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The Amended Maternity Bill: Is The Friend In Need A Friend Indeed?


Your ten-month-old baby is taking its first baby steps. Crawling, trying to stand, falling, and finally standing without support. Your husband and you are ecstatic… or probably at work.

With the Maternity Benefit Bill, we see the government taking these same small baby steps: to ensure mothers are with their baby in an essential period of its growth.


Important features of this bill include:

– 26 weeks paid maternal leave with 100% wages

– 12 weeks beyond two children, adopting mothers, and surrogate mothers

– Mandatory creche facilities in offices with 50+ employees

Awaiting the president’s signature, this bill might soon become the new law. Touted as a boon to the professional woman, it seems on the face it, a progressive step!


But let’s look at this beyond face-value – How is it helping the professional woman?

·      Will the bill help plug the leaking pipeline of women talent?

·      Will it support and increase workplace opportunities for women?

·      Will it make workplaces more gender-inclusive?

A snap survey of women professionals across the country revealed mixed responses to the bill. (You can access the report here). I am not surprised. Let us look at each of the above questions:


1. Will the amended bill help plug the leaking pipeline of female talent?

The maternity phase is the most vulnerable phase in the female talent pipeline, with many women dropping off their careers, simply due to a lack of dependable infrastructural support, working mother guilt, and societal expectations. The previous Maternity Benefit Act of 1961 afforded 12 weeks paid leave, which meant new mothers had to choose between leaving their child with untrained/undependable domestic staff or day care centers that were thin on the ground. Many of them chose to drop out. In that context, the amended bill is definitely a step forward.

An overwhelming 93% of the women who answered our snap survey, thought that the new law is a welcome initiative. 76% of them felt that there will be an increased willingness to return to work post maternity.

But the law makes the organization responsible for bearing the increased cost, unlike most other countries where the government bears at least part of the cost. It remains to be seen how many organizations will be willing to bear the cost for the bill to have an impact on the leaking pipeline.


2. Will it support and increase workplace opportunities for female talent?

76% of the surveyed respondents are concerned that there will be hesitation to give opportunities to women. This is a very real fear, given that managers worry about having to account for the cost as well as the absence of a resource. The fact that the challenge can be managed with planning (as is already being done in some organizations) does not reduce the perception of it, which impacts allocating opportunities to female talent at a stage when it is most critical in their careers. This will require increased work by organizations to proactively address these perceptions and reduce the negative impact.


3. Will it make workplaces more inclusive?

An inclusive workplace is one that is free of stereotypes and biases. The law, unfortunately, reiterates the prevailing stereotype of the woman as the nurturer and caregiver by granting only maternity leave. 68% women in our survey have voiced concern on this score. Why is it only Maternity Leave? I agree with 93% of respondents who believe paternity leave is as important as maternity leave. If mandated as Parental Leave, this law could have been far more impactful!


Do you think the amended bill is impactful?

What did you hope to see in the amended bill?

How important do you think paternal leave is in comparison to maternal leave?


Kalpana Tatavarti is CEO and Founder of Parity Consulting & Training Pvt Ltd, a boutique firm focused on accelerating gender inclusion.

Read more of her articles at


Catch-22: When I Want to Take Charge but They Want Me to Take Care

What would you do if someone called you a b—– for doing your job very well?

At a recently concluded workshop for women leaders, one young woman sought me out for some advice. She is the first woman in a sales role in a male dominated industry and her challenge was: “I am a top performer in a Sales role, exceed my targets always, and am on the fast track program for rising leaders. But I face heckling from my team that I am too aggressive, pushy etc. I also heard that my peers pass unsavory remarks, urging my team to be ‘careful’ with me, or move over to other teams. I am worried that I don’t enjoy the kind of rapport or respect my (male) peers have with their team.”

This isn’t unusual. When I posted this challenge in our network of women leaders across industries, there was a chorus of virtual head nodding!

“In my role, I have to drive for results and deal with problems head on – but I was so astounded when I heard that my team doesn’t like me because I’m too ‘assertive’.”

“I am very good with pushing my way through challenges, but I often hear comments like ‘bullish’, ‘aggressive’ and they are not said as a strength!”

“I was shocked to see that the engagement survey feedback from my team said I am ‘Too pushy’, ‘Too assertive’, ‘Needs to tone down’.”

Assertive: adj. Having or showing a confident and forceful personality.

When asked to rate women and men leaders on some key aspects of behavior, senior-level executives in the United States ascribed ‘Taking Care’ skills to women and ‘Taking Charge’ skills to men.

If a woman is assertive, she is:

1.      Trying too hard to adopt  masculine behaviors

2.      Not liked by colleagues and subordinates

If a woman is not assertive and adopts traditionally feminine behaviors, she is:

1.      Liked by everyone

2.      But not perceived as ready for a leadership role

No wonder most of the coaching assignment requests I receive for middle management women is either that they are ‘too soft’ or ‘too aggressive’!

In such a catch-22 situation many women tend to create an internal glass ceiling for themselves and lean back in their careers rather than face the repercussions of these perceptions.

Reconciling and managing this ‘double bind’ is a key challenge that coaches and managers have to facilitate in women leaders to enable them to make the leap to the next level.

Some experiences shared by women who have been there:

a)     In a sales head role, figured out the toughest & biggest calls the team had: went all out and helped them close it on field.

b)     Played devil’s advocate to help them make quality proposals/presentations.

c)      Joined them for tea breaks and other opportunities to build rapport.

d)     Showed them how my aggression helped convince management for a better portion of the pie when it came to incentives.

e)     Fought tooth and nail for their promotion & hikes.

Managers can play a big role too, in setting these perceptions right; I remember one manager correcting a peer “I see her as passionate about her work and extremely competent, not aggressive!”

