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50 Things I wish I’d truly understood (as a WOMAN) when I started my corporate career

A lot of times I get asked questions around what it takes to be a career woman in the corporate world. Invariably, my answers vary based on whom I am speaking to. Simply because a lot of things make up that elixir – Desire to work (or need to work for some women), Passion, Dedication, Commitment, Hard-work, Experience, Qualifications, Personal Brand, your professional networks and advocates and the kind of person you are.

While a lot is written and discussed on this subject, some critical points often get missed out. In this post I am sharing 50 things I wish I’d truly understood when I started my corporate career, albeit many of them are less spoken! While I have burnt my fingers many times on many of these points, the aim of writing it is to probably help you / some working woman in her career journey.

1)      The word CAREER starts with CARE. So take full responsibility to CARE for yourself, your professional growth and success

2)      Have career goals and objectives – Both short-term and long-term. You will go and grow only as far as you want to!

3)      Plan your career in line with your goals and objectives. Have a Plan A. Plan B. And Plan C. Many women are guilty of having no real career plan

4)      Know yourself – Discover your strengths and weaknesses. Be aware of them, accept them (including the fact that you are a woman) and find ways to improve and improvise.

5)      Believe in yourself. If you don’t there’s a chance that others also won’t

6)      Value yourself if you want others at work to value yourself

7)      Learn to say NO – at the workplace and at home. And No means NO. Make sure you understand it, and those around you understand it too

8)      Find a mentor. Having one early on in your career can sometimes be the only factor in determining how long your career will span, and how far you will go

9)      Invest in professional networks. They will hold you in good stead on the rainy days.

10)  At work – Show up. Own up. Speak up.

11)  You are the “CMO” (Chief Marketing Officer) of your work and career. Promote yourself and your work. Again, a lot of women lose out because they don’t get due credit and visibility for what they’ve done

12)  Read the news / Know what is in the news – General knowledge is always good

13)  Invest in your physical health and wellness – This will be one of the most important variables if you are serious about a long term career

14)  Learn to use technology for your benefit. Make an effort to know what you need, understand the power of technology and find ways to make technology work for you.

15)  Stay relevant in your field – read, take examinations / certifications, participate in community discussions, etc.

16)  Build your personal brand image – At work and out of work. Brand YOU should stand for something unique and reflective of you

17)  Communication is critical to success – Invest in enhancing you oral and written communication skills. This can sometimes be the most critical aspect of your career growth

18)  Presentation skills – Both creating presentations and making presentations is a must-have skill. Invest in learning

19)  Learn to negotiate. It does not come naturally to most women, but it can be learnt over time

20)  Learn to ask for help . It is OK to ask

21)  Make a personal resolution to learn something new periodically. Learning is one of the best ways to love yourself

22)  Find ways to improve productivity at work and home. Small things make a big difference

23)  To have a fair chance at success as a working women, learn to prioritize your work

24)  Knowing when to shut-up and when to speak-up is a personal asset. Speaking when you shouldn’t and not speaking when you should can become a liability

25)  Choose your battles wisely – at work and at home. You have finite energy and time, and not every battle is worth a fight

26)  When in doubt, use common sense, presence of mind or the Buddha Expression. They almost always work!

27)  Every now and then ask yourself the difficult questions. They will burst your bubbles and show you the clear picture

28)  Develop a daily routine and stick to it. For at least 3 months before you make any changes.

29)  Periodically, think and measure your ROTI (Return on Time Invested) for the things that you do – at work and out-of-work. If the returns don’t justify your time and efforts, pause and reflect and change course

30)  Give yourself some “ME Time” – every week to do at least 30 minutes of something you love. This will rejuvenate you

31)  Understand that while emotions define most women, control on your emotions will define your career path and its longevity

32)  Have “genuine” interests outside of work. Cooking, Dance, Writing, etc. Whatever! Find something and do it every now and then

33)  Have friends out of work. They will be critical to keep you going through the rough tides, and will provide the much needed ear, shoulder and perspective on those dark gloomy days / nights

34)  At work, it is about business. Don’t take / make everything personal

35)  Office politics is real and here to stay. Find a way to deal with it

36)  If you are at cross-roads / in a tough situation at work, make sure you speak up and share it with the right audience at the right forum. Even if it does not directly help you, it will indirectly help all the women who may face a similar situation in the future. One small voice can be the start of positive change, right?

37)  While earning is important, managing your finances and investments is even more critical. Save regularly, invest wisely and review your personal finances periodically. If you can’t / don’t have the time, hire professionals to do it. It is a worthwhile investment. Again, a lot of women are guilty of being clueless about where all their money went

38)  “The most important career choice a woman makes is who she marries” BY Sheryl Sandberg. This is 100% true. Understand its depth and accept its reality

39)  Work-Life Balance is elusive, and somewhat of a misnomer. Bottom-line, it is your work, your life and your balance. If it works for you, then all is well

40)  There is great inspiration and power in the “All women social networks”. Find one or two that interest you and become a member. Listen, Express and Share.

