When I told a friend that I was attending an Art of Leadership for Women event last week, he snickered. “Is leadership any different for women?”, he asked. The inference was obvious: Are we not cultivating a divided mindset by highlighting the “women’ part of women leaders?
This is not, by any standards, a lone view. “Using the Women card” “Special Treatment” or “Diversity Hire” are the new sexist slurs that women face today. Critics like my friend argue that we do a disservice to equality by bringing someone’s gender in the discussion. Truth is, that whether we like it or not, gender is always in the discussion. The obligations women work with and difficulties they face proving themselves in workplace are numerous and varied. Yet, a common thread binds these seemingly disparate experiences. The commonalities are way too clear to ignore, and conferences such as the one I attended, are a way to crowd-source the solutions.
Two speakers resonated specially with me.
Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson of “No One Understands You And What To Do About It”spoke about the differences between who we think we are and how people perceive us. This has special meaning for women like me, trying to carve a place in the corporate world. Being a great individual contributor is the easy part of the equation – put in some good hard work, showcase true passion and have solid work ethics – and the recipe is complete. The tougher, more indirect part is to be perceived the way you want to be.
Now, this is a problem many brilliant men and women face every day. However, at the risk of overly simplifying, I’d say women in general have a tougher time leaning in and taking the stage. And as Dr. Heidi decodes the formula of creating the right image, it is clear to me that more and more women need to hear about it.
Another speaker who hit home was Dr. Anne-Marie Slaughter of “Unfinished Business”. Dr. Slaughter spoke about the value of care. I recalled the time I left my promising career mid-way when my kids were born. Over years, I’ve stopped telling this story, as I realized most of the mothers have something similar to share- and that my experience is by no means unique. This realization, and discussions such as the one Art of Leadership for Women facilitates, made me un-apologetic about my choices in the professional circles. The society needs to evolve and start valuing the bedside of a sick child, as much as it values the coveted corner boardroom.
A talent-friendly world is one where work and life are not in conflict. Where gender does not matter- not only at work, but also in matters of care. Where anyone’s growth is not achieved at the cost of the loved ones. And such a talent-friendly world will be a women-friendly world by definition.
I am proud of being born a woman. I am a daughter, a wife and a mother, and I wear my skirts with pride. I enjoy the easy banter with my close friends, and the soul-connection with my sister. And at the same time, I am proud of the talents I bring to my work. I am fortunate to have born in the day, age and place where I can hope to do justice to both these aspects of me.
And whether my dear friend agrees or not, women specific conferences, committees, books, talks and such, are valuable. They are a way to calibrate the roadblocks and celebrate the successes of women at work.