By: Kalpana Tatavarti
I recently attended a CEO forum. As usual there were only a handful of women, which is certainly an improvement from over a decade ago. As I was talking to some of them, the discussion veered around this thing called ‘Woman CEO’.
A CEO is a CEO, woman or man. You run a business, you take tough calls and at the end of the day you have to answer to your shareholders and your board. So why do we have so many awards for women entrepreneurs and women leaders? Why do we have to ‘reduce’ leadership to gender? I’ll admit that I find this annoying sometimes. If anyone had focused the attention on my gender, even five years ago, I would probably have taken them to task.
But I have come to think differently in the last couple of years.
When I work with women at middle levels, one of the key motivators for them, I realize, is seeing women at the top. More and more of them are asking, “Can I do it?” Studies now reveal that Indian women especially report very high levels of aspiration. But a key mindset that seems to be pulling them back is a fear of a tradeoff, ‘this or that’: “If I take the next level, my personal life will get neglected and be affected adversely”.
But when they see women at the top, effectively straddling the two roles, there is an empowering sense of “I can do it too.”
And in those times when they are about to give up, this can make them persevere. I have heard this from women in my workshops, time and again, especially from women at that vulnerable age group of 26 to 36, when the ‘leaking pipeline’ occurs.
I now see this as a responsibility. Women leaders who choose to mentor other women can be especially effective because they can understand the unique challenges that women face in the workplace, as well as help them understand the unique advantages woman have as leaders.
With so few woman leaders, it is clear that gender stereotypes flourish today with leadership still clearly thought of in a ‘male’ paradigm. If we are to break these stereotypes, we need more women at the top embracing and celebrating their gender.
Besides which, a woman’s commitment to work is still perceived as competing with her ‘family responsibilities’. Frequently referred to as the ‘mommy penalty’ studies have shown that women without children are viewed as more dedicated/committed to their careers than women with children.
It is time for women who have achieved greater success outside the home, to claim their gender. But perhaps we need to rephrase a little:
From ‘I am a woman CEO’ to …
‘I am a CEO and I am a woman’; ‘I am a leader and I am a Woman’.
I now say this all the time. Do you?
Women, what are some other ways you feel that women leaders in your organization can give back and help you to advance your career?