41)  If and when you become a mother, there will be a time-period (ranging between weeks to 3 years or more) when there could be a career break / you need to apply the career brake. That’s OK! If you are serious about a long term career , positive and objective, things will fall in place over a period of time

42)  Focus. Flow and Flex are the three foundational pillars for a working mother’s career continuum. They all play their role in the career graph of a working woman

43)  Once in a way, take up the cause and help another working woman. Just imagine the difference it can make if 1 working woman supported 1 other working woman for sometime

44)  No matter how complex, formidable, complicated and unique you think your situation is / maybe, remember that there is at least one other woman in the world who has faced a similar situation and found a way out of the adversity. So it is possible. Believe in it

45)  Every now and then, connect and speak with a working woman who is finding her way amidst the jungle for her spot in the sun. Personally, I always take away some wisdom, nuggets or insights from every such interaction, and they help me tremendously

46)  Try to stay positive no matter what! It does you more harm than good, and easier said than done. But worth a try!

47)  Have an open mind to try out unchartered territories at work.

48)  Age and Karma almost always catch up on you – no preferential treatment for women here J

49)  Your happiness is in your hands. You are the “Chief Happiness Officer” of your life. Play the part, and play it well J

50)  Thank (often and in your own personal way) your parents, your education, your teachers, your friends, your colleagues, etc. who all played their bit in shaping your career. Nothing takes you from good to great as fast as gratitude.

On that note, Thank you for reading me. And have a great day and a long prosperous career ahead.

Originally published here

The Working Mother’s Career Continuum: FOCUS. FLOW. FLEX

The Working Mother’s Career Continuum: FOCUS. FLOW. FLEX

Let me start with the wishes. HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY to you and your mother and all the mothers who made a difference in your life! Mothers are indeed the reason you and I exist, and most often the reason why we are what we are today and possibly / probably the BEST thing that happened in our lives (If you don’t believe me, ask your mother / someone who lost their mother!)! Take a moment to say THANK YOU for the fact that you have your MOTHER in your life.

Ever since I became a mother, I have a new found respect and admiration for any / every working mother.

No matter where she works

No matter what her work entails

No matter where she lives

No matter what her circumstance is

She is a STAR!

Not for a day.

Not for Mother’s day.

But for every single day!

Let me start with the facts | It is TOUGH… Really TOUGH to be a working mother. It tests you at every level in very many ways almost every single day, and you have to find a way to pass. You can fail for a day or two, but then you will to get up, move forward and find a way to pass. No grace marks really! First, there is sheer physical exhaustion in getting through each day at work and at home. Then there is mental stress (again both at work and at home). Following closely are the the emotional pangs (of guilt, fears, anxieties, worries, concerns about your role as a mother and your children). Next are the expectations of the family, spouse, work, the education system (both from the children and from the parents) and last but not least, is the collective impact of the society we live in (in terms of continuous judgment, expectations, day-to-day operational issues / constraints / dependencies, etc.). Every single day is a tight-rope balancing act. You fumble a little, lose focus, lose balance and the entire equilibrium is disturbed. And yet, as working mothers you have to find a way to make it all fall-in-line.

Now first is the much-debated decision of “To Work or Not” after you become a mother. There is no right or wrong. It is a personal choice and depends on your personal context / situation and circumstance. Some mothers find that full-time-motherhood is their calling and give up everything else. Some are forced to become full-time-mothers by family pressures. Some mothers have to quit for lack of any alternative / support systems. Some mothers have to work due to financial commitments and liabilities / to put food on the table / marital discord. Some mothers find alternate career choices (not corporate careers) and make it work because they passionate about something / because full-time-motherhood is not their cup of tea. And some mothers find their place in the corporate world. There really no-one-size that fits all and yet, it has to fit RIGHT for YOU!

A lot of times I am asked for my views on what it takes to be a working mother. In this post, I’m sharing my opinion based on my personal experiences in a corporate career, and what I’ve seen in other working mothers.

As a working mother, if you are serious about your career and want a fair share at success, your career continuum should have 3 foundational pillars

(1)    FOCUS

As a mother, to have a career, you have to be focused

As a mother, to have a fair chance at career success, you have to be super-focused

 The one MUST HAVE mantra for any / every working mother is FOCUS. Without focus, you will really not be able to survive or thrive at work.

Following are the things which you should be focused about:

(i)                  Your work tasks for the day – Know what you should get done for the day, Plan for it and Just do it.

(ii)                Your career objectives for the year – Ensure you define / know them and work towards achieving them. You will only go so far without knowledge / clarity on your career objectives

(iii)               Your career goals for the long-term (say 3/ 5 / 10 years) – Be clear (somewhat) on where you are headed in the long term. If you have a view on the end, chances are you will reach there. If you don’t, chances are you will spend enough time in the journey without reaching anywhere. And if that is what you want, it is fine too. But make sure you acknowledge this to yourself.

 

(2)    FLOW

As a mother, to have a career, you have to flow today

As a mother, to have a long-term-career, you have to keep flowing today and tomorrow

By flow, what I really mean is “career continuity”. I cannot emphasize how critical it is to be in touch with your work and to keep going no matter what. Sometimes you may be compelled to take a break / brake. Sometimes, you may have to choose “not-so-great” options / career paths / alternatives, but in the long run being in the “flow” makes all the difference.

