Why We Need Moms to Build Our Leadership Pipeline

In my article The Road not Taken: Becoming a Full-time Mum Made Me a Better Leader, I shared my challenges as a working mother with young children. While in one article, I talked about how women can empower themselves to be considered on equal terms with men, in another I discussed the ways in which we could make our workplace more women-friendly.

In this article I would like to address a significant chunk of leadership talent that remains sadly neglected, untapped, and worse, gets rejected for corporate roles. I am talking about stay-at-home mothers who seek a corporate career during the prime of their lives.

No Takers for Moms

In several parts of the world, especially India, the responsibility of managing a home and taking care of children, falls primarily on the woman’s shoulders. Much as she would love to take up a job, she is constrained for various reasons ranging from taking care of growing children, providing care to the elderly, or relocating and adapting to newer environments. The latter is true for women whose spouses are free to seek opportunities in other cities. By the time the children are old enough, these women are in their late thirties or early forties. Age discrimination being a huge factor, at least in India, these women get criminally side-lined.

One of my friends was unfortunately widowed after 15 years of marriage. She was a fulltime home-maker and mother, and had no option but to seek a fulltime job to secure the future of her two children. She has been unsuccessful in getting permanent employment in the company where she works as a contract staff, despite being far more productive and grossly underpaid than her permanently employed peers. Her stint as a home-maker and mother has been completely disregarded, and she is being paid lower than a fresher. Moreover, she is unsure of who to approach within the organization for long-term opportunities. My friend is just one example. There are millions of women in India who are educated, enterprising, and smart, but motherhood seems to be a huge setback for them.

Mothers are Leaders

Be it the Big 5 or Strengths Finder or DISC, organizations already have an arsenal of leadership behavioural assessment tools at their disposal. Whichever way we look at it, women who have managed homes and families successfully, can easily score well on certain basic leadership competencies, which we struggle so hard to find these days.

Moms Understand the Big Picture

It is mistakenly assumed that mothers deal with routine stuff. On the contrary, mothers are expert strategists. They set long-term financial, well-being, and personal goals for the family. Besides, they are great at breaking down these goals into actions. Perhaps the most important thing they do is lend their unstinting support to every member of the family and help them achieve their goals. Mothers are also experts in keeping their ears to the ground. They are well informed about everything important that counts. Everyone knows that Mother Knows Best.

When I was a fulltime mother, one of my goals was to ensure my children took responsibility for their studies and future. I did not want to chase them or nag them about their homework. It was tough and took loads of patience and hours of listening, but eventually I am happy to say that my daughters not only excel in their academics, they are also well-read and tuned into larger causes that plague our world today.

Moms Always Find a Way

A child with an earache? Short strapped for funds? Car broke down on the freeway? A mother has to use her resources to find a solution. One of my friends talked about how she was leaving for the airport as she needed to attend this conference. Just as she was all dressed and about to leave, one of her kids threw up. He was sick and needed immediate attention. She couldn’t just leave him like that. She contacted her office and cancelled the flight. She then asked her associate to fill in the first two hours for her. She spent the next few minutes calming her child and tending to him. She then got her associate to connect her to the conference via Skype. She did a great pitch and they got the deal.
Mothers have to be enterprising problem-solvers, and make the most of every situation. No wonder we have so many successful women entrepreneurs.

Moms Are Emotionally Intelligent

In his book Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman says: “Self-awareness is the first component of emotional intelligence—which makes sense when one considers that the Delphic oracle gave the advice to “know thyself” thousands of years ago. Self-awareness means having a deep understanding of one’s emotions, strengths, weaknesses, needs, and drives.”

A typical mother’s day is fraught with unexpected situations and crises. A child hurts himself and needs immediate attention, a demanding relative tests your patience, appliances conk off during the eleventh hour, the husband needs to leave for office in the next 10 minutes, and your older child needs to get ready for school.

As mothers, we constantly question our ability to serve others. We micro-analyze every situation and reflect on what could be the best way to deal with tough situations with peace and harmony. As a mother, there were days when I wanted to shout and throw a tantrum, but I had to practice deep breathing and ask myself, “What is the best way to deal with this?” Initially, there were those days when a good crying jag or screaming fit would do me in, but when I realized the adverse effects of these on my kids, I resorted to singing while cooking to help me burn off the negative energy. Mothers always find constructive and harmonious ways to tune off negativity as they are conscious about their actions and the consequences thereof.

