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The W-Suite | Women leaders get more scrutinised: Rubeena Singh

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. 

With an extensive experience of over 16 years in the industry, Rubeena Singh is currently the Chief Executive Officer at iProspect India. Prior to this role, she was the Chief Operating Officer of moneycontrol.com, wherein she spearheaded business strategy, marketing, sales, operations and P&L. In her 12-year stint with Network18, she had held various senior positions across its print and TV properties, including Forbes India, CNBC-TV18, CNBC Awaaz, CNN-News18 and News18 India. 

Before joining Network18, Singh spent four years at Star TV India, where she had the opportunity to work across brands of the Star bouquet – Star Plus, Star News (now ABP News), NGC, and Channel [v]. 

What defines a woman leader in today’s ecosystem?
I think the definition of a leader is the same, whether it is a male or female leader. A leader is effective because of his/her innate qualities, and not because the leader is male/female. That is my honest belief.  

That said, in the past, women did not always have the same opportunities that men got for a multitude of reasons, including social, political, physical, etc. Over the past few decades moving into the ecosystem prevailing today, I think the situation has improved tremendously. Now women get equal opportunities as men do in a lot of areas.  

Why do you think a smaller percentage of women than men reach the top of their professions?
I think this is broadly because of the following reasons: 

1) Previous gender inequality: Things have started improving in terms of gender equality at the work place over the last 10-15 years. That affects the pipeline of potential women CEOs / leaders as it takes over two decades of hard work and continued good performance to emerge as a leader in today’s competitive environment. 

2)  Maternity breaks: The reality is that the female gender is the lucky one – the one chosen by Mother Nature to give birth to life. As a consequence of that, a lot of women end up taking a temporary break in their careers, choosing to give priority to the responsibility Mother Nature has entrusted upon them. The length of that break varies, depending on one’s personal circumstances and that sometimes causes a problem in terms of the momentum one has built up in one’s career progression. 

3) Societal stereotyping: Social norms and practices for a long time inculcated into women that taking care of home and family was a woman’s job and a man’s job was to go work, be successful and provide for the family. I guess this stemmed from mankind’s hunter/ gatherer days, when the world was full of physical dangers and generally the male gender took on the role of a provider. But now times have changed and social norms and practices are also changing. While I do admit that more and more needs to be done in the context of India, where we still battle lack of awareness and social dogmas, we do need to recognise that a lot of things have improved. You just have to look around and count the increasing number of women CEOs to see and believe that. 

Do you think women leaders are still scrutinised as much for style as for substance?
Yes, they are – and my humorous response to this is that it’s because the world expects much more from women leaders! On a more serious note, I do think women leaders get more scrutinised and that could be partly because there are still fewer women leaders around as compared to the men folk. Though the fashion police is becoming more indiscriminate now and men leaders are also being subject to increasingly higher levels of scrutiny on the style front.  

Do you think the leadership effectiveness of women is higher than men? Why?
I don’t think there is a gender angle to a leader’s effectiveness. On account of social norms, people may be more accepting to a leader from a particular gender and that could vary depending on the situation. After the initial impression has played out, a leader’s effectiveness is determined by his/her personal quotient, divorced from the gender matter.  

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?
I am not really an expert on how women leaders were in the 80s and 90s, so can’t comment on that. What I would like to say is that now technology has changed things quite a bit. Some things have become simpler and some things are now more difficult – like taking a break. Thanks to technology, people expect you to be connected and available for work all the time – that’s the new paradigm.  

What hasn’t changed much is the social dogmas in certain smaller cities, towns and villages of India. Half of the country’s productive population belongs to the women gender. We need to collectively upskill this huge part of our population – it’s essential for India’s emergence as a superpower. 

How do you maintain a balance between career goals and family responsibilities? How frequently do you have to sacrifice one for the other?
I must admit that it’s very tough, but what helps me is that I’m clear in my choices and I don’t feel guilty about the choices I make. I try to get my work done as effectively as possible and then like to spend quality time with my family. Sometimes it’s not possible and sometimes it is – that’s a tradeoff. Even my husband goes through that. I don’t keep track of how often it happens, but it does happen.  

Do you think pay parity exists in our corporates today across levels? What about pay parity at the leadership levels?
Global surveys across a lot of industries show that pay parity in the corporate world is very much a reality and still has some way to go. And this pay parity exists across leadership levels too. The data is out there for everyone to see.  

What would be your advice to women aiming for the C-suite?
Aiming high alone is not enough, you have to work towards it with equal dedication. It’s a path which involves a lot of sacrifice and effort – so be ready for it. 

What, according to you, are the 3 important lessons new women leaders need to learn?
I’m still figuring out my lessons! I guess it’s different for everyone, there is no precise mantra or secret sauce. If I knew that, I would rather write a book to share it with the world like Dr. Stephen Covey did. Some of the lessons that have personally worked for me have been hard work, confidence in myself, a little bit of luck and a very supportive family.

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