Women Leaders: Conquer biases and march on!

 In Miscellaneous

A normal day in life can turn out to be very inspiring when you meet and spend time with a great leader. That’s how it happened with us (women @Persistent) when our Chief Customer Officer, Jacqueline White visited our headquarters in Pune last week and met the aspiring women leaders at Persistent.


Jacque has had an illustrious career spanning 25 years. She has handled plethora of roles as part of consulting services business and enterprise software delivery. As Chief Customer Officer, Jacque is responsible for all aspects of customer delight and success at Persistent.

The women’s forum at Persistent is called as Prerana which actually means Inspiration. And Jacque’s roundtable with chosen women leaders was an apt opportunity of exemplifying inspiration! She spoke about her career journey and more specifically, how she overcame various biases that women inherently possess or are conditioned in them due to society. Some of the key takeaways of this session are imprinted in our conscious!

1. “Women can’t have it all, Men can’t have it all either, but most of the times you can get the best of the most important things – which will be different for each one of us!”

In one of the interviews, Pepcico CEO Indra Nooyi said “Women can’t have it all” and talked about how she carried the guilt of not being a good mom. I spoke to some women and men leaders after this news and realized that it’s not just the women but also the men who miss on their child’s first step, first concert and many such firsts.

Jackie’s word rang true when she said “Women can’t have it all, men can’t have it all either”. As I sat there, I realized life is like managing a project. You have to prioritize not just between work and life, but  each event in both.  and you have to be present mind and body for the best of the most important things in life.

You don’t have to be a super-mom, super-employee, super-daughter-in-law just because someone else is doing so. You decide what is most important for you!!

2. Impostor syndrome – Women feel that they are fraud and don’t belong, and they are imposing themselves

Women usually don’t take the seat at the table. Women are hardwired to feel guilty about being ambitious. Many women always seek validations of their thoughts via posing them as questions. They feel like they don’t belong where they are working. This is akin to an Impostor syndrome.

The best way to combat these fears is to come to table with data and facts clearly identified. Once you have data to back your ideas, it gets easier to put forth your point. It is also important not to seek perfection in everything you and lose the confidence over that. Sometimes it is ok to not know everything. Men typically don’t strive for that kind of perfection every single time.

And most importantly, assert the fact to yourself that you DO belong.

3. Build your brand as a women

This is the single most important thing women don’t pay attention to. It is a common perception that Men oversell and Women undersell themselves. Because women don’t consciously work towards creating and maintaining the personal brand.

Jacque’s personal brand was always about “under-promise and over-deliver” and she worked very hard to stay true it. Early in her career, she realized that, people around her were not very meticulous about creating reports, updating sales projections, creating timely presentations etc. She decided to work on these things and turn others’ weaknesses into her strength. She always presented impeccable reports, had her projections updated with correct data – and she differentiated herself from her colleagues.

So identify, plan and execute your brand.

4. Women have to work extra hard to prove their mettle, so be it.

Jacque gave an interesting analogy of the political fight during current US presidential election to present this point. Keeping the politics aside, one thing is very evident in the showdown of US election campaign: irrespective of tremendous work experience, high education, and versatile exposure that a woman brings to the table, she has to work extremely hard to convince people that she is the worthy candidate.

Gender biases and patriarchal systems are reality of many societies. As per one the recent studies, only 7% chief executes of 1000 fortune companies are women. Having said that the silver lining is: this percentage is steadily increasing. In 1998, there were only two women chief executives in fortune 1000 companies: Jill Barad of Mattel and Marion Sandler, Co-CEO of Golden West Financial. So we as women have come a long way and we will eventually get there.

5. Be firm, assertive and at times aggressive, its ok if others are not ok with that. Accept it

As girls we are taught to be dainty, soft-spoken and accommodative. Girls not-conforming to this edicts are called out as ‘Tom-boys’. This thought carries all the way to the board-rooms where a firm and assertive woman leader is termed as an aggressive and bossy person. Apprehension of these labels force women to want to be liked and they end up validating themselves at each step. As one of the leaders I know says,

We don’t come to work to win a popularity contest, we are here to create an impact for the organization

It’s ok if others are NOT ok with a firm and assertive woman leader. Accept it. March on!!

6. Hold on to your dreams

Women just like men, have a goal, an ambition when they start their careers. When women enter life-changing phases of marriage & motherhood, they devote all their being to it and in the process lose sight of what they once dreamt of. If women are able to internalize that these are phases in life and there is a path open to pursue their dreams then we would see more women in the workforce continue and integrate their work and life.

This session rejuvenated and motivated all of us. For me, it especially reminded a quote by Sheryl Sandberg –

I want every little girl who’s been told she is bossy to be told instead that she has leadership skills!

(This article was co-authored with Meghana Behere)

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