Moms Know How to Deal with Difficult Behaviour

A hard-nosed boss, a demanding client, a difficult team-member have one thing in common. They have the advantage. We need their cooperation and need to find a way to deal with their challenging behaviour. Who better than a mother when it comes to dealing with conflict?

Whether it is adapting to a different family (most women in India live with their parents-in-law), getting a child to eat his vegetables, or dealing with conflicts, a mother faces it all constantly. Persuasive communication, negotiation, diplomacy, or assertive speaking – a mother needs to use all these skills on a daily basis.

Moms Stand Up For Their People

A father might seem all brawny and muscular but it is the mother’s steely determination and unconditional care and nurturing that truly makes a family strong and emotionally resilient. Today when we have employees leaving in large droves because of an unsupportive or uncaring supervisor, we need leaders who nurture their teams and stand up for them. Emotional support and emotional security is always assured with mothers at the helm. Mothers are also great fighters, especially when it comes to any crisis that looms ahead. Moreover, they stand calm and stable during the toughest of times.

Towards Opti-mum Leadership!

A growing number of small and mid-sized companies are investing efforts in building comeback careers for women. “Womentrepreneur” is in fact, a hot new buzzword making waves in the e-commerce scenario. Think Zivame, Infibeam, Limeroad, and Yatra. These are but a few examples of women who turned their ideas into money-spinners. Imagine having women like these in your organization as leaders.

I not only know that full-time mothers have the ability to take on technology roles, but also firmly believe they have the capability to become strong leaders. Most companies already have a talent management strategy in place to develop future leaders. Why not hire mothers and groom them as future leaders? It can be argued that women who have been out of touch as far as employment is concerned, will take a while to get their bearings in the wide wicked corporate world. However since they already possess the intrinsic leadership qualities thanks to their experience as fulltime mothers, they would just need a while to get acclimatized to the rules of the game. My sister-in-law started her own successful corporate recruitment business after 20 years of being a fulltime mother. She is a shining example of how women can make it big not despite being mothers, but because they are mothers.

Isn’t it ironic that we celebrate Mother’s Day with pride, but do little for mothers who seek an equal footing in the corporate world despite being immensely talented?

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Misfits: Why We Need Them!

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“I don’t feel like working here anymore. I feel so stifled and out of place!” cried my client who called up to seek career advice. She had been working for this reputed company for three years. While there was nothing principally wrong about the place, she felt claustrophobic. This lady is known for her cheerful outlook and a whacky sense of humour. However I have always known her to be an exemplary performer and a go-getter. Apparently her co-workers find her overwhelming and her boss has on more than one occasion, asked her to tone down her enthusiasm and “calm down”.

We are born free. And then fettered by bonds of compliance, obedience, and subservience, so much so that we dare not be different. The few, who dare to be different, are penalized or worse, ridiculed. Even in kindergarten, we are taught to color inside the lines, and are reprimanded for daring to color outside!

Unfit or a Misfit?

I felt like a misfit for the first time when I attempted to resume work after a long break. While applying for jobs I was told, “You are too senior!” The truth as I realized was, that I was overqualified for the job in question. Thereafter I was declared a misfit (indirectly albeit!) on more than one occasion. I was either inadequately qualified (not an MBA) despite my years of experience, or overly experienced, or too old for a position.

I remember having a healthy debate on this topic many years ago with one of my bosses when I wanted to hire a trainer. I found the candidate quiet and understated and his answers very forthright and earnest. I felt he would be an ideal fit for one of our training centres that was plagued by attrition. My boss however had another opinion. He felt that the candidate lacked ambition and therefore would be a misfit in a team of strong and dynamic trainers. I stuck to my guns and requested my boss to trust my instinct. Sure enough over the months when the centre lost some of their star performers, this individual emerged as one of the most solid and dependable players who helped the centre weather the toughest of times.

The question we really need to ask while hiring is, “Is this candidate Unfit for the role, or a Misfit with respect to what we usually look for?” It’s one thing to reject someone who lacks the necessary vital skills for a position, but another when their profile or personality is perceived beyond the norm. I have had my share of hiring blunders where I hired “different” people who more than shook up the still waters in my team, but I have never regretted it! They have always left behind a legacy of “out-of-the-box” thinking and creative ideas in their wake, even those who lasted for less than six months.