The role of the organization too, in creating an inclusive culture that responds positively to ‘masculine behaviors’ manifested by women leaders, cannot be over stated.

In truly inclusive workplaces, all employees, irrespective of gender, are able to leverage both masculine & feminine behaviors without having to face a backlash.

How do you deal with this Catch 22, as a woman leader? How do you enable the women in your teams/organizations to traverse this?



Kalpana Tatavarti is Founder of Parity Consulting & Training pvt ltd, a boutique firm focused on accelerating women leadership.

Read more of her articles at

The Honeyed Choice


Glimpses into the life of a working woman:

Scene one: Sitting up late into the night (morning actually) making a project report for a client, one of many such nights in the last 9 months. The project isn’t going as well as I originally thought it would; Feeling dejected, tired and wondering if it’s all worth it.

Enter Husband with Honeyed Choice: “Why don’t you slow down a bit? You don’t really have to work this hard. Take a break, enjoy yourself and relax.”

Scene Two: Catching a flight to New York for a client meeting; have to get back and then off to Hong Kong for a leadership conference. Running a cold.

Call from mother with Honeyed Choice: “Why do you have to work like this? Your husband is earning so much, isn’t he?”

Scene Three: Applying for the role of Sales head in my organization. Requires a lot of field work, working with dealers.

A well meaning senior colleague suggests the Honeyed Choice: “Why don’t you take a less heavy role? Something where you don’t have to deal with the harsher aspects of sales? And spend more time with family.”

Well intentioned advice in all the three instances, but the message that comes to me consistently (for many women, all through life’s turning points) is “You always have the choice to drop out of your career” or “Your career is not important”

This Honeyed Choice is always at the back of my mind; beckoning me alluringly into slow pedaling on my career; making me look at my career very short term; and taking non-career enhancing decisions.

When I was talking about this over a cup of tea, I remember a woman friend telling me “You know Kalpana, I am very clear that I don’t want concern that belittles or dilutes my aspirations; I want concern that supports & encourages me!”

“I ask for support whenever I make tough choices, and encouragement, when someone asks me to ‘take it easy.’ And when I am concerned for my niece, daughter or female report I say, “You are doing a great job! I am so proud of you… keep going! Take that tough role, and take care of your health too!”

Yeah. Tough Choices. Not Honeyed Choices. I like that!

“We can each define ambition and progress for ourselves. The goal is to work toward a world where expectations are not set by the stereotypes that hold us back, but by our personal passion, talents and interests.”  – Sheryl Sandberg


Kalpana Tatavarti is Founder of Parity Consulting & Training pvt ltd, a boutique firm focused on accelerating women leadership.

Read more of her articles at


The Myth of the Multi-Tasking Woman

Ask any woman what her key strength is and pat comes the proud reply, “Multitasking!” Ask any man what a woman’s key strength is and pat comes the approving reply, “Multitasking!”

I have seen women swell up with pride at the thought of being excellent multitaskers… and shrivel up with stress!

Let’s get one thing straight – there is no such thing as “Multitasking”.

Of course, there are many things on my mind right now, I’m writing this blog post, mentally planning a lunch date with my sister, wondering what I’ll have for breakfast, and gearing up for the workshop later today.

Am I multitasking? Not really.

What I’m doing is task-switching. As entrepreneur and author Gary Keller puts it, “Juggling is an illusion… in reality, the balls are being independently caught and thrown in rapid succession.”

While it is true that women can divide their attention significantly better than men can, is it really beneficial like we think it is? Let’s look at some reasons why multitasking can be more stressful than beneficial.

  • A study in 2010 found that our brains can handle two tasks at the same time pretty efficiently, but add any more tasks to that and you’ll start making mistakes left right and centre, performing about as well as an eight year old. It may feel like we’re doing a lot of work but task-switching can reduce your productivity by 40%! That’s a big number!
  • Research has shown that people who regularly multitask have lower short-term memory or working-memory, which has a direct impact on creativity and decision making. Added to that, people who multitask are always on “high-alert” mode, leading to higher stress-levels.

“Multitasking is great in the kitchen when you are trying to time the chicken to be ready at the same time as the potatoes. But do not assume it is a great way to manage a workday,” says author and consultant Joanne Tombrakos.

In fact, many researchers believe that the reason women are better than men at multitasking is because they’re socially conditioned to do so.

Take the example of a senior woman leader who I met recently. She told me that she learnt to multitask only after getting married and having children, as she learnt to balance her work and the household. But before she knew it, her career had taken a beating.

“Multitasking is a myth we buy into, to meet society’s expectations of a good mother, a good wife, and a good daughter-in-law and our own aspiration for a good career,” she said!

I agree!

If we have to sustain and grow in demanding careers, we need to revisit this myth. I did… and got my husband to revisit it too!

So let’s get down to some serious myth busting, ladies and gents!

The Individual Inclusion Journey

How Inclusive are YOU?

In their quest to create inclusive workplaces, organizations in India are setting in place many policies, practices and processes; the focus primarily is on addressing the differential needs of diverse groups (gender, generation, differently abled, etc) besides unconscious bias training for employees.

And this Organizational Inclusion Journey is important, to counter the unconscious biases in systems & cultures and provide equal opportunities for all groups,

It has resulted in bringing in diversity into the workplaces; but the real business driver behind this, which is harnessing diversity, is still a challenge. To be skilled in leveraging diversity, requires each one of us to consciously work thought the Inclusion Pyramid.. which is primarily an Individual journey; I call this the Individual Inclusion Journey.

How do YOU respond to differences?

Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 1.42.05 pm

Aware: Do you consciously watch for how others are different from you? I remember one CEO sharing how the style used by one of his team during a tough customer negotiation, was distinctly different from his own: a very soothing and non-confrontational style.

“How are you different from me?”

