Article (March-2020)


Women for Women lets make this work

Dr. Aparna Sharma

Designation : -   Board Member, Thought Leader

Organization : -   Best Selling Author & Motivational Speaker, Mumbai


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From entry level to C-Suite, women are underrepresented in organisations, have lesser opportunities to advance than men, face more barriers to senior leadership like biases & stereotypes, experience an uneven playing field & fight biases related to balancing work & family, see a lack of senior or visibly successful female role models & not enough leaders sponsoring highly qualified women, the reason that hold women are many. This is what people keep repeating all the time. It's like flogging a dead horse! When I go down memory lane to think of my role models & people who have supported me in my personal & professional life, I call them "Anchors".

Everyone naturally recounts & talks about family & while that was true in my case too, I also reflected on books, other people in my environment & What Else? All of us encounter obstacles or face challenges in our lives. As the challenges become complex, quite naturally, we feel the need for motivation. While self-help and inspirational books are available aplenty, most of them sketch the journey of the who's who or celebrities whose advice, though genuine, is difficult to follow for common people. I have always pondered - why should we take inspiration from celebrities alone? Since it is human nature to share and learn from others, why not seek advice from ordinary but experienced people around us, who can guide us effectively and practically to resolve our problems?

I really thought hard about my various encounters & experiences with women professionals, pleasant & unpleasant both but more so, delved deeper into the learning from them. During my career so far, I have had women as seniors, peers & subordinates, however never had a lady boss so far. However, I have been a lady boss for long. There's so much I have learnt from each of these categories of women - "what to do", "how to be" & most importantly, "what not to do" & "not to be"! Some great lessons from a very senior lady professional very early in my career are :

1. Always put on YOUR OXYGEN MASK.

2. Make YOURSELF the NO.1 option in your life.

3. BELIEVING IN YOURSELF is mandatory.

4. Don't be afraid to be vulnerable.

5. Put your hand up & VOLUNTEER even if the task may seem hard.

6. Surround yourself with people who will STRECTH YOU.

7. Raise your son how you would want to be treated & raise your daughter like the strong boys!

These are great things to remember & practise as we work hard to find our way in the corporate maze.

However, having observed her mannerisms & behaviour for a while, during my impressionable early career years, I engaged in an open discussion with her regarding morals & personal values. This was during the time when there was no awareness regarding POSH (Prevention of Sexual Harassment at Workplace) or no trace of the #Me Too Movement. What she shared was shocking. "No one will stand for you in this corporate jungle. Deploy all means that you have. Don't worry about morals and values. Nobody really cares. All is fair to get what you want!". This has stayed with me very strongly as "what not to do" & "not to be". Doesn't matter if no one cares, I surely do about my values & what I stand for. There have been many occasions through my career all these years. This is one thing I have been firm on & proud of. No compromise for whatever may be at stake.

I pose this question "Do you care?". Are the means as important to you as the end? to all readers. Again the question is gender agnostic. Here is another instance about another strong lady in the network who introduced the concept of "What Else?" to me. It's not always about being good at your job, following the rules and working hard etc. "What Else?" is about making an effort to learn & know more about the industry, business, stakeholders, external environment as well as about networking within & outside and understanding the unwritten rules of the organisation. It's about the stretch efforts you make towards all these which are over & above your job needs. That's how you stand out.

And in the case of women, it's not about "looking smart". It's about "being smart" that makes you distinct. Women in today's times are breaking every conceivable barrier. Let's change the paradigm - let's root for & help other deserving & competent women, not because of the gender, but for their ability & resolve to make a difference. Let the tribe grow! Let's pledge to sponsor other women who want to shine by sharing our light. So that years from now, when someone like me asks the question in a discussion like this, everyone is full of positive & pleasant experiences & we are able to visibly see the difference around us.