First to wake up, last to eat and last to set her head down to sleep.
An Indian girl is brought up seeing her mother or the lady of the house as the primary care giver. As she grows older, she is ingrained with values that prioritise taking care of the people around. As she grows even older, not only is this seen as a responsibility but being the primary caregiver melds into one’s sense of identity and self-esteem. We are who we are because we care!
While this situation could be changing today, it is true of many women who are currently at mid-level or senior leaders in their organisations. This conditioning plays out in many ways at the workplace but one of the critical fall outs is this – women rarely prioritise their own needs over that of others.
Meeting expectations at work tends to be all consuming. Keeping customers happy, managing bosses and colleagues and rushing back home to be there for the children and look after the elderly is all in a day’s work.
Taking time out to follow a hobby could feel selfish. One’s own annual health check-up could be the most postponed item on the to-do list.
Training programmes are given a pass. Networking is a no-no.
End result – we have women who are stressed, have perennial health issues and blame work for stress at home and vice versa.
In our research for the women’s leadership programme ‘SheLeads’, many women leaders we spoke to mentioned that they would never have been where they are today if they did not have a robust support system at home. Their identity is not tied to the meals they cook or the academic achievements of their children. Cooking is outsourced, teaching kids is outsourced and time at home is spent in quality fun and bonding.
Our leaders realized that children need their own space and prefer showing off their boss-moms more than having them hover around all the time.
This support system is something successful women leaders have built even at work. Many have asked for help and been mentored – not just in skills and knowledge but also those intangible yet critical areas like navigating the political waters of the organisation.
These women leaders have grasped at every opportunity to up their knowledge and skills. They believe their functional expertise is one of the main factors that helps them stand out at the workplace.
Some have been lucky enough to have not just mentors but mentors who are also sponsors – people who ensure their voice is heard in the right places, who speak about them when opportunities arise and generally ensure that they are in the minds of senior stakeholders who the women may not have direct access to.
It is clear that the journey to the top cannot be a lonely one! If you are a man reading this, what more can you do to support the women in your life? To the women:
Who is helping you succeed?
When did you last ask for help?
When did you last put yourself first?