Accept & Appreciate: What happens to you when someone is thinking differently from you? Has an opinion different from you? Has a different style of decision-making? The VP of a BPO recently was railing against her manager who had a very hands on style of managing people & performance and trusted only the same style. Her own style leaned more towards delegating & empowering, which delivered results too. But the Manager rated only team members who manifested her own style as hi performing! This is not at all an uncommon scenario.

“How does the difference play out?”


I recently rejoined my gym and hired a new trainer, Murli, since my old trainer had left for newer pastures. As I finished my first session with Murli, I was seriously considering replacing him. He seemed very disorganized and unplanned. I was using the template of my old trainer who was very methodical in explaining every week the approach for our workout. This suited my very organized and methodical mind perfectly. Murli was different, he had a plan in his head and would randomly (it seemed to me) work with a variety of equipment & body parts. I invited him for a chat and then understood he had an eclectic approach to working out. But to even invite him for a chat and to listen to his approach, required me to ‘respect’ that perhaps his different approach had value. It requires me to suspend ‘judging’ without waiting for and observing results.

“Is this difference delivering results? How can this difference add value to optimal performance of team?”


Once we are able to the value of the difference, the question now is to identify any challenge or peblem and leverage the differential strengths of the team to solve the problem. The CEO and his report can combine their complementary strengths of confrontation & harmonizing to enable an optimal negotiation;  the VP and her Manager can integrate the best of both their styles to create optimal teams & performance. And I can use my methodical style to complement Murli’s eclectic approach to fitness.

“How can I leverage this differential strength to solve a problem?”

By our very nature, we are uncomfortable with differences (goes back to our primate response). Differences make us feel threatened and out of control. They can also generate mistrust. To be able to leverage diversity, conscious effort and training is required.

I believe there is tremendous opportunity (and an urgent need) in training and coaching leaders & managers through this Individual Inclusion Journey: the ability to appreciate and leverage others’ diversity… of experience, background, perspective, working style.

Inclusion should be (and will soon be) a critical leadership competency.

Diversity initiatives currently seem to focus too much on bringing in diversity and addressing the differential needs of ‘different’ people; and too less on leveraging the differential strengths of ‘different’ people.

Once each one of us is able to respect, appreciate and leverage our differential strengths, a culture of inclusion will prevail and attract diversity. And once we see the value of differences we will also seamlessly adapt to differential needs.

This is true inclusion.

Portrait of a Powerful Woman

In my previous blog I talked about the Male Feminist who is necessary to carry the gender agenda forward.  Let me turn the tables and talk about some of the powerful women I have met and what they are and say….

1. She defines herself beyond and as more than her ‘womanhood’ or ‘motherhood’ while at the same time celebrating it

One of the aspects of my life is being a woman/wife/mother… there are so many other aspects to me and I will take the responsibility to express all of them”

“I love the fact that I am a woman! I can have the best of both (all!!) worlds!”

“In the workplace, I leverage my ‘feminine’ to nurture, empathize & develop people; as well as my ‘masculine’ to drive results and win!”


2. She is unapologetically ambitious and cheerfully influences key stakeholders in her life to achieve her ambition

“I see ambition as being good at whatever I do, to reach for the stars, to work hard for them”

“Work (besides home) is important because it gives me satisfaction, and also because I am able to contribute to the economic activity of the world. That is ambition and I see no reason why I should compromise on that”

“Anyone who is stuck with me is stuck with my ambition too! They had better put up with it!”

3. She shuns being a victim, but not being vulnerable

“I can create my own opportunities!”

“I don’t need someone to ‘help’ and ‘protect’ me; I need understanding and support”

“I know how to get what I want, and have no problem in seeking the support of my stakeholders to get it!”

“Asking for support and leveraging support in no way makes me less independent”

4. She s courageous (not virulent) about challenging gender stereotypes

“I have understood that you have to educate people around you…everywhere I go if someone says you cant do this/that because you are a woman I show it to them that I can”

“If my Manager thinks I can’t work late or travel because I have a baby, I engage in a conversation with her/him… I say, with your support, I can.”

“Once someone asked me why do you work when your husband earns so much; I advised him to think of work as more than a means of earning livelihood!”

5. She is in touch with her strengths and is her best cheerleader

“I have a strong inner critic; this is what makes me a high performer. But that also makes me tough to live with. Now I make it a point to list out my strengths & competencies once a week. “

“I actually pat myself on my back whenever I do a good job of something.”

“I have realized that the system is not trained to praise me for my achievements at work; I have created my own circle of cheerleaders!”

6. She teaches her daughter to aspire & her son to cook (aside from vice versa)

“I encourage my daughter to find her métier in life, not to find a career which will fit into her personal life.”

“Both my son and daughter understand that there is no dichotomy between career and personal life; it is an integrated whole that is necessary for their well being.”

Portrait of the Male Feminist

Portrait of the Male Feminist

The Gender Inclusion journey is one sided; there are just not enough men involved.  Go to any conference or event on Gender Inclusion and it is alarming to see the abysmal numbers of men.

Most organizations have embraced the agenda, but I see very few men who engage with the agenda thoughtfully.

There is confusion, discomfort, fear, even (lest they say something politically incorrect). As a result, most men hesitate to engage with it – a surefire recipe for failure, for such a deeply transformative process.

And this is true not just of the organizational context but of the larger society too.

If we want to achieve gender balance in the workplaces, if we have to become a gender equal society, we need men also to thoughtfully engage with the conversations and actively participate in the process.

We need the Male Feminist.

male feminist

What does a Male Feminist look like? How does he think? How does he espouse and support the gender inclusion agenda?

Here is a preliminary portrait I have attempted based on some of the wonderful men I have met who are driving this agenda in their teams, organizations, societies and homes!

