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The W-Suite | Women don’t attribute their success to their abilities

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. 

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. 

Dr Sindhu Joseph, CEO & Co-founder, CogniCor, is the visionary behind the technologies that the company provides. She has a Ph.D in Artificial Intelligence from Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. She is also inventor of 6 US Patents in AI. Her Ph.D thesis in conflict resolution in multi-agent systems inspired her to apply the technology in commercial settings. Joseph also has a strong industrial research background and was selected as one of the 3 outstanding entrepreneurs by the UK government in 2012. 

What defines a woman leader in today’s ecosystem?
Women leaders rise to leadership positions fighting many challenges on the way, often defying culture, gender stereotypes, and discrimination. Grit is the defining characteristic I would associate with every women leader. To me, being a woman in leadership means being able to translate this passion and perseverance to inspire and influence my team to move towards a common vision, while being authentic and true to my personal values and goals. 

Why do you think a smaller percentage of women than men reach the top of their professions?
I am reminded of the 3 pieces of advice Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg gave to women: sit at the table, make your partner your real partner, and don’t leave before you leave. Most women still don’t attribute their success to their abilities or hard work nor negotiate to advance their position in their career as well as men and have harder time convincing their partner to be their real partner. As CEO, I still see this in my own company, where we have a 38 per cent women representation. As someone who cherishes to live these advice day after day, I hope more and more women are able to follow them. I am personally proud to be practicing all the 3 pieces of advice and I hope I am being an inspiration to other women. 

Do you think women leaders are still scrutinised as much for style as for substance?
As long as it is more men sitting at the judging table, this is bound to be biased by their personal preferences. I believe women are increasingly being recognised for their work and professionalism. However, this is not reflected in the leadership numbers yet and will need more women to continue to challenge the existing glass ceilings. 

Do you think the leadership effectiveness of women is higher than men? Why?
Every individual brings unique qualities to their leadership style based on their life experiences and personality. I believe it is in how these qualities are manifested that determines leadership effectiveness, and not on whether the leader is a man or a woman. That said, qualities that women are recognised to bring to the table – grit, creativity, sensitivity – are crucial in today’s world, where we need to inspire the Generation Y teams across multi-cultural geographies. 

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?
Women leaders in the 80s and 90s received fewer leadership opportunities than we do today, and would likely have had to work harder to achieve their goals. Gender stereotypes are being challenged more today. However, even with this, ‘traditional’ roles such as raising children continue to be associated with women. These are constructs around which women have to work, if they wish to be successful in their career. 

How do you maintain a balance between career goals and family responsibilities? How frequently do you have to sacrifice one for the other?
I believe achieving a balance between career and family responsibilities is difficult, if not impossible, and trying to achieve this artificial balance is to go about it the wrong way. I enjoy my work as well as my family. All of us understand my work and we blend both work and family life. It immensely helps to have a real partner, but it is also important not to be apologetic about your work, not to yourself or to your family. The outcome is nothing short of spectacular. My family is proud of my work and it provides them the confidence that difficult things are possible and inspire them to dream big. 

Do you think pay parity exists in our corporates today across levels? What about pay parity at the leadership levels?
Studies show that this pay parity exists across corporations, but is now being recognised as a key focus area by HR in leading corporations. The onus is also on women to recognise their worth and negotiate for pay that is on par with the market. 

What would be your advice to women aiming for the C-suite?
For me, it is difficult to imagine that C-suite as such can inspire anyone, be it man or woman. If you are inspired by the vision that a company stands for and have the strong conviction that you can be a great leader to motivate and align the team to work towards realising that vision, then nothing can stop you. 

What, according to you, are the 3 important lessons new women leaders need to learn?
I repeat Sheryl Sandberg’s advice:

  • Sit at the table
  • Make your partner your real partner
  • Don’t leave before you leave

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