Why? One, you earn (whatever little, it does wonders to your own self-confidence and independence). Two, you learn. Three, the “gaps” in your resume will not really go against you. Four, you stay in touch and enhance you knowledge, skills. Five, you are at the table, so more visible than when you are within the confines of your home. Six, you have more opportunities to network and build professional relationships.

As a working mother, there will be times in your life when you have to take career breaks / put a brake on your career. The issue for most mothers becomes that they don’t really decide on the duration of this and plan around it. Consequently, it gets harder to get back to active work. First, it is your own inertia to get back to work which is a huge impediment. Then there is the lack of ‘relevant’ knowledge and skills due to the time away from work. Lastly, there is the issue of lack of a commensurate compensation in lieu of the career breaks.

Following are the things which you should know about “Flow”:

(i)                  It is better to be in a state of flow than being stagnant for too long – especially if you have a corporate career / harbor entrepreneurial ambitions. If you flow, chances are better for you to move ahead, right?

(ii)                Ensure that you are focused on “being in flow” with respect to your work / career. This will be the most crucial with respect to career longevity and growth

(iii)               While flow without focus (i.e. a definite end goal) is good in some career phases to give you career continuity and longevity, make sure you “time-box” these phases.

(iv)              While flow is important, once in a way make sure you pause – for career reflection, introspection, insights and course corrections. Being in a state of perpetual flow does not help either

 

(3)    FLEX

As a mother, to have a career, you have to make flex work for you today

As a mother, to have a chance at success in your career, you have to make flex work for you almost every day

 No working mother ever managed without a little or a lot of flexibility. It is the only realistic way to manage the elusive work-life balance.

 Following are the things which you should know about “Flex”:

(i)                  “Flex” is great if you have “Focus” and are in the ”Flow”

(ii)                There is no universal definition / agreement on what “flex” working is. Make sure you know and understand what it means to you and to the people / organization you are working for / with. The lesser the gap and mismatch of expectations, the better your chance at success

(iii)               DO NOT abuse / misuse the “flex” work option. It does more harm than good if you are caught on the wrong foot – Both for your own career and the larger cause of “work flex” options for other working women / mothers.

As I sign-off, my mantra for working mothers

Be focused

Ensure you flow

Make “flex” work for you

 

What are your views of the career continuum of working mothers? Leave a comment to let me know

Asking for Help: Are you an A+ on a D-?

STRESS” – That 6 letter dreaded word! Stress can be the cause or / and effect of many a physical ailment, emotional upheaval, mental discord and dissonance, financial turmoil, and lack of a social life. Stress can be the one single cause that prevents many of us from doing our best in life. Stress can be the cause for many of us to stay awake all night. Bottomline, stress can be manifested due to several things in life, and stress has many manifestations in our lives.

As I observe, converse and interact with working women (especially working mothers) in India, I find that they are probably and possibly the “most stressed out” profile of people. The sheer diversity and complexity of issues women deal with on a regular basis is mind-boggling. Issues from demands of the workplace, office politics, marital discord, extra-marital affairs, new age parenting and dealing with the children of today’s era, self-confidence, sheer anxiety of dealing with every-day operations (the house-help, the cooking, the home maintenance, etc.), exhaustion and health issues, dealing with expectations of family / extended family, lack of “ME” time, financial woes, depression, etc. After all being a working woman does come with its share of challenges. Click here to read the multi-dimensional issues that she deals with.

As I look back at my own career and life, I strongly believe that 2 things can help the cause of “working women” / “working mothers” to deal with stress.

1)      Learning to say NO. Click here to read my earlier post on this

2)      Asking for help

In this post, I’m going to share a few tips and pointers for working women based on my personal experiences.

Refusing to ask for help when you need it is refusing someone the chance to be helpful.” BY Ric Ocasek

1)      The easiest way to get help is to ASK for it

Don’t be shy asking for help. It doesn’t mean you’re weak, it only means you’re wise

A lot of us find it hard to ask for help. I speak from experience here! I don’t know if it is due to our culture, upbringing, education or just the way we are wired. But I used to find it very very hard to ask for help. Until I became a mother. I then realized that it would be impossible to survive without help. So I asked for help. I used to feel very uncomfortable initially, but I learned over time. Today, I don’t think twice.

So, the important take-away

  • Be clear about what exactly you want help for. For e.g: “I need help at home in the morning” V/S “I need help from 7 AM to 8 AM to help me with cooking
  • The easiest way to get help is to ASK for it
  • Sometimes the best way to ask for help is to understand “how to do it”, and “to get it done”

2)      Too much help is not good either

Remember, if you ever need a helping hand, it’s at the end of your arm, as you get older, remember you have another hand: The first is to help yourself, the second is to help others.” BY Audrey Hepburn

 While asking for help is great, I know of too many women who ask for help for everything under the sun. To the extent that they just cannot do even basic things themselves. I know of women who don’t know how to draw money from an ATM or even women who don’t know where and how to buy vegetables! That is not good either. Simply because when you try and do something yourself, there is great learning in the experience. And with learning comes growth and self-confidence

So, the important take-away

  • Think before you ask for help. Answer honestly whether the reason you are asking for help is due to lack time, lack of ability or your habit of asking for help

 3)      Professional Help is fine too, nothing taboo about it

We can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone.” BY Ronald Reagan

A lot of us are uncomfortable about hiring professional help for many things. Reasons range from lack of awareness on the kind of services in the market, to it being the first time you are asking for help, to that is just not the way it was always done. As an example, most Indian homes go through the annual house cleaning exercise during a festival like Diwali. It takes time, effort, can be exhausting and many times you’re not happy with the outcome. Last year, we hired professional cleaners for the job. They did a fantastic job and the house looked “brand sparkling clean and new”. It came at a price we were willing to pay. We wondered why we had not done it before. Check this interesting link on Life as a Service. There are so many interesting services out there, and so many service models which provide help.

