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Ladies, leave these old notions behind

  • Ahead of the International Women’s Day, we asked women executives about work habits and practices they need to improve on

Sarita Bahl
Sarita Bahl

We have often heard how environmental and social factors prevent women from reaching their full potential. However, leadership coach and co-author of How Women Rise, Marshall Goldsmith, who was in India recently, spoke to us at Guardian Leadership Conclave held at Gurugram, about how women often lose out because they don’t push for themselves and their growth. We spoke to a few industry leaders to understand from their personal experiences how the dilemmas Goldsmith describes can be dealt with. Edited extracts.

Goldsmith: Women often want to be perfect, and in the process, get fixated. If they are already doing, say 95% at a job, they are more likely to try to take it to a 98%. But sometimes, it is okay to say, “95% is great. I need to take time to learn more, move to the next level and build relationships".

“I will have to agree completely to this," says Zohra Hajiani, executive director, WGC Wealth, a financial services group. “Personally, in an earlier stint, I was intimidated by international markets because I lacked exposure to Hong Kong and Wall Street. Finally, I decided to start small. I started travelling to Dubai and Singapore—not to make deals—but just to network and see how it works. I never prioritized it, but now I am much more confident and equipped with knowledge about what I considered my weak points," she says.

Know this: if you are good at something, people expect you to be good at only that—and you end up getting similar tasks, and getting directed towards that role. To grow, you need to make effort and work outside of routine.

Goldsmith: Women are also more likely to fall in love with their work teams. When that happens, if you are offered a job you think “I don’t want to leave my team". A man is more likely to say, “Hey I love my team. But 10% hike in salary? I will take it".

“Working effectively with teams is gender agnostic. To narrow it down (and say) women (as a gender) are more likely to fall in love with their work teams is to look at it with a myopic view," says Sarita Bahl, country group head, South Asia, communications and public Affairs, Bayer India, a life sciences company. “In an earlier role, I had worked with my team for quite a few years. And the team became so self-sufficient that it did not make a difference if I was not there. That is when I decided to move on. Their self sufficiency and mentoring also meant that I had the time to prepare and hone my other skills, making it easier to look elsewhere," she says.

Know this: Women by nature are nurturers. Their bonding with their team may transcend the professional ambit but at the end of the day, effective leaders mentor the team to enable them to become future leaders. The satisfaction of having groomed an effective team can often be the impetus for women leaders to take on new roles with new teams and use their skills to build yet another great team.

Goldsmith: Women have a harder time with self-promotion, and are likely to diffuse credit for their achievements to others. This is often at their own expense.

“Women often internalize their accomplishments, especially if their work counterparts are of the opposite gender," says Nishtha Satyam, deputy country representative for UN Women. “Take the example of gender pay gap across sectors. Women may have the same qualifications as their men counterparts, or be engaged in similar work, and yet get paid significantly lesser. It’s not just in the traditional workspace—how many women take credit for household/care work, and instead give the ‘breadwinner’ label to their male partners? We need to question this ‘normalcy’ of labelling the male partner as the ‘breadwinner’, and why due credit isn’t given to women engaged in household or care work," she says.

Know this: While progress is slow, this attitude is changing. Women are now more focused and demanding what is rightfully theirs. Corporate leaders are beginning to understand that their businesses cannot run as usual.

Goldsmith: Women are actually better at building relationships as opposed to leveraging relationships. They are great at making a connection, helping others, etc. But they are less likely to ask for reciprocity. A man is more likely to say, “I helped you last week, now it’s your turn".

“Yes, I relate to this. Maybe networking doesn’t work as well for women, because we don’t look at it as that, but as relationships being built," says Vineeta Tikekar, APAC marketing director, corporate services at corporate food services firm Sodexo Onsite. “It is even more pronounced in the Asian cultures where women believe that there is no need to promote the work they are doing."

Know this: Women need to understand that networking is also important to navigate through the system. For example, asking for mentorship—women are more inhibited. Suppose there is one role for grabs. You need to show the work you have done but also, people who will back you and say, “You did well. You deserve this role". A good idea is to coach women in networking, give them more exposure and limelight.

Goldsmith: A lot of people have something I call “success delusion". It is when one person who behaves in a particular way and is also successful starts to believe that she is successful because she behaves this way. The more successful we become, the more positive reinforcements we get and the more we fall into this trap.

“I agree that many people do tend to co-relate their success along with certain specific behaviour traits over a period of time," says Shamita Ghosh, head, HR at online ticketing site BookMyShow. “Linking only a certain set of behaviours to success can mislead an individual into establishing an incorrect pattern, which in turn, may lead to ineffectiveness."

Know this: The most prudent way to create self-awareness effectively should involve opinions and feedback from other reliable sources across various periods of success. This will help individuals truly understand the underlying behaviour acknowledged by others and also be able to absorb those attitudes responsible for his/her success.

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