“Don't make life happen to you. Make your life happen.” This quote has inspired me all through my personal and professional life. Simply put, it encourages us to take charge of our lives, our dreams and our ambitions. Every individual, man or a woman could greatly benefit if they had the freedom to lead their life with this approach. That said, women often do not have the opportunities to achieve their fullest potential due to societal, cultural and economic constraints. We have made some progress to shake off some of these deeply entrenched issues. However, the challenges of gender bias and inequality persist. We can see them all around us – stereotyping of women’s roles, lack of opportunites and education, inequality of pay and not recognizing their achievements as equal – sometimes cleverly hidden using power and position tactics. Surely, it is upon all of us to stand up to these disparities, speak up when we spot them, challenge them and they will eventually crumble with our collective force. That is the spirit of choosing to challenge, the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day.
Challenging the status quo or perceptions is a way of thinking and it is not necessarily limited to diversity and inclusion issues. If we adopt this mindset as a way of life, it is the most powerful concept. I have challenged myself to take on bigger roles all through my professional life, in parallel readying myself by building capabilities, developing skills and working with a diverse set of people who have taught me many valuable lessons – both my managers and team members. Women need not have to choose between work and family as we rise up in our career. Instead, we have to create a flexible work environment, which helps women play both roles to their full potential.
Women can be great leaders and we have seen their effective leadership across corporate, political and social spheres around the world. Although, we definitely need more women in leadership roles across the board. Today, as a leader, my obligation is to ‘pay it forward’ by nurturing strong women leaders and professionals. While our culture is changing and mind-sets are changing – I recognize that many women professionals still need that extra flexibility; for example, the opportunity to work from home to take care of the children or elders. With the COVID pandemic, work from home has become a norm now. However, I have always believed that work can happen from anywhere even when it was not a popular trend. It is far more rewarding to give such flexibility than force extra stress on my colleagues, and especially women who in our society still bear the responsibility of being family anchors.
I want all my talented colleagues, especially women to shine and be recognized – because they need the extra shot in the arm to carry on given the tight rope act they have to manage, often without much support. These small gestures and other such friendly policies have been my way of challenging the status quo so that these women can continue their professional journey and have an equal chance to succeed.
On a related note, the notion of a woman labelled as super woman seems a bit confusing and unnecessary. Don’t you think it is better to be a smart woman rather than a super woman to preserve long-term happiness and wellness? There is no need to do it all, but rather build an ecosystem at home and at work that you one can rely on. There is no guilt in seeking help whether at home or at work – my simple philosophy is ‘divide the work and conquer.’ It has served me well to deliver the best on both fronts.
Today, all of us have the responsibility to bring to the center stage not just women’s issues but the broader diversity and equality discussion. I have seen first-hand how intentions backed by policies, solid actions and motivated colleagues can bring about a real difference. The Global Gender Gap report by World Economic Forum predicts that gender parity will not be achieved for nearly a century more. On the contrary, ‘choosing to challenge’ can be the catalyst that will usher in the change we hope to see much faster! That is when majority of women will truly have a chance at making their life happen and not life happen to them.