1. He sees that Gender Inclusion benefits men and women; societies; organizations and teams:

At the team level gender inclusion brings different strengths to the table thus contributing to more holistic solutions; at the organization level it improves performance, Return on Investment and Equity; at societal level it reduces inequalities; and at the individual level, broadens choices for both men and women.

“Gender Inclusion benefits all of us”

2. He doesn’t think women are Damsels in Distress:

He provides challenging assignments to both his male and female team members and keeps away from the usual patronizing remarks women receive such as “Choose something lighter… why struggle; that role is way too demanding…”

“Freedom not Protection”

3. He understands that Equal doesn’t mean Same:

He realizes that just as men and women come with different strengths, they also come with different needs, which need support to enable optimal performance.

“Support not Concessions”

4. He participates equally at home.

The Indian Government at some point considered bringing a bill to pay stay at home mothers; I am not sure that is really the answer. But care giving, running a house is WORK and that work getting assigned to women on the basis of gender doesn’t really make sense! And Work Life balance does NOT mean it is a career woman’s responsibility to juggle both work and personal life!

“There is no man’s work and woman’s work; there is just work”

5. He understands that women don’t go out to work ONLY because they need to bring in the Money:

He realizes that they work because it is deeply satisfying and refrain from comments such as “Why do you have to work? Your husband is earning so much”

“Money is not the only driver”

6. In conferences, forums, offices, promotion discussions he will ask “Where are the women?”:

Because he sees that systemic biases and women’s own internalized gender beliefs need a conscious push through processes, policies, motivation and sometimes, even approval, he is consciously working against unconscious biases held both by men and women.

“Gender Inclusion requires champions to drive it”

7. He is comfortable around ambitious, driven and successful women both in his personal and professional life spaces.

He really feels there is no gender difference here; whether it is men or women any achievement requires drive and ambition.

“Ambition and hard work are admirable & necessary qualities irrespective of gender”

8. He understands that inclusion has to begin at the individual level:

He constantly challenges his own stereotypes/mindsets and adjusts his behaviors & decisions to map to the individuals he is dealing with.

“Inclusion is things I can do and say”

What are other characteristics of the Male Feminist you have encountered?  Or would like to encounter?

Let us all who are already engaged in this transformative process sketch the portrait more accurately by sharing our thoughts/experiences!

The Spectre of Sexual Harassment


By: Kalpana Tatavarti

In the flurry of activity around implementing the mandates laid down by the Sexual Harassment Bill 2013, I hear some disquieting voices, which could be working against the very intent of the bill.

There is no doubt that this is a much needed bill; a safe and inclusive workplace free of uncomfortable overtures, offensive language, unsolicited propositions, ‘non vegetarian jokes’, (as we like to call them in India) etc, is absolutely essential for employees to thrive and grow in.

Which is the intent behind the 2013 Bill.

However, what we hear on the ground when we work with organizations is disquieting to say the least.

A senior group of managers at an offsite:

“If hiring women means so many hassles, maybe we should re visit our gender diversity agenda!”

A group of leaders who were undergoing a mentoring skills workshop for growing women leaders:

“If I have to work closely with women, give feedback, understand and mentor them, at the back of my mind is the niggling fear always, that they might misunderstand some of my words/gestures.”

spectre-6 (1)

How can we address this fear psychosis, to enable all employees to understand and live the spirit of the law?

  1. Make it a culture agenda not a compliance agenda: The fear is more palpable, in my opinion, when organizations approach this as legal compliance. When it is projected and lived as a culture of respectfulness, it is seen in the overall perspective of inclusive cultures; and we actually begin to see support for the bill, since even many men are uncomfortable around these very same behaviors!
  2. Nip those ‘non veg’ jokes and uncomfortable behaviors in the bud: This is very critical; serious cases of sexual harassment, in most cases, begin with those ‘small’ behaviors, and if they are not nipped can embolden people to cross that line. As usual Managers & Leaders play a critical role here.
  3. Role model respectful behaviors: Of course, the most obvious, but seldom practised. I still remember, I was with some senior leaders finalizing the venue for our next conference and one of them cracked a joke about how the event organizer is ‘your girlfriend, man’ to another leader. Small stuff, big impact.
  4. Your Freedom Ends where Your Nose Ends: I do believe this is perhaps a little cultural. Helping employees understand that respecting each other’s boundaries means ‘Your Freedom End where your nose ends’ hits the nail on the head. Each of us has a different sense of what creates discomfort. The onus of understanding and respecting that vests with each one of us.
  5. Train the women to say no: Difficult one; especially when the unwelcome behaviors are exhibited by senior leaders. Women hesitate to articulate what makes them  uncomfortable, and in the Indian cultural context of gender socialization, it is a double whammy for women. But training helps; teaching them that they can stem this by using non verbals, and when necessary easy words can help.
  6. Make your organizational law inclusive: The law itself protects women; (note that is says Sexual Harassment of Women in Workplace Bill). However, when you make the policy in your organization, including both men and women under its ambit, adds to the spirit of safe and inclusive workplaces! Some organizations have made the bill most inclusive by even including same sex harassment under the ambit of the policy!

People are afraid the sexual harassment bill will be misused; I am afraid that it will derail what it seeks to support: more female talent in the workplaces! Organizations have to tread carefully here to ensure everyone benefits from the intent of the bill!

Too Tall For A Groom


By: Kalpana Tatavarti

In the groups that I run for building career skills in women, one of the sessions, focuses on mental models that limit the retention and growth of female talent in the workplaces. Some of these mental models are individually held by women, that they are able to work through & challenge.

But the killer mental models that stump me and are the most difficult to break, are the ones that are held by individuals, families, communities & societies.

Too Tall For A Groom

One such is what I call the ‘Too Tall For a Groom’ mental model.