So, the important take-away

  • Be aware of the kind of services in the market for different things. Read, speak to people and share your issues / solutions.
  • Be clear on how much you are willing to pay for a service

4)      Self-Help is the BEST HELP

To help yourself, you must be yourself. Be the best that you can be. When you make a mistake, learn from it, pick yourself up and move on.” BY Dave Pelzer

So, the important take-away

  • Before you ask for help, try doing it yourself
  • Sometimes, the best help you can do to yourself is to find effective ways to “do things. There is no need to re-invent the wheel for everything! Someone somewhere has done it before. Try to re-use the approach / methodology in your own context
  • Sometimes not to help someone is the best help

So as I sign-off, I leave you with a few questions…

Do you ask for help? NEVER? Hmm.. You get D-

Do you ask for help? ALWAYS? Hmm… You get D-

Do you ask for help? Sometimes based on the need / situation? Great! – You get A+

Can you do better? Worth a thought and a comment :)

Originally published here

What working women can learn from productivity in ants?

A few days back I came across an infographic titled 7 Productivity Lessons from Ants. Packed with wisdom and insights, I loved reading it. Refer below to the details.

7 Productivity Lessons from Ants

7 Productivity Lessons from Ants

Source: http://visual.ly/7-productivity-lessons-ants

As a working mother, I’m always looking for ways and means to improve and enhance my productivity. After all, we are trying to do things as quickly and efficiently as we can every single day. And honestly, whenever I see or read or think about ants, I almost always go back with a lesson. They are small, hard-working, focused and do what they have to do!

So based on the wisdom from ants, and my own experiences, I am sharing a few points in this post. These are not about how to excel at the workplace, but really about how to maintain a balance between the expectations and demands of your professional life and the expectations and demands of your personal life. I’m not an expert in this department and I’ve not figured it all out. It is work-in-progress for me, but I do have more than a decade of experience of things that work and make a difference. I only strive to share what has helped in my journey this far with a hope that it may help you – sometime, somewhere

So without any further ado.

Focus – on the things that matter

Look around you at anyone who achieved anything in life – and you will see one defining characteristic. That is FOCUS. Focus is important for anyone in life, but more critical if you are a working woman.

a. Be focused on what you need to accomplish at work for a day, week, month, quarter, year. Keep your eyes on the end goal and objective. In between, even if you deviate, that’s OK! But make sure you come back on track as soon as you can. The best way to do this is to write down what you need to accomplish for a specific time horizon, and look at it at the start of every single day. That will ensure you are on track, at least as you start each day!

b. Be crystal clear on what all you need to do as a part of your personal life (in terms of things to do at home) and for yourself. Identify what is absolutely essential, and let go of everything else. Either outsource or delegate or just let it be. In the long run, many trivial things that you are stuck up about (in terms of your thoughts, time and energies) are really not worth it. For example, I used to be a stickler for a clean, well-organized house every single day, and anything below my expectations was not acceptable. Over time, I realized that this was taking up a lot of my time and energy, taking me away from what I really wanted to do and it really did not matter to others .With time, I relaxed my own benchmarks and go easy on myself. And when I do embark on a house cleaning exercise, it is usually time-boxed.

c. Give undivided time and attention to the task at hand and make sure you complete it. Say NO if and when you have to say NO – To people, friends, distractions, phone calls, TV, Social Media, the spouse, the boss, mummy, spouse, kids et al. The sooner you learn to say NO, the better for you.

Most importantly, as they ants do – focus on one small thing at a time. Multi-tasking is a working woman’s boon, but for things which need to be done really well – Do it one at a time.

Build your team and collaborate

As a working woman professional, you will realize that the sooner you put together a good team to help/enable you at home, the more effective and productive you will be at work. What I really mean by this is to build and nurture a team within the 4-walls so you can be the best possible you at work. From experience, I can say the following are critical members in your core team:

Your maid/helper/cook – will always be on the No. 1 spot. Trust me, you really cannot be a working woman and have this wrong!
Your spouse – needs to be highlighted because he plays a critical role in what you can do at home and work. This usually determines how far your career will go! It is for a very good reason that Sheryl Sandberg says, “The most important career choice a woman makes is who she marries“
Your family – especially your mom, your mother-in-law and your kids
Your friends
Your neighbors

Most importantly, as the ants do – recognize that you will go farther if you collaborate as a team.

Develop a routine that works for you

I can’t emphasize this enough. Suffice to say, create a routine that works for you. Stick with it. And see the magic unfold. It seems very simple and logical. But for many working women, it takes years of experience, many, many failures and serious introspection to come up with the right routine. And once you do, everything falls in line.

