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The W Suite | ‘There is no space for self-doubt in today’s business ecosystem’

Diversity in the workforce has become a necessity today, and more so in the leadership positions. It can’t be denied that women bring a high level of creativity and empathy while solving problems and handling crises. Women leaders bring to the table a different level of dexterity. 

AdGully’s ‘The W-Suite’ series features interactions with influential women leaders in India, who share some deep insights on what being a woman leader means in India’s business landscape, the mantras to succeed, achieving work-life balance, pay parity and much more. 

Lisa Jeffery, Deputy CEO, SBI General Insurance, has more than 30 years of insurance industry experience, during which she has worked in senior leadership roles in Broking, Underwriting, Operations and Strategy. Prior to joining SBI General Insurance, Jeffery held the position of State Manager Victoria/ Tasmania for IAG’s Broker Business as well as a member of the National Broker Business Leadership team. During this period, she spent 6 months within the IAG group’s Strategy team, focusing on customer disaster resilience. Within the broader industry, across her career, Jeffery has been involved in mentoring programmes for young insurance professionals and has been a strong advocate and leader in turning the focus on gender diversity. 

How would you define today’s woman leader?
Today’s leaders are, in one word, fierce, irrespective of their gender. Women leaders today are extremely focused, career-oriented, talented, passionate and versatile. They juggle many responsibilities at one time and have learnt to excel in all by virtue of being a woman. They are comfortable in their own skin and no longer do they need any external validation for their decisions. They are unafraid to take bold steps and follow it through. 

What are the foremost attributes that women leaders in today’s business ecosystem must possess?
Confidence. This is something that any women leaders must possess, and it makes a huge difference to how others will reciprocate to your ideas and vision. You need to be your most loyal fan. There is no space for self-doubt in today’s business ecosystem and women leaders must understand that. 

Despite the qualifications, aptitude and experience, why do you think we don’t see the expected number of women business leaders, especially when it comes to boardroom decision-making?
We as women are often very doubtful of our own abilities and that makes all the difference sometimes. Organisations have the responsibility to identify and nurture talent, but it’s our responsibility to get recognised. Dwelling in self-doubt does more harm than good and I believe is one of the key reasons we don’t see as many women in the boardroom decision-making. 

What more do Indian corporates need to do to encourage and groom women leaders?
The term leader does not have a gender and we should not associate it with one either. Corporates need to identify potential leaders and nurture them from an early stage, regardless of their gender. We, as women, need equal opportunities, asking for more just because we are women is only going to create more discriminations for our future generations. We are talented, ambitious and posses every quality to become a leader and should have exactly what our male counterparts are having. 

According to you, what are the Do’s and Don’ts for today’s women to break through the glass ceiling?
Do’s:

  • Be confident: It is the key to the biggest of hurdles you’ll face
  • Aim high and don’t be apologetic for it: You have worked hard and if you are ambitious about your career, you don’t need to apologetic about that
  • Be greedy: Anything that is worth having, won’t come easy and don’t be ashamed to ask for more if you believe you deserve more
  • Be resilient: Patience is a virtue that leaders must possess
  • Build a strong support network: You cannot do everything on your own!.  Lean on your network and equally be there to support others
  • Nurture: As you rise through the ranks, be the person to help other women coming through behind you to achieve their goals

Don’t:

  • Be too hard on yourself: Everyone makes mistakes. Even leaders do. The important thing is to learn from them and not to repeat the same mistake
  • Forget yourself: It’s important to be successful; but it’s more important to be happy. Don’t forget yourself in the process of becoming who you want to be
  • Be self-obsessed: Don’t hold on to your success or failure for too long. Life is a long journey and success and failure are both part of it

How acute is the gender pay gap issue in India today? What needs to be done to address this in an effective manner?
Gender pay gap is a global issue and India is no exception to that. There are some gaps at all levels and many corporates have started mending that difference. Regardless of the industry, this is prevalent. 

However, there are times when we as women need to speak up in such issues at individual levels. Only by being aware of this issue can we eradicate it. Also, the dependency of a family on the ‘Man of the house’ is another reason for this gap. When we truly become equal in taking the responsibilities, we can mend this gap. 

Do you think the leadership effectiveness of women is higher than men? Why?
I believe leadership effectiveness is very individualistic and has nothing to with one’s gender. Every person brings certain qualities with them and while women have an edge in certain things, men have their edge over others. So, it will be very unfair to point out something basis one’s gender. 

What are the five most effective lessons that you have learned as a woman leader?
It’s important to put your foot down sometimes: If there is something you really believe, you should put your foot down for it even if others don’t agree to it.

Don’t follow the herd: Everyone has their own journey and that’s what makes it memorable. Don’t try to follow someone’s footsteps ‘to the T’, as what worked for them might not work for you too.

Don’t think as a ‘woman’ leader: You as a leader should first get rid of the ‘woman leader’ title. You are responsible for everything as much as your male counterpart and should not look for any favours for being a woman if you expect to be treated equally.

Don’t be afraid of failure: Failures teach you your biggest lessons and you must not be afraid of it.

Be confident: Confidence is an acquired skill and to be in any leadership role, it is imperative to be confident. 

How challenging has it been for you to maintain a balance between career goals and family responsibilities? What is your mantra to maintain that balance?
This indeed is one of the biggest challenges for all of us. We as women want to maintain the perfect harmony between our professional and personal lives and sometimes end up losing ourselves in that process. 

I’ve learnt to deal with it over time and believe the key to success in this is to keep both at their respective places. Trying to juggle both at the same time will only create chaos for us. 

What should the industry collectively do to tackle a serious issue like sexual harassment at the work place?
This is a global issue, and while this is absolutely not okay, a lot of it stems from the difference in power dynamics of two people. The industry should collectively boycott any person who has been identified for this and more importantly, conduct trainings on the same. Getting the grey areas in black and white is important and that can happen only through proper training. We need to know the definition of harassment very clearly to be able to stop it.

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