8 Mar 2017, 11:12 — 6 min read
In my work with organisations, conversations with women have been of two types – one is women who have reached a certain level in their career, either a department or business head or certainly on their way up. When talking about challenges, most of the time these women talk about business challenges – market share, digitisation or globalisation. The second type of conversations have hovered around personal challenges – reasons why women did not want to take the leap, because it would have called for something they were not willing to give up; their positions on their beliefs or love for their family. The obstacle was always in the external environment.
The fight is not ‘without’, it is within. The point is not whether the glass ceiling exists; the point is that we believe it exists. That it is there outside of us. If I was to analyse the different challenges faced by the respondents in my study, I see that the challenges emerged at three different levels.
Limits placed by self involve doing things we have not done hitherto like travelling or night shifts or late sitting. Of course, the best course of action is for women to talk to their employer to ensure proper safeguards are put in place, to ensure safety and security of its women employees. If an employer has not made such an arrangement, then it is up to you to align with other decision makers in the company and ensure these minimum safeguards are there. Fight for these rather than avoid the confrontation and leaving on time. Your inability to fight for positive benefits will prevent you from rising in the organisation. Be your own protector.
As Tasneen Padiath, Managing Director of CEB South East Asia, says, “I have learned over time that if you don’t ask for it, you don’t get it, so don’t be afraid of asking.”
Limits placed by other’s perception is when you allow other’s beliefs to become your roadblocks. You are as much to blame for perpetuating the assumption that you need protection. This is how Nandini Goswami, Head of Corporate Communications for an MNC based in Mumbai handled it. “When I first started working, I was a crime reporter with Hindustan Times, my first job was that of a journalist. There was a murder in a red-light area and my boss didn’t want to let me go. He said a woman mustn’t go there. I didn’t give up. I said if I was a crime reporter...have gone to several crime scenes, seen that...counted bodies and was strong to do that ...why would I not go for this story? I managed to convince him and went there. Women very often give up. I got a very good story because I gave a woman’s insight too.”
If you want to move ahead in your career, then don’t expect others to make concessions for you. Check whether the perception the other person has about you is based on fact or a feeling. Take action to dispel that perception. This has a major impact on how your subordinates and peer group perceive you – as an equal or somebody needing protection.
Farida Hussain from Mumbai, Head of Marketing in USV Ltd shares, “I remember my first meeting, I was trying to teach like a teacher. So I had my leg pulled by a lot of people, but because I was able to answer their questions, it was fine. Everybody will test you…every time people who don’t know you will test you. So you have to ensure you are very good, in fact much much better than anybody else at the same level.”
The third level limits are the challenges and gender discrimination in general i.e. in the public domain or at client level, people you don’t know. Typical instance is when the person is in a client facing role. Women who have managed this challenge too are the ones typically where a large investment is made in the training and mentoring of these women or they have networked with women in other organisations to develop the confidence and awareness. Here are a few best practices:
Farida Hussain opines, “At social networking sessions, if you don’t want to be part of that type of networking then you have to develop other types of networking which should compensate. I have never been part of binge meetings…or meeting customers, however it never affected me because I focused on bettering myself at my work. So there were never any complaints on the work front. My focus was how I am going to connect with the customer through my science and not my social skills. If I didn’t have both then my customer will not recognise me.”
Tasneen Padiath shares, “I have faced bias more externally, with clients and their members. Sometimes you walk into a client’s place and since my work is advisory, they do not want to take advice from a woman. I face that multiple times not only in Asia but also in the United States. Advice from an Asian and especially from a woman it is not very well received here. (Overcoming) it came with time. These were clients I was interacting with for over two years and demonstrating my expertise, they started trusting me. Started seeing me not as an Asian or a woman but as somebody who can help them address their issues. Therefore, you just have to work to gain the client’s trust. Of course, there are people with prejudices you can not overcome but at the end of the day you are working toward the same outcome or objective as they are.”
Ask for assignments to work abroad, or even in different cities, this will build your ability and confidence.
So, don’t shy away from the challenges, analyse what it would take from you to surmount it and meet them head on.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views, official policy or position of GlobalLinker.
Image source: Pexels
Posted byGeet Mala Jalota
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