A 32 year old female leader in Mumbai “My parents told me when I got a promotion – ‘its already difficult to find you a groom, if you go on getting so many promotions and qualifications, how will we ever be able to find a groom for you?’ ”

A 31 year old friend’s daughter who is an IIT, MBA working with a large Consulting group “I told my mother to find me a guy who is better qualified than me, earning more than me and in a higher position than me”

My uncle about his 5 ft 9 inch daughter “She is growing so tall! Won’t be able to find a groom for her who is taller!”

Apparently, one might wonder what the last statement has to do with the first two; if you dig deeper you will see the consistent message:

Don’t be bigger than your husband; don’t be better than your male colleague; don’t be so tall.

How is this connected to career skills, retention & growth of female talent?

a)Internalized by women themselves, this results in them:

  • Unconsciously (and many times consciously) limiting their potential, not building skills & competencies for senior roles or slow pedaling their careers to fit into this model
  • Taking a secondary position/not claiming their spaces in interpersonal contexts (or not Sitting at The Table, as Sheryl Sandberg would say)
  • Being apologetic about their power (Remember the telecom ad where the female boss is almost begging her report, who happens to be her husband, to complete some work?)
  • Not choosing to be in roles that have ‘power’ (read finance, balance sheet, P&L) but only support roles; it is no surprise that in India a majority of working women are in staff functions!

b)Internalized by men this results in:

  • Discomfort around ‘powerful’ women
  • Assigning ‘household’ activities to women (note taking, event organization etc)
  • Disparaging of commitment to work “you should be looking after your family”

No wonder the latest study by Mckinsey, Women in the Workplace, states that societal mindsets play a big role in retention & growth of female talent in the workplaces!

Each of us, men and women have to challenge our mental models.

Ladies & Gentlemen, let us all Stand Tall together… women don’t have to stoop to conquer!

The Speed Bump in the Middle of the Road


By: Kalpana Tatavarti

…Conversations with Middle Management on Gender Inclusion

As we walk hand in hand with organizations to increase gender diversity and create inclusive workplaces, we find that one of the primary reasons organizational efforts are scuppered, is lack of middle management buy in and commitment. There is often a disconnect between leadership commitment/ organization agenda and the mid level leaders who have to execute the agenda at ground level.

This is not to say, however, that it is intentional.

What we hear in the conversations on gender inclusion, in our workshops with middle managers on sensitization, is typically resistance and skepticism :


“Why do we need women in the workplaces anyway?”

“Are we expected to compromise on quality/competence to fill our diversity numbers?”

“Opportunities are available for all employees who want to grow. Why separate/special treatment for women?”

“If women are competent they will definitely grow; if they are not rising to the top it probably means they are not competent enough.”

“We have been doing very well without a diversity strategy & agenda. Why do we need it now? We have been a highly profitable company always… what’s the need to change now?”

“I am not letting her get to the next level, I need my diversity numbers in this team.”

“Staying or leaving is a woman’s personal decision, why should I get into it?”

The role of middle management in the Diversity and Inclusion journey cannot be overstated. Middle Management has to role model inclusive behaviors to lead the cultural milieu required for inclusion and take equitable decisions by being aware of their own unconscious biases that could be at play.

To do this, they have to be convinced of the gender diversity & inclusion agenda.

I believe that if we approach this appropriately, we can harness the support and commitment of this critical layer in the system that could well be the lynchpin on the journey.


Here are a few pointers that we have seen working well:

  1. Collect and share data/metrics: Presenting data & metrics specific to the organization such as percentage of female representation at different layers of the organization, attrition rates at specific layers as well as quantitative/qualitative data from Focus groups, exit interviews makes the challenges real and enables the managers to view this as a business problem that has to be addressed. I have found it especially powerful to include qualitative comments.
  2. Make the Business case specific to industry and tie it to the organizational goals: Many times the messaging for this tends to be very confused; is this a moral issue? Human rights issue? Business issue? The biggest concern for this layer in the organization is their business results, hence we need to tie the agenda to this context. Why is gender diversity important for our organization at this stage in our growth? For the customers we are servicing? For the markets we are entering and new products we want to launch? This can be by far the strongest variable that can impact the Manager’s commitment.
  3. Share the strengths of gender diversity at a granular level: I call this ‘Strengths Based Diversity’. We need to share real time stories on how the different strengths women bring to the table play out…like the CEO at a factory shared how the entire stance of the union changed from confrontational to collaborative when they brought in a woman HR head; or the business head of customer services who pointed out how women are able to deflect conflict. One organization has launched a study to identify how & why mixed gender teams are performing…of course the risk of stereotyping is inherent in this process, but it makes the gender diversity agenda more believably valuable to middle management.
  4. Involve them in the target setting process: Setting Targets or not is a choice that organizations have to make; in most cases ‘targets’ are a language managers understand but making sure the targets are a signpost rather than a gun at their heads is critical. Besides, involving them in the target setting process by giving due consideration to their unique business or team makes the targets more realistic and achievable.
  5. Help them understand that gender inclusion means responding to differential needs NOT making concessions: The positioning needs to be clearly about employee engagement. Different groups of employees have different needs, and if they have to be engaged and performing optimally, we need give due consideration to their differential needs.
  6. Provide them with the skills required for gender inclusion: I remember one manager revealing (courageously!) “I don’t know how to build rapport with female employees the way I can build with male employees.” We have to understand that most leaders have not had the experience of working with women in the workplaces. They have to be equipped with the skills of mentoring and coaching women leaders taking into account the socio-cultural context.

Clearly, this is a long term process of building attitudes, knowledge and skills in the middle management but I believe if it is well thought out and planned, it can be integrated into the existing organizational processes.

More importantly it will ensure that the gender diversity agenda is executed with more zeal, commitment and rigor!

Behind Every Woman….


