads to an underlying philosophy for our Learning and Development function is “Development for All”. This ensures that we have an L&D portfolio that has something to offer to all 3Mers, irrespective of role, function, gender, geography, level. We have an extensive Virtual Learning portfolio. Employees can sign up for most of these programs and in most cases, it does not need supervisor approval. Learning programs focus across our Culture elements, reinforcing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion efforts and our prioritized Enterprise Core Skills. Supervisors and People Leaders are a critical priority since it ensures that all Supervisors have a uniform understanding of their role and this ensures that 3Mers have a “one 3M” experience. We have also globally launched our new High Potential Program – The Leadership Way.
Q: How are you empowering other women employees in your team/organization?
Priya: Experience is a great teacher. In my own way, I continue to connect with the women in our organization and share my experiences. Sometimes just sharing how I overcame a challenge or managed a difficult situation can help another. I am also a part of a few women leadership forums and participate in various diversity & inclusion initiatives at 3M. The goal is to understand how best we, as leaders, can influence the policies within the company to support and better equip women at the workplace. For e.g. relook at how we can continue to promote diversity hiring, how to encourage more women leaders in critical roles etc.
Mamta: By exercising inclusion every day! Not only by me but also by encouraging other leaders within my team to do the same. I ensure they have an open platform to speak up, invite them to lead meetings, ensure adequate training and development is provided, ensure equity in compensation, and ensure the succession planning slate has a balanced gender representation.
Q: On this occasion of Women's Day what would you #ChooseToChallenge?
Shreya: At a personal level, my spouse and I are committed to raising our family in a gender role-neutral manner. It helps us to set up a different world for the future and ensure our children are not constrained by stereotypical gender roles. As 3M Leaders, we role model inclusive behaviors, drive a culture of inclusion within our teams, and ensure a sustainable and diverse talent pipeline.
Priya: As cliched as it may sound, I would like to challenge the idea that if women go after something or fight for what they believe in, they are pushy, hormonal, or aggressive. I want to challenge the notion that if a woman has a difference of opinion, she is being difficult. SHE IS NOT. Yes, we are in 2021, but some of the cliches continue to hold weight. These pre-conceived ideas of how women ‘should’ behave must stop. God forbid we as a gender chose to do things differently! Rather than labeling strong women as aggressive or mercurial, let’s call them ‘innovative go-getters’ or any other positive nomenclature. That would truly show how far we have progressed in challenging the status quo.
Mamta: I would choose to challenge Women’s own internal barriers, and insecurities to take up leadership roles. Today the workplaces are conducive to Women’s development and leadership, in fact, more than it has even been in the past. However, due to their own mindsets and self-doubts, women are hesitant and unable to leverage these opportunities and sustain them. I would like to challenge that mindset, encourage them to believe that they are equal, if not better, to carry out any role that a man holds. It is just a matter of self-conviction and determination.