As a working woman, you should have the following routines planned out – a daily routine, a weekly routine and a monthly routine. Among other things make sure your daily routine has time for eating right and healthy, catching up on the news and general reading. Make sure your weekly routine has time for exercise, doing something you love (‘ME’ time) and speaking to one/two people in your friends and family network. Networking is critical in the long run, and many working woman lose out here. Ensure your monthly routine has some time to learn something new. Constantly learning, re-skilling, cross-skilling and up-skilling is the need of the day. This can/should include professional learning.

Most importantly, as the ants do – follow a routine to become more efficient and effective.

Communication

Make sure you communicate things that need to be said in a clear and concise fashion – at least to those who play a critical role in your life. Be sure to express clearly what you really want and expect from them – especially your core team at home. Be real and reasonable on expectations from others. And most importantly, say it, and listen to what they have to say.

As a working woman, I’ve burnt my fingers many times by assuming they know. They DON’T! Be it your maid/domestic helper, your spouse, your kids, your boss, your team – assume they don’t know till you clearly call things out for them – in terms of what you will do, and what they will do. And what is non-negotiable! Many times I assume they are OK; many times, they are not OK. So make sure you listen and pay attention to what they have to say. It makes all the difference.

Lastly, to communicate clearly you need to be clear in your head. That clarity usually takes time to get, but it is well worth your time. Be clear in your mind. Be clear in your words.

Most importantly, as the ants do – focus on communicating right and to the right people. And yes! Listen. Communication is two-way.

Stay Positive

Being a working woman is not easy. Being a working mother is tough. I speak from experience here. As working professionals, many women face gender discrimination, workplace bullying, harassment, slow-paced career progression, questionable compensation, unsupportive workplace environment and outdated policies. They are the realities of the environment and ecosystem one is a part of. And there is no easy way to survive, and no magic mantra to thrive.

And yet, every single working woman I’ve met or known has to be positive if she is to have a fair shot in her career. So stay positive and be positive. Read positive messages/books/blogs, speak to positive people and think positive.

Most importantly, as the ants do – Look ahead into a great future.

Set Deadlines

The beauty of a deadline is that there is a line drawn, and the bane is that the line dies somewhere before we get there! So the universal truth is that most deadlines are really not deadlines – they end up just as moving line! As a working professional, it becomes critical to define what a deadline means to you and then set some deadlines – for your own well-being. For e.g., at work, it is important to set deadlines around how long you will stay at work on most days (critical for your personal safety), how soon you will complete tasks assigned to you, how fast will you be able to demonstrate your value, etc.

Similarly, at home it becomes critical to put deadlines around phone conversations and general chit-chat/gossip, TV time, bed time, social media/FaceBook time, etc. Each of these deadlines if consciously defined, and judiciously worked towards will ensure success in the long run.

Most importantly, as the ants do – bring on board your advocates, your allies and your brownies before the storms.

Division of Work

Does this need explanation? Especially for things at home – identify what all needs to be done to keep your house going: cleaning, shopping, home maintenance, cooking, paying bills, etc etc. And then, divide the work or delegate the work – to family, friends or anyone else who can help you. The sooner you figure out the art and craft of division and delegation, the more productive and successful you will be at the workplace and in life!

Most importantly, as they ants do – clearly define the roles and responsibilities. Share it. The sooner people know what they have to do, chances are they will do it sooner than later.

These are some of the points that worked for me. What has worked for you? Leave a comment to let me know.

 

Originally published here

I BELIEVE in you, do you?

There are few topics of genuine interest for people from the Indian male fraternity. Cricket, Bollywood (with special emphasis on the Katrina Kaif!), Politics, General Affairs (including the US, Japan, China, Pakistan et al), Cars, Gadgets and Technology (mobile and tablets included because I used this word fairly loosely and broadly!) and Women. Under the topic of women, a few sub categories get more interest than other’s. One of them is the topic of “a woman driving a car”. “They don’t know driving”, “They can’t drive”, “I bet it’s a girl driving that car”, “She can never get the parking right”, “Reverse parking and she? Pray for the owner of the other cars”. I heard all of these words (& more) for a large part of my growing up years (and continue to hear them even today!).  Somehow somewhere, I believed it to be true.  Consequently, I could not get myself to drive a car for several years.

One fine day, I decided I had to learn car driving. I can’t recall why, but this one burning desire consumed every waking moment of my life. And so I enrolled to a driving school. Unfortunately for me, during one of those learning sessions, I had a ‘head-on’ collision with a private bus. Fortunately for me, the car and I survived. Almost all the boys / men I knew said “I told you so! This is not meant for you.”. I listened to them and believed it. As a result, I stopped the lessons and driving.

After a few years, I mustered the courage to again enroll into a driving school. I completed the course and got my driving license. But the lack of confidence and fears persisted. So I rarely drove. After a few years, I got fed-up being dependent on others for ferrying me around. But I still lacked confidence, so I decided to refresh my driving lessons. Thanks to a friend who offered to risk putting his life at stake with my amateur driving, I lay my hands on the steering wheel.  I drove like an amateur. If I saw vehicles come near me, I’d steer away. If it was a big vehicle, I’d freeze and give way. If there was a junction in sight, I’d pray for it to be clear (along with a list of bribes to the Almighty!). If there appeared to be traffic ahead, I’d wish all the vehicles disappeared by the time I reached.