By: Kalpana Tatavarti

The key challenge to retaining and developing the female talent pipeline for organizations or engaging women in the global economic activity, has been of women dropping off or slow pedaling their careers.

Many times it is attributed to women not being aspirational or ambitious enough.

I believe that is not at all the case.

Women do aspire, but the pull against their aspirations is their gender identity, ‘The Good Woman’ template, which is defined by society and internalized by women themselves.

In the groups that I run, often there are obvious reflections of this template:

Behind Every Woman


“I love my work and have been promoted twice in the last four years. Recently I have had a baby who is now a year old. Though my current role is exciting and demanding I feel guilty I’m not available for my child”

“Ï am not sure I want to be earning more than my husband or be in a higher position than him”

“My Manager asked me why are you considering that tough role… when my husband earns so much, just take it easy!”

“One of my colleagues was saying how he dislikes ‘all those ambitious’ women’… what does that mean? Is it a crime?”

“I see successful women leaders as very brusque and too direct, and that doesn’t seem very womanly to me.”

“My mother in law thinks I am very selfish to focus on my career so much.”

“If I take the next role, I will have to compromise my family and their needs.”

“My husband says I can work so long as it doesn’t affect our family life or children”

“My mother doesn’t understand why I travel so much or work so hard. Stay at home and relax.”

Gender is the deepest part of our identity which defines how a woman ‘should be’; it is a template that society defines on what it is to be a ‘good woman’.

  • A Good Woman is not Ambitious
  • A Good Woman will Adjust and Compromise
  • A Good woman is supportive of others (not herself)
  • A Good woman puts her family’s needs before hers
  • A Good woman has to be a perfect mother

Etc etc etc…

Women internalize this template, which impacts their everyday behaviors & decisions: to stay in the workplaces or leave; to engage with their careers or lean back; to claim their spaces (both in their professional or personal lives) or play second/third/fourth fiddle. More often than not, this acts as an Internal Glass Ceiling that holds women back from releasing their potential and achieving their aspirations.

If women have to stay, sustain & grow in their careers or engage in the global economic activity, they have to challenge & redefine this template for themselves first.

Needless to say, women who have achieved beyond their homes, (and many have!) have all reinvented this template.

And they are surrounded by people who have reinvented the template too… husbands, mothers, friends, mothers- in-law(!!), managers, organizations.

“I have developed a mechanism through which I just tune out the messages from the environment that don’t support my career aspirations.”

“I have shared my career aspirations with my husband and he agrees that balancing work and family commitments is both our responsibility, not just mine.”

“I work because it is important to me, and I make it a point to convey to my manager that I am ambitious. But certain stages in my life need her/his support, just like anyone else irrespective of gender. But that in no way reduces my commitment to my work.”

“My mother is supportive of my career choices, and helps out in many ways so that I don’t get worked up. She has worked before.”

For, Behind Every Woman….

….is the woman herself, who changes what it means to be a ‘good woman.’

For, Behind Every Woman….

….are all the significant people and systems in her life who have changed what it means to be a ‘good woman’

How many ways have you changed the template for yourself?

How many ways have you changed the template for the women in your life?

Join us for the ‘Behind Every Woman’ Campaign! Click here to share your stories of changing the template.

Five Reasons Gender Diversity Efforts Stumble and What You Can Do About It


By: Kalpana Tatavarti

Most organizations in India today have launched some form or the other of gender diversity initiatives. Primarily driven by the war for talent, they are making consistent efforts to increase their gender diversity ratios. It is clear everyone is on a learning curve, a very steep learning curve at that. But some organizations are getting it more right than the others; I hope to share here the top reasons why gender diversity efforts stumble and what can be done to address them.

Five Reasons Gender Diversity

1) Visible leadership commitment: Every major transformational agenda has to have strong leadership commitment. As far as the Gender Diversity agenda goes, I find leadership commitment is almost always a given. Where I see diversity efforts stumbling is when this commitment is not visible, especially considering gender can evoke potent reactions.

  •  Articulate the intent at different fora
  •  Have senior leaders participate in & support gender diversity initiatives
  •  Rope in senior business leaders into the diversity council
  •  Ensure the sponsor of the initiatives is a senior business leader

2) Middle Managers Buy in: Managers have the biggest role to play in both bringing in diversity and creating inclusion. They are also the hardest to convince. In most cases the mandate comes from the top, and they reluctantly adhere to it. It doesn’t work. From “I have filled my diversity quota”, to “She is a diversity candidate” it only results in working against the very intent of the agenda.

  •  Include them in the diversity journey from the beginning
  •  Create a momentum among Managers by calling for diversity ambassadors, collecting & sharing stories of inclusion, and nominating awards for inclusion
  •  Provide a forum for them to safely surface & air their ‘politically incorrect’ concerns (See my forthcoming blog on ‘Conversations on Gender Inclusion’ which delves into this further.)

3) Culture & Language of inclusion: The MD of a large FMCG major shared how thru consistent diversity efforts they were able to bring in 800 women executives in a year. Within 6 months, however, they lost almost 600 of them. Most organizations in their eagerness to create a diverse organization, fail to understand the importance of the Inclusion journey. Without a culture of inclusion, diversity will just be churned out of the system.

  •  Set policies & processes that support the agenda before the diversity efforts begin
  •  Equip leaders & employees with the right language to create inclusion by facilitating conversations about the value of differences
  •  Enable employees to understand that inclusion manifests in behaviors that each one of them can commit to
  •  Do a culture & policy audit to assess the inclusion climate in your organization

4) Systemic biases: Unconscious biases held in the mindsets of Managers, such as women’s commitment to careers, prevailing paradigms of Leadership Competencies/behaviors, and equating 24/7 availability to commitment, are also critical factors that pull against the inclusion agenda. Most women tend to internalize gender socialization messages, which act as an Internal Glass Ceiling. (See my forthcoming blog on ‘The Good Women’ which delves into this further.)