The Round Pegs in a Square Hole

There are plenty of examples of misfits from The Ugly Duckling, to Mumble the tap-dancing penguin from the movie Happy Feet, or even Santa’s legendary Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer. They are ridiculed because they are different from their ilk. I remember a coworker who was at least 10 years older in a team of 20-somethings. To her credit she did her best to mingle but I remember a distinct sense of awkwardness her team lead felt in interacting with her. The team lead was palpably relieved when this employee resigned. I guess this happens to most women who resume jobs after a substantial break. We either report to managers younger than us, or become part of a younger team that just doesn’t know how to freely interact with us.

One of my clients-in-coaching hailed from a different state of India and did not know to speak Hindi very well. He felt excluded from the rest of the team because they cracked jokes in Hindi and he did not understand them. At the end of our session he came up with an idea to organize a team outing where he planned various activities and games to help the team get to know one another informally. During our next session, he sounded delighted about the outcome of the activity. Apparently he was learning to speak Hindi from his colleagues while he was teaching them his native language! More so, his manager started taking notice of him and started appreciating him.

Why are we wary of misfits?

Right from the time we start schooling we are taught to discriminate and comply. How many of us remember alienating or ostracizing that one kid who seemed different from us? How about those with a learning disorder or speech impediment or an unusual personality or physical appearance? Why are we judgmental towards those we perceive as “eccentric”? Why do we reject misfits?

We are uncomfortable around them

We are so comfortably used to interacting with a certain profile of people that we feel out-of-depth while dealing with a different type. It is easier to reject a candidate who seems different from the rest of the team than taking the trouble to accept and understand her.

We don’t want to change status quo

I remember a senior leader asking me to reject a candidate because she seemed overqualified when compared to the team. He felt having her in the team will disrupt the balance and make others insecure.

We are afraid of their outlandish and rebellious ideas

I firmly believe that startup teams need more mavericks who can find their way and get things done among the haziness and disorder. However, mavericks are not necessarily considered nice people! Their tendency to break rules causes others to perceive them as overly ambitious, rebellious, and selfish. Then there are people who question everything around them such as policies, processes, or methods. They make the rest of the compliant population nervous.

We are envious of them

Aha! What’s the real reason we reject some smart candidates? This happened to me as a hiring manager when I wanted to hire a team lead. I found one candidate particularly smart and more qualified than me. My first instinct was to reject him as I felt he had a superior attitude. The fact was, I felt threatened by him and mistook his self-confidence for superiority. I finally hired him as I realized he would be the best person who might help me achieve the goals for the team. Everything in the team changed for the better after that. I was pleasantly surprised to see him flourish and grow in a few years. He and I are still in touch, and I have learnt a lot from him. Ever since then, when I feel like rejecting a candidate I ask myself, “Am I envious of him/her?”

Want to see change? Then get more misfits!

One of the topmost issues plaguing our corporate world is the need for change. Change in our attitudes, change in our processes, change in our mind-sets, and change in the way we work. To get there, we need to seriously look at all of our job description definitions once again. If we want game-changers, we need to look out for misfits who will disrupt the current order of things. Think Galileo, Christopher Columbus, Larry Page & Sergey Brin, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, and the likes.

Let us look at all positions where the gender ratio is skewed. How about the people in our company? Do they speak different native languages? Do they come from different ethnic backgrounds? What about the age-groups and the generations – do we have a healthy ratio of Gen X to millennials? Diversity and inclusion is not only about hiring women, it is also about looking at women we seem to ignore and assume that they are “out of practice” and “out of the game”.

There is no other way to look at it. Misfits bring to the table radical thought pattern and ideas. Having them in the team shakes up things around quite a bit. It helps existing teams to come out of their comfort zones.

Of course, this does not mean that we hire rebels just for the heck of it. We need to shed our preconceived notions and prejudices when we hire them. Misfits are humans after all, and they too need guidance and direction and most of all – acceptance and an opportunity to prove their worth. It is time we embraced the risks of hiring misfits – we need to create round slots for round pegs!

As Apple Inc. said in one of their “Think Different” campaigns:

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

Instilling a Woman-Friendly Work Culture

Recently when Google, Yahoo, and Facebook published their diversity report findings, it came as no surprise to me that women comprise a paltry 30% of the technology workforce. CNET observed that the balance is even more skewed in engineering and technology teams.

Last quarter, I had the privilege to address a group of women employees who worked in functions like Finance, Accounting, Legal, and Information systems. As our discussion progressed, I realized that we women need more than motivational seminars or coaching sessions to flourish and bridge the gender gap at work.