After a few patient days, my friend had THAT talk with me. He said “Why are you so scared? Rather, what are you so scared of? I’m the one who should be scared since you are driving. But I’m sitting here – happily next to you in spite / despite your driving skills. If you do drive, drive like a king. The road is yours to take. I BELIEVE in you, do you?”. That was the moment it all changed for me, and driving a car has never been the same again.

As I look back to connect the dots of my life, I have been fortunate that I’ve had people who believed in me at the most vulnerable and decisive moments of my life.  From my family, friends, teachers, colleagues and managers at work – they all had their way of saying this to me “I BELIEVE in you, do you?”.  6 simple words, but truly powerful and truly transformational. I speak from experience here!

Coming to women at the workplace, it is no different. Almost every working woman I’ve come across (irrespective of age, irrespective of ethnicity, irrespective of seniority, irrespective of past successes) has a lot these moments in her career. Moments of self-doubt, uncertainty, questions and fears around her capability, competency and value. Not once, not twice, but very many times. And to help her cross the chasm during these moments, many times all she needs to hear is “I BELIEVE in you, do you?”. Trust me, it can shape, influence and steer her career in unimaginable ways.

Pause and Reflect

When did someone last tell you ““I BELIEVE in you, do you?”

When did you tell someone “I BELIEVE in you, do you?”

When did you tell a woman “I BELIEVE in you, do you?”

When did you tell a working woman “I BELIEVE in you, do you?”

You have a chance today..

“I BELIEVE in you, do you?”

 

Originally published here

The Forbes India 30 Under 30 List: 20% Women. Good, Great or What?

So the first ever Forbes India 30 Under 30 list is out. It is there everywhere I go. On Facebook, Twitter, on the magazine and in the news. If you’ve not read it, click here.

When I first saw the title, I was super-excited to read the list. One, I love lists. Two, this was by Forbes. Three, it was about young achievers in India. So reading this list was bound to be a treasure and a pleasure.

As I went on to read the list, I was truly impressed by what these achievers have done. As the post says, ”Showcasing an enterprising new generation that dreams big and refuses to say die“. As I read further, these words from the article caught my attention “This isn’t just a celebration of capitalism and profit; it is also in recognition of social value. Do-gooders, geeks, greens, musicians, sportspersons, creative-types and biz kids: The net was thrown wide to catch the best and the brightest.“ 

As I scrolled through the list, the sheer diversity impressed me! In terms of age (from 18 years to 29 years), in terms of the categories and in terms of their achievements itself. After I read the post, I also spent significant time in reading more about each of them and their achievements, and I was bowled over. Where did my 20s go? – I wondered!

Well endowed talent, passion, confidence, the genius of their ideas, focus, discipline, the will to succeed, the spirit to go the full mile in spite / despite everything and most importantly their supporting ecosystem (in terms of parents, friends, family, institutes, organizations, technology and capital) have all played a role in their names featuring on this list. For that, my deepest respect, a big bow and a Tiara crown to all of them. I don’t know any of them personally, but I was proud to see such a list recognizing young talent in India.

As I mulled over the list, one thought continued to linger on. Why were there so few women? Among the list of 30, only 6 women featured. 80% were boys and 20% were girls.

For full reading, click here

How can women handle workplace bullying?

Women in the workplace have always been a topic of much debate and discussion. The Why? The What? The How? The How Not to? The Where? The When? – Questions galore! From him, from her, from them.

Part of the reason is this – If you look at history and evolution, the role of the women has typically been confined to the four walls of the house with her shouldering almost all the domestic responsibilities. With changing times, women are entering the workforce, swanky offices, hi-tech conference rooms and even board-rooms. More often than not, a woman’s journey from the house to the office is a bumpy one – with gender discrimination, workplace bullying, harassment, slow-paced career progression, questionable compensation, unsupportive workplace environment and outdated policies.

In this post, I will share a few scenarios of workplace bullying encountered by working women in India, and offer suggestions on how to deal with them.

But before that, a few factors that catalyse and contribute to the workforce bullying:

- The workplace environment in terms of the nature of work, the working hours, the overall gender (male: female) ratio

- The organisation policies, processes and systems to deal with such issues

Based on my own experiences and others’, a few scenarios that trigger workplace bullying for women:

(1) New on the block

(2) Being silent amongst peers

(3) Inability to stretch beyond work-hours

(4) Lack of knowledge

For full reading along with tips on how to deal with these issues, read the article here

Have you seen women experiencing workplace bullying? How did she handle it? How do you think women should handle such situations? Leave a comment below.

Mentors for working women – Essential, but do they EXIST?

A mentor is someone who sees more talent and ability within you, than you see in yourself, and helps bring it out of you.” BY Bob Proctor

When I became a first-time mother my career gears shifted. Having been on top gear for about a decade, I quickly recognized that as a working mother “I have to switch gears for some time.” First, I was on maternity leave. Personally, this in itself was a big change to deal with because my professional identity was a big part of “Who” or “What?” I was, and “How” my every day was organized. Second, when I resumed work, my priority was the “elusive work life balance” which most working mothers “aspires or strives for”. These two factors drove a lot of the career choices and decisions I made at that phase of my life. And these choices and decisions did come with their own pros and cons; which affected both my professional and personal life.

