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Empathy and compassion needed in addressing the unique situations faced by women

Empathy and compassion needed in addressing the unique situations faced by women

To commemorate International Women’s Day, Manoj Agrawal, Group Editor, Banking Frontiers had an in-depth discussion with Rosy Khanna, International Development Finance and Impact Investing Senior Executive and Former Director at International Finance Corporation (IFC) to unearth new insights about the challenges that women face at work and how organizations should empower women.

Manoj Agrawal: As a woman leader, what has been your experience about the things that are the hardest things to change in a large organization?

Rosy Khanna: There are unconscious biases that exist based on, for example, socialization or cultural contexts and in general people feel most comfortable with those that are most like them and with whom they share common ground. It is therefore important to recognize, accept and appreciate differences in opinions and approaches of both genders in a corporate setting. A conscious attempt to incorporate these different approaches and opinions at all stages of brainstorming and decision-making must be made to enable outcomes that suit the organization best. It is good to encourage those who have something to share to do so in a public setting or even call on a person, that may not otherwise speak up if the person has shared their thoughts ahead of the meeting.

How difficult is it to actually hire more women to create a balance?

It is not easy to hire women unless a deliberate policy is instituted and the senior management makes a commitment to a twin approach of (i) changes in hiring processes to introduce greater diversity including all minorities, and (ii) actions taken to deliberately and methodically introduce women into higher ranks and provide them with the enabling environment to succeed. This has changed gradually over time and a continued effort will be necessary to sustain the change.

Second women must be encouraged to take risks. Often women will not apply for a job for which they do not feel fully qualified – in such situations, they should be provided with appropriate resources and support to develop the needed skills but also to be challenged. They should also be supported fully by their managers or supervisors as they establish themselves in a position.

Another element that is important is the way in which women are socialized from a cultural point of view. My experience has been that women approach interviewing differently depending on their cultural backgrounds. Some women are more forthcoming while others are more deferential and have to be drawn into conversations. It is therefore important that senior management be sensitized to such cultural differences.

Women will often opt out of demanding senior positions because they have to manage their work lives and their family lives – since they are in most cases fully committed on both sides. This requires flexibility on the part of organizations so that women can grow in their positions and become part of senior leadership and serve as role models to others that are coming up through the ranks. Managers should also be encouraged to recognize the inherent conflicts many women face in addressing multiple priorities in their lives and approach these conflicts with empathy and flexibility.

Have you observed differences between older and younger people in their way of collaborating and working with the opposite gender?

Yes – in general, there is a difference. The world today is becoming much more socially conscious, equal, and accepting. Younger people are clearly adjusting and adapting faster in a rapidly changing and much more complex world of working with differences. More broadly, comfort levels amongst the different genders, depends on the person’s experiences and socialization – if a person has grown up around working women and has strong women role models in the form of their family members or their teachers or others, they tend to be more accepting of and appreciative towards the opposite gender.

What are the more effective programs you have seen within organizations to help women feel confident and take on challenging assignments?

Leadership programs have helped in making women and minorities more confident in their abilities and to develop a self-awareness that is important to their future growth and career development. Such programs also help with presentation skills and addressing difficult topics in the moment, skills that are important for women in leadership roles. For such programs to work, senior management must be committed to them and must walk the talk, namely, verbal commitments must be translated into action. Women must also be incentivized to take on roles that men have historically held and must be placed into these positions to bring about long-lasting change in an organization.

What other features of leadership training for women do you recommend?

Mentoring is a vitally important element of leadership training. Leaders who sustain at different levels of an organization can actually show the way and therefore it is important to systematically promote or hire women and other minorities in higher-level positions so they can serve as role models and mentors to younger women and share their experiences. Other than this, it is important to provide safe spaces to encourage open and transparent conversations that can help in career development and navigating complex organizations. It is equally important to give positive yet candid feedback to improve the prospects of young aspiring women.

What major dilemmas do women face at work?

The biggest dilemma for working women is the day-to-day conflicts they face in their responsibilities towards their families and to their work. For most women, work-life and family life is a constant juggling act and appropriately flexible and open environments must be created so that they feel heard and supported. Another area that has to be addressed is the lack of women in STEM-related fields that have traditionally been male-dominated – a deliberate and systematic effort will need to be made for women to succeed in such fields and there is work that is being done on this as well.

Did you face any dilemmas, and how did you react?

I was very lucky with my male and female bosses in my career. They were caring, understanding, and supportive and provided me the space to express myself freely without any barriers and to take on challenges that would help my career development. I also developed strong relationships with leaders that were not my immediate bosses and also with peers – both men and women – to get different perspectives so that I could incorporate these into my own approaches to my work and my career as I grew.

Has covid made women stronger or weaker in the workplace?

COVID has been challenging, particularly for young mothers who have had to take care of their families while working in a new reality, ie, from home. However, it has also made them more resilient in that they have adjusted to a new normal successfully and will emerge stronger as a result.

Has covid has made women tougher? Have they learnt lessons from it?

Lessons from experience are very helpful in shaping the future and everyone likely will come out of this pandemic stronger and better prepared for a world that is changing fast, the new normal is evolving and the development challenges of the day require agility and flexibility.

Do you think women are more proactive in thinking about their careers in an innovative manner?

In a world that is changing rapidly, it is imperative that women approach their careers in a manner that is commensurate with this new reality. There are a lot more ‘non-traditional’ opportunities today and traditional jobs are also evolving. Retooling and reskilling will be key to the opportunities that will no doubt arise and for women to take advantage of these, they will need to be more proactive, willing to take risks, and to have the courage of conviction to push ahead with their choices.

Are women today being driven by better earning opportunities or something they are passionate about?

Women are driven by both good earning opportunities and by their passion, but more and more women are pursuing the latter. Younger generations are pushing the boundaries of what is possible and are bringing new thinking and new approaches to defining the world of the future. I am optimistic for women in the workplace. More voices are emerging for women and minorities in the workforce, stronger commitments are being made by organizations and the corporate world and we are seeing glass ceilings being broken every day in this direction.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Twicsy

    July 14, 2022at6:57 am

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