In May 2019, the corporate world celebrated when Fortune Magazine revealed that 33 of the companies on the ranking of highest-grossing firms will be led by female CEOs for the first time ever. While this is a great news that more number of women are breaking the glass ceilings, it is disheartening to see that this a reason to celebrate. In an ideal world this probably shouldn’t have been a big deal.
Women have begun to make their claims for leadership but they still often encounter a workplace culture that makes the challenges severe. It has been widely observed that women enter the workforce and seek to advance, develop and use their skills and knowledge. But they pursue strategies of fitting in that work only in the short term and eventually erode their sense of self-confidence and ambition. This scenario becomes evident as we see many girls performing better at an academic level but we see only a few at leadership positions in companies.
In recent times, companies have started focusing on building a culture and ecosystem where more women leaders can grow. But are a few policies and programs enough to break centuries old social norms and myths still blinding the many generations?
In a panel discussion at People Matters TechHR India 2019, women leaders, Beena Nayar, Head-IT, Forbes Marshall; Mahalakshmi R, Head HR India, Mondelez International; and Nishi Chaturvedi, VP HR India, South West Asia, The Coca-Cola Company talk about some of these myths with Ester Martinez, CEO & Editor-in-Chief, People Matters.
Here are a few key takeaways from the session:
The unachievable work-life balance
While professionals across genders strive to find the work-life balance, women in particular pressurize themselves to strike this balance more. Juggling between work, family, home and friends, they often tire themselves. Women professionals also tend to feel guilty when they have to compromise one thing over the other.
Nishi Chaturvedi, VP HR India, South West Asia, The Coca-Cola Company presents a solution to this problem. She advises to look at life like a combination of four bulbs, each being - me, health, family & friends.
The power someone can circulate in these bulbs is only 100 watts. One approach can be doing equitable distribution, and putting 25 watts of energy for each of these. The other approach is dividing the energy and efforts as per priority or current need. For instance, if a woman thinks that her family needs attention at a particular point of time, she should not feel guilty for making more effort to light that bulb.
“It is a myth to think that life is about balance, it is more about what is important right now and going to give value in the long course of time,” exclaimed Nishi.
Let the world move around, take your space, just keep moving forward, start blinding the negative voices which you hear, find the right people, take a pause when required and reflect upon, then just get going, without guilt.
‘Women’? Well, they can’t relocate for job
Women tend to score high in terms of adaptability, tolerance to ambiguity, and they often have less challenges in coming out of the comfort zone. If these are the attributes required for growth, why do we still see less women professionals in the workforce? In fact, often it is women themselves, who hesitate when it comes to taking a bold career decision.
Beena Nayar, Head-IT, Forbes Marshall said, “We don’t mind relocating for marriage, but we hesitate when it comes to relocating for profession. Women professionals must consider it as an option, vary the pros and cons, and look at it as an opportunity and not as a challenge.”
When women professionals shy from opportunities which require relocating, managers take this hesitance for granted and give such opportunities to the male counterparts.
The solution is to change the thought process and come out of this much flaunted myth. Women professionals should think of relocating more as an opportunity and less as challenge. Further, to help the entire workforce embrace and adopt this approach, senior leaders, as manager and mentors, should also help other women move up the ladder.
Should women professionals have only women mentors?
Mentorship is important. Having a mentor ensures that there is someone who understands where you are coming from and help you uplift your mental blocks. The basic thing that a mentor does is that they introduce you to a different perspective. But if women professionals have only women mentors, chances are they will be restricted to a similar point of view.
“Diversity of perspectives is critical for growth,” shared Mahalakshmi R, Head HR India, Mondelez International. “When a diverse group exchanges thoughts and opinions, those conversations help break or change the social fabrics, which is the cause of social stigmas in the first place,” she concluded.
Policies, initiatives and programs run in organizations to strengthen gender diversity are just as important. However, they are not enough to break social stigmas and gender biases. It is the contribution of every employee and leader in the company that will help in shaping thoughts of professionals beyond these pre-conceived notions. To break the gender-based myths women professionals themselves can take the lead and the support they get from everyone else in the society will complement their efforts. With collaboration the far-fetched dream of redefining notions might come true.