'Will I ever be a Rainmaker?' - Nishtha Anand
Her first pregnancy got her wondering whether she would ever be a 'Rainmaker' - someone integral to the success of an organisation - says investment banker Nishtha Anand, who feels gender neutral upbringing by parents and teachers plays a big role in shaping the trajectory of the lives of women and who has devised a five-point Power Punch for negotiating the corporate maze.
"One of the key things which always bothered me throughout my career was can I be a 'Rainmaker' - someone who is integral to the success of an organization, who is a key decision maker and is a role model to others," Anand, who has detailed the journey in 'Awakening the Rainmaker' (Bloomsbury), told IANS in an interview.
"When I started out in investment banking, this term describing superstars was added to my vocabulary. It didn't take me long to notice that these superstars were always men. I switched two organisations after my first job, but the situation was the same everywhere. Not once did I come across a woman in a powerful role.
"This absence of female rainmakers bothered me. Could I ever become one for my organisation? I was not sure," Anand added.
The real trigger for action came three years ago when she was pregnant for the first time, during which period she got a lot of well-meaning advice - most commonly: "You should take a break to focus on pregnancy.
"Most women go through this, I was scared if this will be one of the reasons I will never be a rainmaker. That's when I decided to understand the key issues impacting career progression for women and started doing my research - quick research revealed a few facts, among them that less than three per cent of Chief Executive Officers in India are women, that among women in the prime working ages of 30 to 50 years, more than two-thirds are not in the workforce and are only attending to domestic duties and that in 2021, India ranked 140th among 156 nations in The Global Gender Gap Index," Anand explained.
A KPMG study has shown that only 22 per cent women feel that they are taught the value of self-confidence as children. What problems does this create in the long run? How can parents and teachers encourage future female leaders?
"While parents have the best interests of their children at heart, they inadvertently end up advocating beliefs based on their own experiences. The inherent assumption that household work is a woman's responsibility makes them feel it is onerous for women to take on careers.
"It is not only an Indian thing. Warren Buffet also noted the same thing in one of his interviews - how in their younger years, his smart sisters were advised to marry early and well while he was taught that the sky was the limit for him," Anand elaborated.
Upbringing, she said, "plays a crucial role in shaping the trajectory of our lives and influencing the choices we make in the future and this is where the first signs of gender differences start showing up. Girls are taught hard work and respect while boys are taught self-confidence to take more risks in life".
"Childhood conditioning is an essential reason why many women shy away from taking bigger risks in furthering their career, thereby missing out on a number of opportunities. This lack of self-confidence also manifests itself as the 'imposter syndrome', where women question their talents and abilities," Anand added.
Asserting that these "chinks" in upbringing need to be addressed with gender neutral upbringing, she said most successful women she had interacted with stressed upon the role their parents and teachers played during their upbringing - and "there was a special mention of parents and teachers focusing on gender neutral upbringing and motivating them to pursue their career of choice".
Then, there is the question of conscious and unconscious gender biases.
"Unconscious bias is like jealousy - nobody likes to admit it and often we are unaware of it. People tend to hide conscious bias but often they are unable to. Biases creep in from a very early stage in a woman's career - even from people who mean well," Anand said.
"Sadly, typecasting of women is omni-prevalent - you see this across fields. Let's look at India's start-up ecosystem, for instance, just 20 per cent businesses are run by women," she added.
With the participation of women in India Inc being distressingly low at about 23 per cent - and narrowing as one goes upward, how can this be improved?
"Many women enter the workforce but we see a high attrition rate around mid-management levels. It comes as no surprise that this stage coincides with women experiencing an increase in their domestic responsibilities after marriage and motherhood.
"Thus, it is important to find a balance and make your own support system - delegate more, rely on your family/spouse/ help so you can give your passion a chance. Many women find it difficult to do this but this is extremely important," Anand said.
And, at the organisational level, there's her Power Punch approach.
"Imagine a boxing match where you have to deliver the perfect punch to win, and it's not just one punch, it's a series of perfect punches. For this, you need to form a solid fist with your five fingers, backed by your boxing skills and winning spirit. Similarly, for winning in the corporate playfield, there are five influencers who need to be in sync with corporate ethos - Leadership, Reporting Mangers, Peers, Juniors and Human Resources.
"I call this combination the Power Punch. Each of these influencers plays an important role in any employee's work life and need to operate with a gender-neutral approach.
"Leadership endorsement for a bias-free and inclusive culture is a key aspect of The Power Punch framework. There are three steps here - vision, objective targets and monitoring/ accountability," Anand explained.
So, if you are at the crossroads of life, here's a practical way forward.