“I was put through more rounds of interviews than a male friend who applied for the same job”

Notwithstanding increased sensitization about including more women employees, I have observed skepticism among male hiring managers in Indian companies while screening and interviewing women for technology positions. What is amazing is that this holds true even for team leads and managers belonging to the millennial generation. While it’s true that women give birth and require maternity leaves, they are in no way behind when it comes to working the 24-7 shift or staying back late to fix a client escalation. There is this implicit perception that women aren’t that technically adept in fixing or troubleshooting complex problems, which is why hiring managers in these companies put women candidates through more stringent reviews.

Question: How can we design and implement better hiring assessment instruments to evaluate and select candidates irrespective of their gender?

“When we women gather around to talk, we’re accused of gossiping.”

Most women like to talk and express themselves irrespective of where they are! They share confidences, exchange ideas, discuss problems, and feel lighter. Talking and sharing is the cement that binds them to their job and the people around. That said, the above accusation is justified when women employees shirk work and produce insubstantial results. However if they do indulge in harmless banter during their break hours, and are conscientious and timely in their work, then why the bias?

Question: How can we facilitate open discussions between male and female employees to help them accept and respect differences?

“I am subject to jibes and unkind comments from my male co-workers about my constraints.”

It’s a well-known fact that Indian women still juggle their traditional roles of a parent, home-maker, house-keeper, and corporate professional. Women find it necessary to draw boundaries between their work hours and their time with their families, which is actually a very practical way of achieving the right work-life balance. I remember when I resumed work after my first maternity leave, I found ways to accomplish more during my work hours and leave office on time, so that I could spend time with my daughter. Rather than stepping out for coffee or a lunch break, I found myself eating at my desk as I worked. I did the Math and discovered that I was spending more productive hours at work after my baby. I started valuing my job and career much more, and actually started finding better ways to contribute to the company. Of course I couldn’t stay late most of the time, and nor could I put in hours on Sundays, but I was so grateful to my company for their support, that I found myself going over and beyond in my duties. I made sure that my company and teams could completely rely on me.

I remember one of my team members approaching me with a problem. She usually left office at 5.30 PM as her child had to be picked up from the day-care at 6 PM. She had no other option since her husband worked in another city. She was distraught and hurt with a male co-worker’s sarcastic comment when one day she decided to stay back late for a critical client meeting. “What a surprise! You are actually working late today! It’s sure a blue moon tonight!” I too have been subject to hurtful barbs about not being able to attend office parties as I had no one to take care of my daughter.

Question: How can we encourage male employees to behave with more understanding, empathy, and sensitivity? On the other hand, how can we encourage female employees to be more assertive?

“I’m paid less than my male counterparts”

I recently read this article that sheds interesting light on this burning issue. Apparently this is due to gaps or interruptions in women’s careers. On one hand we want to woo more women into leadership by offering them maternity leave or introducing special benefits, and on the other hand we penalize them for taking a justified break for their families. Something doesn’t quite add up right here. In my experience I have seen women employees going to extreme lengths to hold on to their jobs, especially when they love their role and have friendly teams and colleagues. Most Indian career women are very smart at finding a way to continue working, unless they find the work environment unsupportive or unrewarding.

At times, when women resume work after a break, their technical skills are obsolete. They either fail to get jobs, or if they do, they get hired at lower levels or paid far less than what they deserve. I personally think this is one of the top reasons why we see this enormous gap in the ratio of male to female employees. Any individual with basic technical competency also has the ability to quickly master new technology. When I took a break from my career and resumed after 4 years, I was able to catch up on all that I missed, within a month. I have hired women who have resumed after a break and found them to be really quick at grasping new technologies and catching up with their peers within no time at all.

Question: How can we objectively assess and evaluate people based on their current generic competencies AND future potential, and not hold a genuine career gap against them?”

“Why wasn’t I considered for that promotion?”

This is a common grouse and concern for over 70% of the women I have coached or mentored. I faced this during one of my jobs. There was a senior level position that I had set my eyes on. I knew I had the capability and so did my peers. I was in for a rude shock when another colleague got that promotion instead of me. He was capable too, but I felt I deserved the promotion more, because I had more hands-on experience in the same field. I remember feeling very cheated and let down by my manager. It took me several months to muster up courage to ask my boss why I wasn’t considered. I was surprised to hear, “I thought it might be too difficult for you because of your family constraints.” I blamed myself for a while, but then realized that it was also the manager’s responsibility to at least give me a chance by asking me.

