However, as a child growing up, I always noticed women and men invariably took on specific roles – women predominantly cared for their families and the men earned for them. Men predominantly drove and women were driven. Though in the institutions I studied, I never really noticed a skewed gender ratio, I noticed I stood out when I joined the corporate world. Where did the rest of the girls who started with me go? It was not long after that I too decided to move out and take-on what I believed was a ‘gender-appropriate’ role. Life went on, but I soon realised I was limiting myself; conforming to rules that I unknowingly set for myself – I was blinded by the stereotypes I saw around me. This is not just my story, but those of many other women around me.
Biases and stereotypes exist and are real. The most well-meaning amongst us – men and women – nurture biases and are blinded by stereotypes. As women, we are conditioned to believe we are failing when we don’t conform to stereotypes. No one wants to fail and so we invariably let go or step back – to conform. Research as well as facts on the ground clearly show that innovation and growth will thrive only when men and women can both exercise and leverage their full potential. This Women’s Day we possibly are doing the best we ever did – focussing on #BreaktheBias.
The first step to #BreaktheBias is to create awareness. Awareness needs to start from homes. Many times, women are held back because their families are unable to support them fearing social pressure and other social issues. Showcasing men and families who have encouraged the women in their homes to break barriers, helps break the social stigma that many families fear they will face if the women of the household don’t conform to traditional roles. Showcasing women achievers and sharing stories of their grit and determination not only motivates others, but it also makes the end goal look more achievable. The multiple campaigns that corporates, brands and social media influencers are running around this theme is most encouraging and a big first step.
As women, we need to believe in ourselves and keep ourselves motivated to achieve our passions. It is not an easy ride, but one that is achievable through hard work and determination. An important first step is to keep oneself updated with the required skill sets and to not stop upgrading them. Building a powerful network of mentors – of both men and women – is the next big step. Having the right set of people who have had enriching personal and professional experiences and who believe in your potential and capabilities is a great currency to success. The richness of their experiences not only gives you access to many ready-made tool kits, but it also makes many a seemingly daunting task, easily manageable.
One of the most self-limiting beliefs that many women nurture and what society also invariably reinforces in them, is the perception that families and children will suffer if women go out to achieve their dreams. I personally believe women are born multi-taskers and multi-tasking comes naturally to many of us. Even during the COVID crisis, we have seen women perform exceptionally, steering not just their homes, but also corporations and nations brilliantly through the crisis. Many of them were juggling multiple roles. It is in this domain that systemically many changes can be made which will enable a lot more women to stay or come back into the workforce. Economical & reliable childcare services, flexible work timings, gender-specific people policies etc will go a long way into supporting women realise their full potential.
As women entrepreneurs, we should see it as our moral responsibility to pay it forward by building organizations that provide equal opportunity to all talent, irrespective of gender. We should create safe environments that will help women call out discrimination and create awareness so that we can collectively, #BreaktheBias. As women professionals who have come this far, we should come forward and showcase our journeys to help #BreaktheBias.
(The writer is co-founder & COO of TESSOL)