The W-Suite |'Today’s women leaders are unapologetic about their gender'

With a rapidly evolving business and economic landscape there is a dire requirement of fresh thinking, new skill sets, greater flexibility & adaptability, more collaboration as well as the ability to think on one’s feet. 

Gone are the days when the thinking was more on the lines of ‘get a man to do this job’. 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. 

Anoushka Adya is the Founder and Partner of Di-mentions Studio, a unique digital agency that believes in making brilliant work happen for their clients, by living up to their tagline which is ‘Think Differently’. Being about two years, Di-mentions offer a variety of services including Social media Marketing, Website Designing, Online Advertising, SEO and Analytics, Application Development and Mobile Marketing. 

What defines a woman leader in today's ecosystem?
A woman leader in today’s ecosystem is different and has evolved immensely. The women who are making it to the top are definitely bolder, more fearless and unapologetic about their gender. In other words, they are not considering their gender a weakness, but are instead using it as a strength.  

Women managers who have broken the glass ceiling in medium-sized, non traditional organisations have proven that effective leaders don’t come from one mold. Women who are making their way into top management are not blindly adopting the style and habits that have proved successful for men. Instead they are drawing on the skills and attitudes they developed from their shared experience as women. 

Women are succeeding because of – not in spite of – certain characteristics generally considered to be ‘feminine’ in leaders. For example, compassionate leadership, strong EQs (emotional quotients), interactive leadership, nurturing attitudes, etc.  

Women are actively working towards making their interactions positive for everyone involved. They are also different because they share information and power, enhance other people’s self-worth, encourage compassion and employee empowerment. All these things reflect their belief that allowing employees to contribute and to feel powerful and important is a win-win situation for the employees and the organisation. 

Why do you think a smaller percentage of women than men reach the top of their professions?
Women are now entering leadership roles in society, but they are still infrequent occupants of high-level leadership roles. This rarity of women in elite leadership roles is because till some time back women were not allowed to work and were supposed to be homemakers. But with the feminist wave, it started to change and now we see a lot of women who are working and reaching the top of their fields.  

But it’s still very slow and there’s a long way to go. The Global Fortune 500 reveals fewer than 1 per cent women among its CEOs. The reasons for this are: 

The traditional patriarchal mindsets and biases will take a while to completely go away. It’s only been the last few generations of women that have finally started coming out so it will take time. Women are not yet viewed as competent as men to handle top leadership positions.  

Women’s careers are often viewed as short because it is believed that once they get married, they will have children and their priorities will have to change. Women are sometimes not considered as aggressive as men or as bold in their decision making. 

Do you think women leaders are still scrutinised as much for style as for substance?
Yes, I think women leaders are definitely scrutinised for both substance and style. But there is the Shakespearean saying: “Clothes make the man”, so there is no harm in some power dressing. But, substance is and will always remain the most important. 

Do you think the leadership effectiveness of women is higher than men? Why?
Yes, I strongly believe women are more effective leaders. Study after study shows that female leaders tend to be better leaders than their male counterparts. At every single level of the corporate ladder, women are rated as better overall leaders than men by peers, bosses, direct reports and colleagues. 

The reasons for the same are:

This is because they are not complacent and continuously try to outdo themselves and prove themselves and are, therefore, keen to take feedback to heart. They also need to work harder to prove themselves. Women are excellent multi-taskers and can juggle many tasks and issues all at once. 

Women are also better listeners, more compassionate and use the power vested in them to empower their team and motivate them to do better work. They believe more in interactive leadership. They also have high Emotional Quotients, which make them better at managing people and teams. 

Women leaders in the 80’s and 90’s and women leaders today - what are the key differences? And what are the things that haven’t changed much?
When we talk about women leaders in the 80s and 90s, doctors, teachers, nurse, accountants, etc., were the primary focus and the only career choice women had. Even if women worked in that era, after marriage, they were asked or had to sacrifice their profession as women were primarily considered as home makers and not given equal chances as compared to the opposite sex. One of the biggest problems women faced was sexual harassment too. Today, women have overcome this fear of what will society say, how to retaliate and how to survive in a male dominated industry. 

Earlier they had certain limitations to everything they did and had to break stereotypes. 

Equality of opportunities for women in health, sports, in work and in decision- making was less. Now, as the world is changing, women are becoming bolder with sharp thought process, calculative, practical and have a rebellious attitude which is now a game changer. 

Things that still require change is that feminism is still a bad word. Gender equality is something we should all care about it, because it starts with the way we raise our children. And yet too many people (both men and women) still think of man-haters when they think of the word ‘feminist’. You see the expression that people give when one says ‘I’m a feminist’. They have this entire thought process in their mind he/ she is in opposition to men, his thinking, his likes-dislikes, etc. It’s just that feminists believe they should have equal rights regardless of their gender and has no hatred towards opposite sex. 

The Juggling Act: Though now the percentage of working women has increased substantially, our society still believes and thinks it is the key responsibility of women to raise the child and then manage work. It’s an observation. Child-rearing, for the most part, is the mother’s responsibility. Men can go to work, and be present at work the entire day. Women have much more of a juggling act, where they have to solely adjust and look out for solutions to manage both lifestyles.  

Lack Of Female CEOs: Girls today are raised to believe they can be and do anything in life, but only a paltry number end up becoming CEOs of major organisations. There are a list of questions and doubts which come on when we think of female CEOs. Will she survive? Chances are, it may end. We still need to accept women in work culture and their contribution, which will eventually lead to progress of the nation. 

How do you maintain a balance between career goals and family responsibilities?
Building a career and having a personal life balance at the same time is one of the hardest things to do. I really believe that having a personal life and maintaining close ties with family and friends keeps one grounded and adds immense meaning to your life. It is also extremely important to avoid a burn out and to stay productive.  

My experiences outside work have taught me skills that are imperative to business: for example, how to anticipate, to delegate and give responsibilities and empowerment, and among all others, be a good listener. In fact, my time away also always gives me fresh perspective and instead of micro-managing the company, I am able to macro-manage and dedicate my time to what really matters: having a clear vision and empowering the people within my team to make things happen and pushing them to achieve their fullest potential. 

Lastly, I get asked this question very often and it often makes me smile because I wish to ask back, “Are men ever asked this question?” 

How frequently do you have to sacrifice one for the other?
I have truly sacrificed a lot in life to achieve what I have today, and I am okay with it. But you know what, nothing comes easy. I’m also very grateful for all the opportunities I have got so early on in life. And I don’t think about taking those extended holidays or taking time off because I truly love my work and I'm here because I want to create and make a difference.  

Do you think pay parity exists in our corporates today across levels? What about pay parity at the leadership levels?
Of course. It is a well-established fact that men still have the benefit of higher wages and faster promotions across ALL levels. But that’s also slowly changing and each industry is voicing their opinions on the pay parity.  

What would be your advice to women aiming for the C-suite?
It would seem that to be a younger woman in a men-dominated industry requires a fairly bold personality – a willingness to challenge the status quo, push harder for results, and do something out of the ordinary. 

My main advice is that women who want to succeed will have to be fearless, unapologetic and will have to display a fair degree of boldness in their decision making. At least for the ones who want to succeed in business, especially in the men-dominated fields, may have to be. 

What, according to you, are the 3 important lessons new women leaders need to learn?
- Be an original. You are unique, play to your strengths while being honestly aware of your weaknesses. 

- Find people who will bring in what you don’t have and treasure them. Carve your own destiny and do not blindly ape trends or people. 

- Find that beautiful balance between passion and realism. And at the end of the day, every success formula begins and ends with something that has no substitute - Hard work. So keep at it and life will surprise you!

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