It’s difficult for most women to walk up to their managers to ask for what they want. Not only work, some women hesitate reaching out to friends or family for help. One of my friends confessed that her boss found her aggressive because she asked for a promotion!

Question: How can we help people break out of stereotypical thinking? How can we get women to confidently voice their career aspirations?

Opening Up Possibilities

There is growing evidence that organizations with a higher number of women and women-friendly policies benefit from better business results. That said, there are several misconceptions I’d like to clear. Having a women-friendly culture does not mean eliminating or excluding men! I liked reading this article where we see companies that are introducing gender-neutral and inclusive policies. I agree that somewhere when we talk about maternity leave, we mistakenly assume (and encourage a chauvinistic bygone theory) that men don’t need to stay home to take care of their kids!

I’m elated and excited hearing and reading about companies that are genuinely interested in building better policies and encouraging a more open workplace for attracting more women employees. I remember reading this article a couple of years ago where Wipro introduced mentors for women employees. Many companies are also introducing coaching as a mechanism for women.

To attract more women, we need to look at re-examining our people policies, introducing inclusive competency measurement and assessment processes, educating people, and creating acceptance in the minds of managers/leaders. When we already invest a lot in rolling out training and development initiatives in areas like sales, customer service, communication and cross-culture sensitivity, surely we can create better momentum in this area of gender inclusion. Merely training women to be assertive will not do. We not only need to sensitize men about how they can make their female colleagues feel respected and valued, we also need to instil a non-judgmental open culture where people are accepted, nurtured, and provided growth based on their talent and potential alone, and not because of their gender or ethnicity.

Are You Being Judged?

My friend shared an article on Facebook with me today that set me thinking on this topic. While the article talks about discrimination based on someone’s English speaking prowess in India, it addresses our intrinsic habit of being judgmental in many other areas.

When the Left tries to be Right

The left part of our brain that dominates logic and rational thinking, does so by separating and classifying information, memories, and our experiences. Which is why when we see a white-haired elderly woman, we immediately classify her as “safe” and “harmless”. This is because our left brain has associated her with a dear grandmother or an elderly aunt. On the other hand while walking through a fairly lonely street in the dark we chance upon a heavyset tall man with soiled clothes, we are careful to avoid him. Our left brain has tagged him as “dangerous”, no doubt thanks to the movies or stories that describe unsavoury characters! Our left brain is classifying and tagging facts for us so we could be safe.

Judging is a process of assessing and evaluating to understand whether something is good or bad for us. We are constantly judging when we eat, shop, dress up, work, or take care of others. Judging helps us take better decisions and make the right choices.

Are you “Judging” or “Being Judgmental”?

Several years ago, I used to work with a colleague. He was charming and friendly, and we got along fine at work. His boss was a good friend of mine, and one day my friend confided something about this colleague that changed my behaviour towards him. Apparently he was misusing expensive office resources for personal use. We all have our own little integrity radar, and mine beeped an alert hearing that. The next day when I saw him speak to a co-worker, I found him a tad patronizing. Slowly, I started putting a different spin on everything that he did, and I somehow realized that I disliked him. I stopped communicating with him unless it was absolutely necessary. I was polite of course, but he realized something was off. Eventually, he left the company and I forgot all about him.

When I evaluated his action of misusing office resources as improper, I was judging him. However when I changed my behaviour towards him, I was being judgmental. It is true that his unethical behaviour was incorrect. However he had many other good qualities that I somehow overlooked, and had this warped perspective where he was concerned.

Today when I reflect about my past, I have been pretty judgmental towards several people in my life. It was not that I only judged their behaviour. I passed judgment on them as people, and concluded and justified my behaviour with them.

The blindside of being judgmental

What happens when we obscure our own view? We don’t get the complete picture. That is exactly what happens when we are judgemental in our behaviour. Thanks to my sanctimonious judgemental high horse, I lost some good employees and friends. I was annoyed with an employee for always being late for meetings and decided that she wasn’t good enough to be a team lead although she was good in her job and had great interpersonal skills. I’m ashamed to admit I thought less of a friend because his English vocabulary was less than average. I refused to regard his enthusiasm and never-say-die attitude. I didn’t think too highly of one of my neighbours when I saw her waking up more than an hour later than her kids and making them wait for their breakfast. However this neighbour in question was a very warm-hearted and kind person.

