By Seema Ahuja

The experiences we have in our formative years shape our behaviour for a lifetime. The unconscious biases that we pick up are also developed due to our experiences either at home or in society. That is why, we need to be careful on how we bring up our children, what conversations we have with them, and the kind of values we give them.

I grew up in an environment where I saw my grandfather wake up early morning, head to the kitchen and prepare two flasks of tea & coffee for all of us, while my grandmother got ready for her morning Pooja. We would then sit together and have our tea & coffee. 

My childhood experience taught me that there was no gender specific association with household tasks.

Gender equality was a lesson that I learnt through my grandfather, who was ahead of his time in many aspects.

Studies show that if negative stereotypes are not corrected on time they could impact the health of the society at large. Moreover, restrictive gender norms can be damaging because they end up limiting the career choices girls may wish to pursue later in life.

Parents and guardians, therefore, have an important role to build positive experiences and values for their children.

Need to Challenge Gender Biases

In her best-selling book, Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg says the gender stereotypes introduced in childhood are reinforced throughout our lives and become self-fulfilling prophesies.

Widespread stereotypes about what it means to be a girl / woman means they often perceive themselves at a considerable gap to men and often lack confidence or are assailed by self-doubt.

Being victims of gender stereotyping, women also tend to shrug off the appreciation and underestimate their own abilities.

According to Katherine B. Coffman, Assistant Professor, Harvard Business School, this lack of self-confidence tend to hold many women back as they count themselves out of pursuing prestigious roles in professions they believe they will fail to excel in, despite having the skills to succeed. Coffman has done extensive research on gender equality and has co-authored a number of articles, all aimed at studying men’s and women’s beliefs about their own abilities.

These self-defeating stereotypes reflect in our country’s rankings in corporate and economics-related parameters. India is ranked at No. 23 globally in terms of female representation in senior management roles. Also, the economic contribution of Indian women at 17% of GDP is less than half of the global average. In comparison, China is way ahead with women there contributing to 40% of the GDP.

What is more startling is the gender pay gap, with women on an average getting around 65% of what their male colleagues get for the same job in India.

A Brighter Future Beckons

There are however signs that things are changing for the better on the front of gender in the workplace. There has been a clear recognition of women on the national economic agenda, including efforts to promote entrepreneurship, in recent years.

Both public and private entities have launched a wide range of initiatives to unleash women power. Thanks to the combined efforts of national and state governments, investors, banks, financial and educational institutions, and, most of all, enterprising women the number of women-owned enterprises in the country are growing. Over the past decade, women-owned enterprises have increased from 14% to 20%, as per government sources.

The changes we are witnessing in India are in line with global trends.

Grant Thornton’s Women in Business report 2021 has shown an increase in the proportion of senior female managers globally. At 31%, up from 29% in 2020, it has finally passed the 30% tipping point needed to catalyse real change.

Nine out of 10 businesses worldwide now have at least one woman in their leadership teams. There are more female managing directors and chief executive officers (CEOs) than ever before, with 26% of these roles held by women, says the report.

My Advice

As a successful career women with over 30 years of experience in leadership roles in building Corporate Brand Reputation and Communications at various leading publicly listed companies in the pharma, life sciences and biotech sector, here’s my advice to all women who choose to challenge the biases prevalent in the workplace.

  • Challenge yourself. Get out of your comfort zone, stretch yourself to reach difficult goals, experiment with new roles and assignments and ask for opportunities where you can leverage your strengths. Never Give Up.
  • Have a Purpose and Take Ownership of What you do.
  • Focus on Excellence and Love what You Do, only then will you be able to make a difference and stand out.
  • Don’t fret over what you are not good at, rather be the best version of yourself.
  • Speak up. Have the courage to express your views in meetings even if you are the only woman in the room. Don’t get intimidated. At the same time, don’t just make a comment for the sake of it. Make sure your comments are relevant to the discussion. Go Prepared. There should be substance in what you say.
  • When it comes to your Performance Review, make sure you present a good case, go prepared, ask for a salary raise if you have delivered beyond agreed KPIs. Ask for fair pay.
  • Don’t shy away from asking to take over the driver’s seat. Don’t settle down to play the role of No. 2. Step forward and ask for the place you deserve.

My Success Mantra

On this Women’s Day, I would like to sum up the learnings from my journey through an acronym, ‘WOMAN,’ explained backwards.

  • N: Network. Networking is not just meeting people at conferences and meetings, it also means interacting with people you work with and the ecosystem that you work in, where people are watching you, evaluating you and making impressions about you.
  • A: Attitude. You need to have a positive attitude with a spirit of ‘Never Give Up.’
  • M: Meticulous: You need to be detail oriented, plan well and execute flawlessly to make an impact.
  • O: Obstacle Fighter. You have to deal with challenges and the barriers to your success with grit and determination to convert them into opportunities.
  • W: Wow. Whatever you do, your ultimate goal should be to make an impact, where people say ‘Wow!’ and you can woo the world through your way of working.

If you want to be successful in your career and break the glass ceiling, you must: CHOOSE TO CHALLENGE,  BELIEVE IN YOURSELF, DARE TO DREAM and TAKE THE RISK TO CHASE YOUR DREAM & LOVE WHAT YOU DO.

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