Being a woman is not easy. In the male dominated investment banking world, it is doubly difficult. A woman has to put in twice the effort of an average man to be seen, heard and taken seriously. She has to go through a “agnipariksha” everytime she wants respect and to wrangle a deal from a male counterpart.
That’s all the bad news that one encountered all these years. The good news is that times are changing! When I look around or speak to my peers, I get this distinct impression of a growing acceptance that women are and can be good leaders. At a systemic level, we are seeing more and more opportunities opening up for women. In the past, there may have been lesser acceptance of women in leadership roles but that has changed substantially and continues to change.
Women in India have indeed been fortunate. The country has a rich legacy of having many women leaders across sectors — in the government, among regulators, in family-owned businesses, in professionally managed companies and in entrepreneurial ventures. Former foreign secretaries Chokila Iyer and Nirupama Rao, Justice Leila Seth, Anu Aga of Thermax and Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw of Biocon serve as an inspiration to many next-gen women. All these examples prove that women can make it to the top if they believe in themselves.
The sector, I represent, has its own women icons as well. State Bank of India Chair-Managing director Arundhati Bhattacharya, ICICI Bank CEO Chanda Kochhar, Axis Bank CEO Shikha Sharma, HDFC Ltd Managing Director Renu Sud Karnad, and JP Morgan India CEO Kalpana Morpari, represent the women power in the BFSI space.
While all of these women achievers are role models, I believe women in a modern workplace need to bring about a change in their own mindset, if they want to get to the top. They should not start out believing that they carry a disadvantage. I was born in a Bengali family that never discriminated between genders and grew up believing the world was my oyster, and that I had equal opportunity. I encountered gender discrimination much later in my career, but the foundation years and a supportive husband, gave me the confidence to disregard it. Women, early in their working life, have to believe that it is possible to build a successful career. All one has to do is pursue her ambitions and as long as she remains a capable and a hardworking human being, she will be able to follow and fulfill her dream. I remain indebted to my parents and spouse for supporting and empowering me in setting up goals and then, working towards them.
Just as women should put their hearts and souls to their work, modern workplaces too ought to take care of women employees. India Inc. should perhaps sit up and take notice that along with maternity leave (which can extend up to six months), women employees also need childcare leave, fertility and adoption leaves. Clearly, the objective should be to provide the support women need when family pressures tend to wean them away from the workplace. I believe these measures are critical to nurture women in the modern workplace. These needs are not just a woman’s. They are a family’s needs and therefore that of the larger society. Women should not have to bear the cross alone!
I know for a fact that it's no cakewalk for women to manage the balance between work and the personal life. In fact, I do not particularly like using the word ‘balance’ when it comes to describing the work-life score. As modern career-conscious women, we cannot let go of either priority. So, I think, women have to start from this mindset and say, “We're going to achieve 48 hours of work out of 24 hours and let's see how we can be smart about it.” They should avoid feeling ‘torn’ between the workplace and the family. Feeling guilty about not fulfilling each role to the fullest extent makes you ineffective at both. Do your best unapologetically and demand support from your spouse/partner/employer and all other stake holders.
Nature has given us two eyes for a reason. Whether in work or in life, one eye has to always look out for opportunities, while the other should be looking at challenges. One has to use both concurrently because if you don't, it gets very easy to get carried away one way or the other.
My advice to women in the modern workplace: Always look ahead and try to spot opportunities. Also, understand the challenges that come with them, and set clear objectives for yourself. Next, lay out how to work towards them and then focus on execution. It is imperative that you set high standards, even beyond what you may think is possible. And, when you achieve those, you realise that you can actually go even further. Remember that the ceiling is, after all, made of glass and many of you do have the capability to break it. I hope that you do go for the top. God bless!