Being judgemental blinded me in more ways than one.

  • It made me lose my objectivity and prevented me from having a holistic perspective of people and situations.
  • It lowered my emotional intelligence and my capability to respond positively.
  • I presumed I knew it all and knew it better.
  • I categorized people, generalized them, and in effect discriminated against them.

Perhaps the most insidious but lethal aspect of judgemental behaviour is the build-up of resentment and a completely distorted and negative persona we create of the other person. Ironically, the one who was negative and distorted was me!

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall!

When did I realize the source of distortion? Coaching was the mirror that showed me how warped my view was. In 2013, I decided to become a Life Coach as I wanted to do something meaningful with my life. At that point in my life I was recovering from an onslaught of negative emotions, poor health, and a depleted self-worth. The methodology I learnt was Power Coaching with Mind Kinetics (PCMK™) by CLI.

As the training progressed, I got an opportunity to practise the techniques on myself and others. I also got a chance to be coached. Being coached was huge tidal wave of self-discovery for me. As PCMK™ coaching is all about answering left-brained and right-brained questions pertaining to the goal or challenge in question, I realized that the root of over 90% of my problems was – you guessed it right – being judgmental!

During my training, I learnt about universal truths in the form of Universal Laws. There was one law that hit the nail on the head.

The Mirror Law (Like Begets Like): What you see in others, is a reflection of what you see in yourself. “When we point fingers, we have three others pointing back at us.”

I realized that just as I was being judgmental towards others, I was being judgmental with myself too. And if I could be judgmental, so could others be towards me!

As we pass judgment on others, at a subconscious level we start being judgmental with ourselves. Over a period the cross gets too heavy to bear and we are left with a highly eroded sense of confidence and self-worth.

Discernment clears the fog

Judgment and Discernment are two sides of the same coin. Discernment is what we practice when we make a wise decision by honestly weighing all possible facts.

How do we practise discernment? Ever since the time I have had success in improving my life over the past couple of years, I have been consciously working towards practising better discernment.

  • Separate the individual from the behaviour. Don’t personify a negative trait. That way we focus ourselves to consciously respect the individual, at the same time deal with the negative trait in the best possible way.
  • If you are a coach, it helps to coach yourself in the form of self-coaching. If you aren’t a coach, you could consult one. Since coaching by design is all about answering questions constructively and objectively, your coach would be able to help you look at the entire issue in a way that helps you find a solution.
  • Maintain a journal where you make daily notes of any unconstructive behaviour on your part. If you find yourself being judgmental about someone, or yourself, write down “How” you would be able to release that judgment constructively.
  • We are all part of a bigger scheme of things whether we like it or not. I believe we have answers within ourselves if we only look for it. For me, deep reflection or meditation in a quiet place has helped me become more compassionate and empathetic with people.

Release judgement, Unleash positivity

Judgmental behaviour lies at the root of so many problems we face today right from gender and ethnic imbalance, racial discrimination, toxic politics, breeding discontentment and employee disengagement, to stress. The “Us versus Them” mentality that is counterproductive and debilitating us today, is primarily because we pass judgement on people instead of respecting differences. Negative thoughts and negative behaviour create a build-up of toxic stress that further leads to ailments for which the causes seem unknown.

Releasing judgement is not only rejuvenating, it is also critical to our sense of wellbeing. There is nothing to stop us from sprinting lightfootedly towards our goals if we could just let go of this dead weight that is judgement.

Be Heard and Overcome Gender Inequality

Becoming a successful professional is no mean feat. And if you are a woman, then it is all the more commendable considering the hoops you might have jumped through to get there! Being a woman in the corporate workplace is like walking a fine line. You have to strike the right balance. Underplaying your strengths may project you as being a pushover, while playing a tough nut might earn you the tag of being too aggressive. Notwithstanding our legendary capabilities in managing multiple roles and balancing expectations from multiple stakeholders from home and at work, climbing the career ladder can be quite stressful. No matter how often companies shout from the rooftops about diversity and inclusion, the gender balance is still tipped in favour of male leaders. While there are companies that appoint women in executive positions, the candidates are not necessarily the best examples for the role, thereby further increasing skepticism in men about women leaders. As a result, the truly capable women find it very tough proving their mettle.To be successful leaders, women have to battle and overcome many situations and behaviors.

Ditch that Superwoman apron!