Today, as I look back to connect the dots – I can say that I am happy with the choices and decisions I made. And thankfully, they were possible due to the role played by a few “trusted mentors” who provided the much need ear and advise when I was going through phases of change, dealing with uncertainty, or just unsure about myself / things! I’ve been fortunate to have a couple of mentors as a part of my career journey – They primarily included my father, my husband, ex-managers at work and a couple of close well-wishers / advisors.

So here is the first fact | From my own career journey, I can say that having a “real mentor” can make an ocean of difference in the life and career of women.

And here’s the second fact | The sad reality is that many women leaders have never really had mentors ; and so they don’t know what it means to have one or what difference a mentor can make in your life

At the outset, let’s try to define who exactly is a “Mentor”?

Someone who:

  • Is a listener; and a good one
  • Is non-judgmental
  • Has your best long term interests in mind
  • Who truly understands a personal context / situation
  • Is experienced to handle a diverse set of “real-life” issues
  • Is neutral and balanced in views, outlook and perspective
  • Has the maturity to act as a trusted guide, confidant, counselor, adviser
  • Does not have any personal motives / gains from the interaction / mentorship
  • And specifically in the case of women, has some insights / understanding / appreciation of the “unique challenges” that women could possibly undergo in their career journey

Agreed that the above list may not be exhaustive, but if you can find someone who qualifies in the above, he / she can potentially be your mentor.

And how can a mentor make a difference in your life?

  • By listening – to your thoughts, emotions, questions and the dilemma at hand
  • By helping you acknowledge and recognize that phases of change / transition are only “temporary” (For e.g.: As a new mother tending 24 X 7 to the needs of your baby, it is so easy to wonder if that’s how your life is going to be – forever! During one such phase, what made a difference was when one of my mentors told me that “Children will not remain babies forever”. Logically, I knew this! But when you a first-time mother, it is almost impossible to look beyond your little world!)
  • By enabling you to accept what is in your control, and what is beyond your control
  • By compelling you to think about possibilities, choices and alternatives
  • By suggesting options / alternatives in a logical and balanced view taking a holistic and long term view of the issue
  • By helping you reach a decision; and take responsibility for the decision
  • By extending support, as applicable/ feasible to execute and live the decision

Looking back at my own career journey and in interactions with other women leaders, I can definitely say that there are few milestones which impact / influence the career choices a woman makes. And during these phases, having a “mentor” can truly make all the difference:

  • Career Role Transitions: Taking up a new role which is very different from her current / past line of work (for e.g.: A move from Project Management to Marketing, A move from a customer facing project to internal support project, etc.) either due to personal choice / personal circumstance
  • Career Breaks due to personal priorities and commitments. For e.g.: Marriage, Raising children, Spouse transfer / re-location, Tending to ailing parents, Personal health issues, Personal emergencies, etc.
  • Career Shifts : Moving from an IT job to becoming an entrepreneur
  • Career Exits : Decisions to not pursue an active career for a finite / infinite time duration – either by choice or lack of choice

Call for Action – Here’s what you can do here and now?

  • If you’re a women and at a crucial point in your career, try to find a mentor who can help / guide / advice you. Sometimes, we fail to recognize that people around us can be very good mentors (For e.g. Parents / spouse / friends / family). If only we speak up, share and listen – It can really make a difference
  • If you’re a leader in a position of influence, play the role of an active mentor – It can change someone’s career and life!

 In conclusion, some food for thought

  • Are enough leaders playing the role of mentors – especially for women?
  • Are mentor’s more important / significant in a women’s career?
  • Are successful women leaders mentoring other women – either within the organization or as part of the industry ecosystem?

Would like to hear your views on the subject. Leave a comment to let me know

Published here

Working Mothers – Is there a Magic Mantra?

Being a working mother is no easy task… Every day comes with its share of endless round-the- clock expectations, ups and downs, challenges, surprises, joys and sorrows, good bad and ugly, unanticipated / unexpected events / activities, challenges, exhaustion, moments of self-doubt, wonder, awe, guilt, etc. etc. etc.

Simply because every working mother has to deal with several “mini-projects” as I call it on a daily basis
Project 1 : Kids (A to Z)
Project 2 : Work / Career
Project 3 : Food and Cooking
Project 4 : Husband (Yes! A full time project)
Project 5 : Friends
Project 6 : Home Maintenance
Project 7 : Family
Project 8 : Self
Project 9 : Miscellaneous / Others
Just listing it down exhausted me! Then imagine how exhausting it would be for anyone to manage every single one of them, every single day!

The bottom-line is really this:

  • You are primarily accountable and responsible for all / most of the above (In most cases)
  • You can plan all that you want. But a lot of things are beyond planning – In fact, beyond your control (For e.g.: Kids not well, You fall sick, A last minute deadline at work, An extremely urgent official “life-and-death” call which the spouse has to take!, A natural calamity, etc etc etc.)
  • You can really take it one day at a time in terms of execution! At least till your children are somewhat independent!