  •  Sensitize managers on unconscious biases
  •  Audit your leadership competencies to check if they are inclusive of different styles of leadership
  •  Provide self awareness training for women to relook at their mental models & career skills training

5) The myth of ‘Best Practices’: Again, more from an eagerness to get it just right, there is often a scramble to cut and paste what is working well in other organizations. The latest rage is Manager Sensitization workshops; it is not uncommon to have a clueless bunch of managers sitting through the session with little context of why they are there. There are several stages to both the Diversity and Inclusion journeys, each with their own opportunities and challenges. Jumping the stage results in defeating the entire purpose and can have more detrimental effects than not embarking on the journey itself.

  •  Assess your own state of inclusion
  •  Understand and articulate the need & driver for the agenda
  •  Study the steps involved in the journey and pick what is necessary for your context carefully

Gender Diversity & Inclusion journeys are ridden with many pebbles on the path. Tread with care.

The G Word!


By: Kalpana Tatavarti

Gender! I am willing to bet this ranks high on the list of controversial words of our century. And with the UN declaring that we need to rope women into the workplaces if we are to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, it has become increasingly critical and controversial in recent years.

I live bang in the middle of this dichotomy. My work is focused on creating inclusive workplaces. With gender being the biggest inclusion agenda for most organizations, I have been privy to some of the most challenging mindsets surrounding gender, which both men and women have internalized.

The G word!

The Gender division of roles, man as breadwinner and woman as caregiver, is so deeply entrenched in our mindsets, that a whole range of choices & decisions are impacted… in the choices women make about their ‘personal lives’ and ‘professional’ lives; and also in the choices men make available for themselves in their careers.

I come face to face with how these mindsets are limiting for gender-balanced workplaces. But they are so subtle and so nuanced that surfacing and discussing them is challenging.

I am convinced that it is imperative for women to be part of the economic activity of the world. With increasing research, we know now, that gender balanced workplaces make economic sense. Research by Mckinsey, Catalyst and a host of other bodies has shown that “the companies where women are most strongly represented at board or top-management levels are also the companies that perform best.”

India ranks a low 124 out of 136 nations on women’s economic participation. Interestingly, the number of women enrolling in college has grown many times but has not resulted in an equivalent increase in women in the workforce. One study estimates that India’s GDP can grow by more than a quarter if we can bring gender balance into the workplaces. We have to bring and keep women in the workplaces.

And ‘gender’ which defines what a man should be and what a woman should be, has to be de-constructed if this has to happen. IN the hundreds of groups of women and managers (men and woman) that I have worked with, I have come to realize that the work that we do is really about changing mindsets…and changing society.

It is necessary work.

Throughout this blog we will capture and discuss the experiences of men and women in this inclusion journey.

We need to have these conversations if societies, and organizations as microcosms of societies, are to adapt and achieve balanced economic growth.

As we move forward with this blog, are there any topics within gender inclusion that you would like us to pay particular attention to?

What do you believe are the most pertinent issues when discussing gender balanced work places?

Tiptoeing Around Differences


By: Kalpana Tatavarti

Okay lets talk differences…Diversity.

“Differences? Nah! I am more comfortable with similarities. Let me look for how we are similar so that I can build rapport.”

The moment we start talking about differences, there is discomfort. From the change agent who told me he does not like to focus on the differences between humans (“it is divisive”), to the manager who said he is drawn to team members who share his background/age/gender, differences continue to get pushed under the carpet.

What about women and men? Gender differences? “Oh no I don’t see them as different at all. For me, men and women are the same.”

Tiptoeing Around Differences

But the fact remains that I am different from you. My life experiences and the milieu in which I have grown up makes me think differently, take decisions differently, and problem solve differently. At an individual level we are all different, unique beings.

As Tracy Brown put it beautifully ‘Somewhere in the difference between you and me… is WE’.

And when I belong to a group, be it generational/regional/gender, that means I share certain ways of thinking and behaving with that group.

Take the way the millennials communicate at work. For them, the ability to be constantly connected to technology, their phones, their laptops, their tablets, means that they no longer feel that communication needs be limited to the office hours, changing the normal 9 to 5 hours previous generation were used to.

Let’s take gender. Research has revealed time and again how men and women are different. Barbara Annis’ pivotal book Leadership and the Sexes uses the latest brain-behavior research on gender to show how men and women’s brains are structured differently. These differences manifest in the way men and women negotiate differently, drive performance differently, and lead differently.

Mckinsey’s research uncovers how women leaders leverage some leadership competencies more than men.

When I tiptoe around differences I lose the opportunity to leverage these differences.

To my friends, the change agent and the manager, here is what I would like to say: Differences can divide… if we push them under the carpet.

But if we leverage the differences, respectfully and appreciatively, they can add tremendous value…to the team, to the organization…and to society at large.

Not surprisingly then, research has shown that diversity leads to better decision-making. When we are able to appreciate and explore different perspectives, we arrive at more holistic solutions.

We need to celebrate and embrace our differences, not deny and suppress them.

The entire drive for diversity rests on this principle.

Bryan Pelley captures this very aptly:

“I think the first important point is that I do recognize that there are gender-related differences that come into play in the workplace, and I’m comfortable acknowledging and addressing those differences directly…. I think a lot of male colleagues are uncomfortable recognizing gender differences and don’t want to call attention to them. It’s not necessarily that they aren’t supportive or don’t care, I think in some cases it’s actually motivated by a desire to treat everyone equally and not to seem like they’re coddling or belittling very capable women. I’m comfortable with the idea that treating people “equally” doesn’t actually mean treating people the same.”

I wonder if we are confusing differences in preferences and needs with differences in performance?

When we understand the difference between ‘equal’ and ‘same’, we realize that we are different but equal.