As Sheryl Sandberg says in her book Lean In, “A truly equal world would be one where women ran half our countries and companies and men ran half our homes.” We are a long way off, especially in India. One of my friends once made a very perceptive observation about Indian women in the past 30 years. She said, “You know, it has taken 30 years for the Indian woman to get out of the kitchen and take her place at the boardroom. But in these 30 years, very few Indian men have gotten into the kitchen. They are still stuck in their stereotypical past!” I know of women colleagues in top positions who have to get back home in the evening to serve dinner. A significant number of working women in India return home around the same time as their spouses, only to have their spouses relax before the TV after a “long exhausting day”, while the women get busy with the kids or household chores or dinner. I’m one of the few fortunate women whose husband contributes more than his fair share of house work and considers me his equal. Ironically, some women I know (and men), judge me for that. In India, and I’m sure in many parts of our world, women are brought up to believe that if they don’t cook or do household chores, they are inept. Furthermore if they let their husbands do any of the house work, they are regarded as completely weak and incompetent. Running and managing a home needs team work. It is important for us to get it clear in our heads that we need our spouse and family to pitch in. And if you hate cooking, delegate it to someone who can do it better! Of course you will be judged. Too bad for the one who judges. I have previously written about how women can let go of behaviours that weigh them down in this article that was published in AVTAR I-WIN’s newletter The Future of Work.

Beware of underhand chauvinism

The Indian corporate workplace has many skeptics when it comes to women employees. Which is why it isn’t surprising that women in male-dominated teams are at times treated depreciatingly like delicate china dolls. “You don’t need to attend the meeting.” (What new ideas are you going to contribute?) “Don’t you have to rush home?” (It’s easy for you. You don’t have to stay up late.) “Why do you need the job?” (You have your husband or father for that. Don’t you have to take care of your home?) “I’ll take care of the project” (Don’t bother your pretty head.) It might seem shocking, but this is completely true in many teams. One of my bosses (at a very top level) advised me to hire male candidates as I could count on them to work beyond office hours. He didn’t realize he was insulting me. During our very next quarterly conference he talks about gender diversity. The point I’m trying to make is, we don’t live in an ideal world and the earlier we realize it, the better. You have to make it clear that although you need to be home on time, you are capable, and want to take on high visibility projects. And if a confrontation doesn’t seem palatable to you, take the chauvinism with a pinch of salt, but sweetly and firmly let your male colleagues know that you are tougher than you seem!

Ask assertively!

In my article Are you Visible, I had talked about practical ways to assert our ambition. We women have an ESP radar where we tend to understand unspoken requirements and find it very difficult articulating our needs. Shyness or downplaying your abilities won’t do. We need to speak up and stick our necks out! Some men will refuse to see it as assertiveness and consider it arrogance. It’s their problem. Women, when they do get promoted, the ones with a voice are considered a threat and are usually relegated to positions of lesser power or influence. It requires immense amount of courage and self-assurance for women to ask for what they want and doggedly pursue their goals. Glenn Llopis in his article, puts it beautifully.

Listen to your intuition

Like I mentioned, women are very perceptive and excellent decision makers. Traditional Indian families are a great example. While the patriarch appears to be the head of the house, the matriarch is actually the neck who decides which way the head turns! The woman communicates her views using her intuition so skillfully that the man feels it was his decision! Likewise at the workplace, many of your views may be considered emotional and lacking logic. I’m ashamed to say that I used to feel embarrassed about voicing my thoughts in a male-dominated circle at the fear of being ridiculed. Our left brain might take the logical decision, but it is strongly guided by the intuitive and emotional right brain. So if you feel something isn’t quite right, or that you have a point of view that is different, be bold and express it. You shouldn’t feel embarrassed about your gift of intuition.

Seek a balance

Yin and Yang. Left brain and right brain. Male and female. True success requires a balanced view of things. In our objective to achieve gender equality, we must not seek opportunities because we are women. We must seek success because we are capable. Gender equality or ethnic diversity is not feminism. It is all about exercising untapped prowess and thinking of ideas that have never been thought of before, in order to come up with limitless possibilities. Fortunately, times are definitely changing for the better. I see the millennial generation of men and women regarding each other in more equal terms. To see a true balance of power, we have to understand the strengths that both male and female employees bring to the table. We need to discard our stereotypical mindsets to magnify our combined power. I would like to end with these wonderful lines by Alanis Morissette: I don’t want to be your other half I believe that one and one make two