Years of social conditioning has confined women to playing the roles of daughter, wife and mother, one at a time but they are capable of much more.
I was born in a small-town middle class Bengali family, to a surgeon father and a housewife turned school teacher mother. For all practical purposes, our annual calendar started with one Durga Agomoni (Arrival to earth) till the next. It’s almost mystical that Durga embodies feminine energy or Shakti and is believed to hold all the powers of the Universe. She is created by the combined energy of the Creator (Brahma), the Preserver (Vishnu) and the Destroyer (Shiva). Interestingly, Durga has many names, each personifying a distinct aspect of her power, potential or appearance. Like Trinayani Durga and my personal favourite Dashabhuja as a constant reminder that she is beyond one, she is many in one. I feel fortunate to be born to parents who brought me and my younger sister up to believe in our never ending potential, the multiskilled and the ever powerful — the quintessential Dashabhuja, who can be anything she chooses to be.
Over years of social conditioning, women have confined themselves to a template — They can be only one thing at a time — first a daughter, then a wife and then a mother. More often, it ends there. A lucky few manage to squeeze in a bit of an employee or entrepreneur in between being a daughter and a wife.
I would like to make a case that women are genetically designed to be multiskilled and multi-talented. With practice, some confidence, an understanding family, a reliable support system, I have mastered the art of juggling multiple pins without blinking, and am loving it, and that too, without guilt. Quite purposely, I am staying away from referring to women as ace multitaskers! Even if it is for a split second, each ball deserves our undivided attention. A single stroke of distraction can send the balance for a toss. Hence, it undermines our ability to equate the juggling of multiple roles to multitasking — We are innately multiskilled.
Confidence is the key. We give up on our choices and dreams in our mind even before making an attempt. Katty Kay and Claire Shipman write in their article ‘The Confidence Gap’ that women are less self-assured than men, and that to succeed confidence matters as much as competence. While more women are entering our workforce each passing year, the glaring fact remains that our workforce participation has barely improved in the middle management and we go unrepresented in the top management. The primary reason behind this is our own inability to see ourselves balancing the many roles that we are expected to play. When I left a successful MNC job to co-found India’s largest people supply chain company and when I stayed put through some of my most difficult years to end up leading the most successful business of TeamLease, I chose to err on the side of self-belief and confidence. I opted to believe in my ability to run a Rs 1700 crore business, and yet have a loving family, trusted friends, passion for sports, photography and travel.
Sometime back, I had the pleasure of listening to Zia Mody, an undisputed leader in corporate law in India, at an event on Women in Leadership. In her typical wit, she said that the ‘smartest move a woman can make is make her mother in law her best friend’ . While I wasn’t lucky like her to have my in laws with me, they have been most understanding and non-interfering which makes me enviously blessed. In addition, having your best friend as your husband ensures that he respects and supports every choice you make wholeheartedly. Friction and arguments do happen, but reason and understanding soon make way.
Guilt is the usual suspect which makes women believe that being a good employee comes in the way of being a caring mother, an ideal wife or a good daughter-in-law and much else. I admit that quite often, I have been ridden with guilt while leaving my four month old daughter to resume travelling to work, while choosing to spend time with my friends over spending time with my husband and daughter or even while doing something as simple as reading a book by myself. However, I was reminded that guilt is a big drain on my otherwise pressed time. I realised that it would serve me well to choose to play each of my roles to the best of my ability when I am playing it. Every minute spent at work, home or with friends gets my 100 per cent. I ensure that none crosses over to the other. We have to leave guilt home in the museum where it belongs, and move on.
Recently, Indra Nooyi shared that we cannot have it all. Maybe we cannot, but am pretty sure that we can have the ones we choose to. Our ability to tenaciously balance delicate relationships, handle conflicting roles, efficiently manage our time, organise our work, be firm yet be compassionate makes us the future leaders of the world. We cannot give it all up, just yet!
(The author is an HR Consultant.)