Women leaders on the much debated glass ceiling and the battles within
As we are currently in the middle of the war of identities, equality and finding our place in the society irrespective of gender, it’s still early to see the glass half full as an optimist or to look at it as a glass with some water as a realist. The metaphorical invisible barrier, the ‘glass ceiling’ predates the present wave of feminism that has raised many questions and answers at the same time across the world.
More than anyone else, women need to understand their real challenges which is not only about acquiring a position at the top or fighting the divide that has been created over the ages but to acknowledge that it is about self-progress rather than making a point. There is no need to mask that ambition and move upwards by being on the sidelines to avoid any kind of professional threats. The glass ceiling remains a strong mental and emotional barrier in layers and women also need to be aware now of the additional barriers apart from their struggle alongside their male counterparts and organisational hierarchy.
The struggle is within. No government initiatives and equal rights to pay will yield the power that women already possess. The fear of not being good enough, that self-created cloud of assumptions laden with questioning one’s skill-set, leadership quality, technological awareness and appropriate business skills needs to disappear. Not only ask for it, fight for it. Self- fulfilling predictions, underestimating over–representation and the power of being in the spotlight is worse than contending with your male counterpart and finding your right corner at workplace.
At the recent Brand Studio Live, a part of the HT Brand Leadership Series, hosted jointly by HT Brand Studio and DM Asia, we spoke to three women leaders on breaking the glass ceiling, gender barriers, feminism and overcoming barriers within.
Pallavi Singh, Head Of Marketing - MG Motor India, Jodie Sangster, CMD, Liason Lead, IBM Watson and Megha Tata, COO, BTVI have been in their respective industries for a significant period of time. They are proud of their journey, their battles, their identity as women leaders and the future they want to create for the present and the next generations. In a collective dialogue, they spoke of making the right choices and not to worry when one makes a wrong one. It’s all about coming back and keeping the eye on the prize.
Singh feels that more than gender, equality and workspace, women need to focus at battling their inner fears and the best thing to do is to keep the bigger picture in mind.
“You have to create your own space. It is difficult but not impossible. We as brand leaders are always asked to humanise the brand but how many times do we actually focus on humanising ourselves? A woman is often accused of being aggressive and overpowering if she is ahead of her game whereas a man is expected to be that way. I have had good opportunities to learn and great leaders to work with. There have been moments of struggle but you have to keep going. I define leadership as something that not only guides my team but also pushes my limits in the process. I have always hired more talented people than myself to achieve the same. One has to understand that the current generation looks at work relationship more as an equal and friendly alliance than a hierarchical one and we can only imagine how the next generation will turn out.”
Sangster on the other hand feels that woman don’t do a good job at promoting themselves. They need to stop questioning their skills and be confident enough to take up any role that they not only get but also truly deserve.
She says, “The idea of role representation as per gender that we have in our society be it the East or the West is still very conventional in many ways. If we look back, women were not allowed to take a prominent role in the professional space and if they did, it was decided by the man. It has been difficult for women to make choices and the share of domestic and professional work hasn’t been shared between men and women equally, but we are progressing towards change. It’s naturally inherent in our psychology as to who we are whereas our male counterpart will project the confidence claiming to be good for that role. I completely agree that it is about being focused. It does not only about believe in yourself, but it is also about projecting that you believe in yourself.”
Tata who has been associated with the entertainment space for 28 years now claims to see a dramatic shift in the mindset and the role of women in making their own lives better.
She admits, “Fundamentally, lots of women don’t take up the challenge. They shy away for various reasons. Women as species are far more stronger than men, mentally and physically as they go through many physiological changes- dealing and adapting to newer challenges throughout life. It is not about compromising but making the right choices. I have made such choices, for instance, I have chosen board meetings over a PTA meet and vice versa. I prioritised weighing the need of the hour. I was mentally strong about it. You can only control yourself and make decisions accordingly. I had to deal with a whole lot of gender biases, especially when I had my kids. There were seniors who felt that I needed the break and they made that choice for me without even consulting me. I lost on my career growth journey because of that and I had to take a 5-year-drop. Now when I look back, all that matters is that you get up again and strike back. Give it a shot and you will realise that nothing is beyond your reach.”