And the bottom line, performance, remains the driver to leverage the differences.

Have you had any personal experiences with diversity in your office place where it has been an advantage and helped your team solve a problem?

What are some steps you can take to ensure you embrace diversity in your office rather than shun it?

What are some ways we can articulate the advantages a different perspective can bring to your team at work?

Intentional Inclusion


By: Kalpana Tatavarti

Study after study has shown how heterogeneous teams are more productive than homogenous teams.  Study after study has also shown how heterogeneous teams are more unproductive than homogeneous teamsSo what is the contradiction? The answer to the contradiction lies in the difference between diversity and inclusion, or more specifically, intentional inclusion.

Diversity is not a choice anymore. We are surrounded by diversity in every form. In a global workplace we are faced with diversity all the time: cultural, regional, gender, generational.

But differences create conflict. As humans, with vestiges of our animal heritage, we are constantly associating the new and the unknown to the foe. Differences also threaten our sense of self. So yes, diversity creates conflict and can hamper productivity.

So what’s the answer? Inclusion. Intentional Inclusion.

Intentional Inclusion

It requires effort and conscious behavioral choices. For as Joe Gerstandt says, “If you do not intentionally, deliberately and proactively include, you will unintentionally exclude”.

Intentional Inclusion is first and foremost an individual journey.

This individual journey needs us to introspect on the stereotypes and unconscious biases we might hold. I still remember a client who mentioned that she had a team member from a minority community and her client claimed discomfort in dealing with him! The stereotypes and unconscious biases I hold impact the careers of others, especially when I am in a position of power.

Surfacing my unconscious biases and engaging in behaviors of intentional inclusion can create a workplace that provides equal opportunities for all groups.

At the next level, it requires conscious behavioral choices: Do I actively seek people different from me? How do I respond to different thoughts/views? How do I work with differing priorities? Each and every one of us has a responsibility to become comfortable with the ‘different’ person.

As a Manager, do I have checks and balances to counter my own preferences for a certain kind of team member?

I still remember my very first Manager, who used to actively prod the quieter members in a meeting, and listen respectfully to even contradictory opinions. I was barely 20 and we were designing a new pack for a top selling product; I had a very ‘different’ take on the color scheme and recall how he stopped to let me explain the thinking behind it. Not surprisingly, he had the most creative people vying to be part of his team.

Or even the Manager, who on seeing some members of his team being isolated, taking active steps to include them both in formal and informal gatherings.

For diversity to thrive, intentional inclusion is imperative.

As Ayn Rand would say “No contradiction!”.

How do you act when faced with diversity?

Do you join groups that are different?

Do you seek people who are different from you? 

What are some short-term and long-term strategies you can develop to be more inclusive?

A CEO And A Woman


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”.

A CEO and a Woman

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?

Woman… Don’t Become a Man


By: Kalpana Tatavarti

At a recent panel discussion on women leadership, one of the panelists remarked: “One message I would like to give to women leaders is, don’t become like a man. I find women who grow to the top layers of the organization become more male than the men themselves”.

I have continued to mull this statement over, as many of the managers and women I coach report receiving similar feedback, sometimes in the form of a sly remark, or sometimes even as direct feedback. Women ask me ‘What does it really mean to be not a man’? What should I be doing more of and less of?’.

I like to think this means that organizations are willing to appreciate that women are different and they should stay different. Unfortunately, when I dig deeper that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Leadership requires one to exhibit behaviors of drive, focus, directness and many more such ‘masculine’ behaviors, along side ‘feminine’ behaviors of collaboration, empathy, and sensitivity. Unfortunately ‘masculine’ is associated more with men and ‘feminine’ more with women. As long as women express ‘feminine’ behaviors all is fine. At senior layers one needs to exhibit  the ‘masculine’ behaviors too.

Woman Don't Become A Man


And then begins the challenge.

So many women have expressed to me the fine line they feel they need to walk between being a woman and being a ‘leader’ saying ‘I have to wear a mask’, ‘People are not able to handle my directness’, or ‘Just because I am a woman, I am expected to be soft and caring’.  Very often, this progresses to the women being tagged as ‘too strong’, ‘very abrasive’, ‘too aggressive’ or even sometimes derogatory remarks.

A young woman once told me how she heard some of her team members discuss a very senior woman leader in their organization. ‘If moving to senior roles means I will also have these remarks made about me, I had rather not aspire for leadership roles’.

How this impacts the gender balance agenda is the deeper question.

Catalyst captures this in their study ‘Double Bind Dilemma for Women in Leadership: Damned if you do, doomed if you Don’t’.

The report found that women leaders are either perceived as competent or liked, but rarely both. This impacts the leadership pipeline for women. It discourages women from being ambitions and encourages them to settle for mid-level positions, resulting in a dry pipeline in terms of women’s leadership.

Very subtly a choice is made.

So what is the solution then?

At an individual level, of course, it is important for any leader (male or female) to take cognizance of the environment and adapt to fit in. Coaching helps to a certain extent, for one to reconcile the dilemma and traverse this journey.

At an organizational level, it helps to set a culture of respect for all kinds of differences. I have known managers who upon hearing similar remarks bring it up in team meetings and convey a clear message that such remarks are unacceptable.

It is also the responsibility of each one of us to become comfortable with ‘strong’ women. I remember what one of my colleagues told me a few years ago: “Whenever I see a strong and powerful woman I think ‘Yay! Good for you!’ I actively scout for women like that for my team. I mentor them when I see that directness stepping on people’s toes, like I would anyone. But I am especially encouraging and motivating of strong women…we simply need more of them!”

Do you feel you are in a double bind, forced to choose between being likable and being authoritative? What are some active steps you can take to overcome this?

What are some ways you can help change this double standard in your workplace? How do you plan to be more aware of it?