Caution! Women at Work
The mood is just right for self-reflection. My mind sifts through its thought library and locks in on a favorite.“This is a great time to be a woman in a corporate career. The tone is right. The intent is clear. There is hope.” I thought.
But as I walk past the last 15 years of my career, it dawns on me that I have been lucky to have worked with some exceptional people.
So I thought I’d recount a couple of instances here where I thought that my bosses did right by me and thereby, my gender.
Spotting the spark and marking the spot:
Like all fresh MBAs on their first job, I gave it my all. Sometimes, putting up my hand for things that did not appeal to anyone, much less a newly married woman. You see, I believed that the early years were when you learned things the “hard way.” In this case, that meant reporting to work 6 days a week at 12 am as an Employee Relations Officer at an international call center. It meant leaving behind essential responsibilities at home. I was the lone representative of my function, giving me the chance to manage many complex workforce-related issues independently
- From your everyday payroll issues to kidnapping an employee off company provided transport! It was a fast way to learn the ropes.
Fortunately, the effort was recognized by those in leadership and subsequently led to other opportunities within the organization and outside. They spotted the spark and marked the spot. The unusual effort it took to keep at that job and the single-minded focus to do the job right. It spurred me to assume that this is how it is done - Hard work and focused pursuit. But that is not always enough; I would soon find out.
Moments of truth for a working mother:
The years went by, and I landed a break with a sizeable well-reputed organization. I worked alongside accomplished, competitive, talented colleagues. We were chasing ambitious goals, and everyone brought their best to the table. Then along comes those critical life events. My changing priorities as a first-time mother and the demands on your time that comes along with that. Returning 3 months after my delivery to a very competitive work environment is tough. The time away can feel like an eternity. Priorities for the function have moved on, and someone else has taken your job. You find it difficult to catch up from where you left off. Always thinking one step ahead, my boss at the time adjusted my portfolio. I was moved to a day job. And a couple of months into my return to work, he placed a key deliverable on my table. When I doubted myself, my boss backed me up - “I have your back, just keep looking ahead,” he said to me. I was able to take up incrementally demanding responsibilities over a short span of time. I was never a “maternity case on the bell curve.” I never lost a promotion because I was busy being a mom.
Surprisingly, my boss at the time also focused on getting me to learn to drive, thereby liberating me in more ways than one to pursue my dream.
At the later stages of my career, the support came through more subtle gestures.
- By not being offered roles or being enrolled in programs that were stereotypical for women.
- By not showing any positive discrimination on account of being a woman.
- By respecting a point of view, which sometimes differed from the popular one.
- By holding me up to the same performance expectations and standards as anyone on the team.
- By worrying for my safety but ensuring I get to do the job right, whatever time of the night.
- By acknowledging, even when I fought hard against it, the wonderful leadership qualities that you bring to the table as a woman on account of how you see the world around you.
- By encouraging me not to lead “like a man,” but to just be yourself.
- And on a lighter note, by not taking important decisions in the smoke zone, although, I spent a lot of time in the smoke zone with my chai. Some of my best memories at work.
It’s tough to stay cognizant of gender stereotyping as a manager of people. But if I were to summarize 3 sure shot ways to ensure you bring the best of both worlds together:
- Look for opportunities to demonstrate gender neutrality on topics such as performance, building capability, learning opportunities, a promotion, an international opportunity, or a board presentation - that includes not positively discriminating against either gender.
- Actively seek out any opportunity to balance the gender distribution in your team and build an environment of healthy professional competition. It’s amazing how the best results come through when each person plays to their strengths.
- Don’t assume a woman wants lesser responsibilities once she starts a family. Work out a mutually agreeable transition plan with her.
With this post, I wanted to give thanks to you – my bosses.
The best way to pay you back is to pay it forward. I’m working on that.