by Kalpana Tatavarti Partner at Interweave Consulting Pvt Ltd
The key challenge to retaining and developing the female talent pipeline for organizations or engaging women in the global economic activity, has been of women dropping off or slow pedaling their careers.
Many times it is attributed to women not being aspirational or ambitious enough.
I believe that is not at all the case.
Women do aspire, but the pull against their aspirations is their gender identity, ‘The Good Woman’ template, which is defined by society and internalized by women themselves.
In the groups that I run, often there are obvious reflections of this template:
“I love my work and have been promoted twice in the last four years. Recently I have had a baby who is now a year old. Though my current role is exciting and demanding I feel guilty I’m not available for my child”
“I am not sure I want to be earning more than my husband or be in a higher position than him”
“My Manager asked me why are you considering that tough role… when my husband earns so much, just take it easy!”
“One of my colleagues was saying how he dislikes ‘all those ambitious’ women’… what does that mean? Is it a crime?”
“I see successful women leaders as very brusque and too direct, and that doesn’t seem very womanly to me.”
“My mother in law thinks I am very selfish to focus on my career so much.”
“If I take the next role, I will have to compromise my family and their needs.”
“My husband says I can work so long as it doesn’t affect our family life or children”
“My mother doesn’t understand why I travel so much or work so hard. Stay at home and relax.”
Gender is the deepest part of our identity which defines how a woman ‘should be’; it is a template that society defines on what it is to be a ‘good woman’.
- A Good Woman is not Ambitious
- A Good Woman will Adjust and Compromise
- A Good woman is supportive of others (not herself)
- A Good woman puts her family’s needs before hers
- A Good woman has to be a perfect mother
Etc etc etc…
Women internalize this template, which impacts their everyday behaviors & decisions: to stay in the workplaces or leave; to engage with their careers or lean back; to claim their spaces (both in their professional or personal lives) or play second/third/fourth fiddle. More often than not, this acts as an Internal Glass Ceiling that holds women back from releasing their potential and achieving their aspirations.
If women have to stay, sustain & grow in their careers or engage in the global economic activity, they have to challenge & redefine this template for themselves first.
Needless to say, women who have achieved beyond their homes, (and many have!) have all reinvented this template.
And they are surrounded by people who have reinvented the template too… husbands, mothers, friends, mothers- in-law(!!), managers, organizations.
“I have developed a mechanism through which I just tune out the messages from the environment that don’t support my career aspirations.”
“I have shared my career aspirations with my husband and he agrees that balancing work and family commitments is both our responsibility, not just mine.”
“I work because it is important to me, and I make it a point to convey to my manager that I am ambitious. But certain stages in my life need her/his support, just like anyone else irrespective of gender. But that in no way reduces my commitment to my work.”
“My mother is supportive of my career choices, and helps out in many ways so that I don’t get worked up. She has worked before.”
For, Behind Every Woman….
….is the woman herself, who changes what it means to be a ‘good woman.’
For, Behind Every Woman….
….are all the significant people and systems in her life who have changed what it means to be a ‘good woman’
How many ways have you changed the template for yourself?
How many ways have you changed the template for the women in your life?
Join the ‘Behind Every Woman’ Campaign! Click here to share your stories of changing the template.
Kalpana Tatavarti is a diversity & inclusion professional. To read more of her writing visit her blog, woMan work life, at http://www.womanworklife.in/