And ever since I became a working mother myself, I have often wondered if there was a magic mantra to aid any working mother. Something which

  • Gives you that extra energy
  • Gives you “Me Time”
  • Makes you more productive
  • Makes you “clear-headed”; no matter what situation you are in
  • Keeps you emotionally balanced
  • Gives you those much needed extra-hours
  • Makes you look good / younger despite your age / stress-level

And the good news is this – From personal experience, I’ve found one “MAGIC MANTRA” which can truly make a DIFFERENCE for a working mother; at least in addressing all the points listed above..

And that is regular practice of Yoga and Meditation.

Everyday practice of yoga and meditation for 30 – 40 minutes has enormous benefits from all dimensions – physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual.

Here’s what I realized as the key benefits of the practice of yoga and meditation:

  • You get that extra energy simply because of the improved blood flow and oxygen circulation in your body
  • You get a few minutes of “Me Time” ; just for yourself and to yourself – Time of calm, peace and quiet
  • You end up being more productive. Personally, I’ve found that my productivity almost doubles on days I practice yoga / meditate ; and hence you can actually “gain time”
  • Your head is a lot clearer; and you can handle high-stress / pressure situations at home and work; and make decisions better. After all, stressful / pressure situations are a routine part of everyday parenting!
  • You are more in control of your own emotions; and this is extremely important for a working mother. Else you can go on an emotional roller-coaster ride every single day!
  • Last but not least, you get a wonderful body tone, agility and glow on your face / skin – which every women / mother truly loves

If you’re interested in learning more on how yoga can make a difference in your life, hop over to my post on 12 Most Promising Outcomes of the regular practice of yoga

In conclusion.. Looking back at my own life – Ever since I became a mother myself, I have a new found respect and admiration for all working mothers.
No matter what you do
No matter where you live
No matter what else you do
If you’re a working mother
Hats off to you

What is the magic mantra that has worked for you? Would love to hear your views… Leave a comment to let me know

Originally published here

Working Mothers – The “REAL” Dilemmas

Today (8 March) is International Women’s Day. A day dedicated and celebrated in honor of women. On this occasion, I wanted a write a special post on my blog, and was wondering what I should focus on. As I looked at women all around me, I couldn’t help but observe the striking issues of “Working MOTHERS” – After all, being a mother is an important identity for many women. And working MOTHERS are a reality in the modern economy!

They manage their home, their kids, their careers, their husband [Yes! Needs special mention ;) ], their friends / families / other relationships, themselves and a zillion other things. For all that they do, my DEEPEST APPRECIATION and RESPECT!

But more importantly, what is the “REAL Dilemma” that Working Mothers face. As I reflect more on this, here’s my response:

(1) Getting the PRIORITIES Right

The challenge for most women is getting the priorities right – First in their head, and then in day-to-day action. If you are confused about your priority list, you will have challenges almost every single day.  And this becomes all the more complicated because of the intricate nature of the dependencies and inter-dependencies based on your actions.

Take-Away : You should be able to identify the Top 5 priorities for the day, for the week, for the month, etc. And align your actions in line with these priorities.

(2) Managing EXPECTATIONS

Simply put, a working mother plays so many different roles – That of a mother, working professional, wife, daughter, sister, extended family, friend, home manager, cook, employer (in case you leverage support services within the 4 walls, etc.). And with each of these roles are several responsibilities – Both implicit and explicit! And expectations. The reality is that there are 24 hours in a day, and the world expects output worth 50 hours a day from a working mother. Somehow the math does not add up!

Take-Away : Setting and Managing expectations can alleviate a great majority of everyday challenges which most working mothers deal with. And clear communication is the key!

(3) Bridging the DICHOTOMY between the “Corporate World” and the “Other World”

The “Corporate World” expects results – Be it from a “man” or a “woman”. And to achieve results, one needs to be focused, objective, goal-oriented and to go for the kill. On the other hand, the “Other World” expects women to be flexible, accommodating, giving, sacrificing, soft-spoken, caring, nurturing. There is a “real dichotomy” between these two worlds. And it is really tough for most working mothers to transition between these two worlds on a daily basis – between morning to night!

Take-Away: I don’t know if there is any realistic solution for it, but just be aware and acknowledge that these are two different worlds and each expect different things from you

(4) Dealing with personal EMOTIONS

As a working mother, one goes through highs and lows of emotions frequently – Emotions of guilt, satisfaction, sadness, joy, self-rationalization, self-interrogation, etc. etc. At the end of the day, every women has to make personal choices. And with each choice, there are trade-offs. There is no RIGHT or WRONG! Just that every choice has a consequence which will impact your life. So once you make a choice, take responsibility for it! Emotions are a part of life. And they are integral in your personal journey.

Take-Away: Acknowledge and Accept your emotions. And find ways to deal with them!

(5) Finding it hard to say “NO”

Most of us find it hard to say “NO” to things which come our way. However the fact is that as a working mother, TIME is your most valuable resources. So you should value it and treasure it. And be judicious in how you invest it. No point in doing things which are not aligned with your priorities. If something comes you way that does not fit into your scheme of things, learn to say a loud and re-sounding “NO”

Take-Away: Start Saying “NO” to things which are not on your priority list. It is truly liberating!

(6) Aiming to make EVERYONE HAPPY ALL THE TIME

Take-Away: Accept it! You CANNOT make EVERYONE happy all the time. And that’s OK

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