Lifting up the next generation of women

Sometimes, all that is needed is a nudge to make a woman understand that she is just right for the job, says Sujitha Karnad, CEO, LeadNOW

By: Dr Sujitha Karnad

According to the Smart Balance Pyramid, a woman’s self-confidence and personal and professional identity takes both time and effort to build. But beyond that, it actually takes a mind shift for her to believe that she can and she should have a strong individual identity of her own.

There is enough written about male dominated workplaces, and how it is far easier for men to mentor and sponsor other men than women. What about the other side of the story? – do women in senior roles help other women? Unfortunately, not so, as indicated by the multiple sources I thumbed through before I got down to writing this article.

The women I spoke to said, “I work full-time, look after two kids, my job has a high travel component, and I have to manage most of my household chores even though I have a supportive spouse. There aren’t enough hours in the day for mentoring other women”. Besides, she added, “I have never been mentored, and mentoring others is new to me”.

Having traversed these paths myself, and coached several hundreds of women through their issues, some clear reasons emerged for why women don’t help other women enough. Rosabeth Moss Kanter had observed that women reach the executive suite, they begin to distance themselves from other women.  She said these women work hard to fit in, and want to be seen as being ‘one of them (men’s club)’. They do this by not calling attention to their gender or minority status, and they do not want be seen as having a feminist agenda or as an advocate for other women. While I agree that the focus is on driving results and not be seen as too aggressive in supporting women initiatives, we must find ways to do both well.

As the only female member of an executive team, when I put forth the need to promote a few deserving women candidates, the others were quick to point out that these candidates were hardly ‘visible’. They did acknowledge these women as high performers, but to be given higher managerial positions meant that they should have taken up more challenging roles, and be seen in networking events where crucial discussions take place.

It was an eye-opener for me, and it was then I decided to create a mentor network for women in my organisation. Did it help? It did, primarily because the program laid out a plan for mentoring sessions that women could then fit into their schedules. It was the unplanned events that were hard to accommodate into their daily tasks. The program was designed to equip her to seek mentoring and also teach her how to mentor other women. Within six months of launch, the program was a resounding success as women felt it was one way to payback for all the help they had received in their own careers.

Sometimes, all that is needed is a nudge, a kind word or two to tell her that she is just right for the job. I met with a male client who told me that his high performer team member refused to tick the box which read ‘mobility’ just because she feared she would have to travel a lot leaving her family to cope with her absence. Eventually when she did tick that box, her role expanded with interesting opportunities.

She was now perceived differently, as if her gender-based responsibilities somehow stopped mattering anymore. Fortunately for her, she didn’t have to travel as much, but had she not listened to her manager, she probably would have been passed for the next promotion. However, not all women have that kind of support, and this is why we must ‘throw her down a rope to climb’.

As a call-to-action, begin by identifying five women who you feel could benefit from mentoring. You would be surprised how much they will thank you for it.

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