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Business leader Babita Baruah throws light on balancing compassion with accountability in every role we play

Babita Baruah

Babita Baruah

Executive Director, VMLYR & Regional Client Lead, at WPP

What has been your experience on improving your own deservability in your own eyes?

Talking about deservability as a woman professional, and not just as a professional, I must say that culturally, we battle a lot of demons. This is especially true when it comes to self-appraisal, measuring, or assessing our self-worth. And it is across all levels. I think it’s deep-rooted in the way we are brought up and the social context we live in. For example, values like humility and modesty work against us. Initially, when my journey started, like many others, there were times when I almost felt and asked myself, “Do I deserve it?” But over time, I’ve learned to understand not just what I deserve, but the fact that deservability has been earned because of milestones and challenges that have been overcome, both personally and professionally. Deservability is not just about the workplace; it is also in the personal space. For me, I’ve looked at deservability not just in terms of material gains, like salary or wealth, but also in terms of certain values or the right to express myself emotionally. For example, I deserve to be happy. In deserving to be happy, if I have to put myself first, maybe before people I love at the workplace or colleagues, I’ve learned that it’s fine to do that because it’s an informed decision. It does not come at the cost of others’ growth or happiness.

Specifically, what I have done, and this comes with training yourself over time, is to assess this whole thing of the confidence of “I deserve where I am today and what I have earned.” I feel it’s important to stay connected to key stakeholders who can influence our lives. It’s important to talk to our mentors, and I’ve done that extensively. It’s important to talk to mentees if we are mentoring women because it’s reverse feedback. It’s very honest feedback on where you stand today, what you can improve, and also what you’ve brought to the table. The second point is I’ve learned to constantly develop business acumen. This is relentless, whether it’s training, rescaling, or learning to be the best at the job because you cannot deserve anything if you don’t own it.

Lastly, the risk is that we develop a false sense of deservability. I’m bringing in gender here because sometimes there are so many things happening around us that we almost feel like we deserve it just because we do so much. But it’s not about doing so much. It’s about what we’ve done to add value to our roles. Is that value tangible? Is it measurable? If yes, then absolutely, deservability is on the table. That’s my view.

Women often tend to become critically judgmental in different aspects. How do you move to become more compassionately, curious?

I wouldn’t say it’s a move or a sudden transition as much as it is developing a deep sense of compassion over time. Today, compassion is known by many words – we call it empathy, we refer to it as kindness. Personally, I prefer kindness to compassion. This deep sense of kindness or compassion drives curiosity. If I’m compassionate, I want to understand the people whose lives I’m influencing by my decisions. When we act, we are informed and can make a difference. Life stage experience, as well as changing circumstances or context, are key to these transitions.

For example, when I was new to a role, whether professional or personal, I was still wrapped in the baggage of being judgmental because I was new. I was critical about everything around me – the feedback I gave, the way I felt, how my peers, superiors, and mentors were looking at me or engaging with me. That’s why we become critical and particularly judgmental. A change in context can sometimes change the whole perspective from being judgmental to compassionate. Pre-pandemic, it was not easy for women to request work from home. I remember when I was pregnant in 2005, I had a difficult pregnancy, but there was not one day that I stayed at home. I would go to work, put my feet up, work late, and eat a lot of junk food in the office. But I felt that I did not have permission to request work from home because I felt that I would be judged. Today, I realize that this shows a trust deficit. With the pandemic, all of us got used to working remotely, and we can be very productive if we have that inherent trust in our team.

Compassion, kindness, and people suffering collectively have changed our perception a lot. Today, if anyone says they want to take time off or work remotely, we do not question it anymore. To me, this is a transition where it’s not internal, but an external factor helped us come together and understand. This transition moved us from being judgmental to compassionate.

With experience, you learn that it does not have to be a transition. With young people who are so well-connected and high on emotion from day one in a new role, whether personal or professional, I would urge everyone to have kindness and compassion at the root of whatever we fulfil as a role in life. That’s the only way to forge ahead and have high productivity in whatever we do.

What is one actionable change that you have done in your life that has helped you to move closer to your goals?

If I had to suggest one actionable change, I would say that I’ve stopped believing in the idea of a “work-life balance.” Before, I used to measure whether I was spending an equal amount of time on work and personal life, and would feel guilty if the proportions were off. But now, I’ve come to realize that achieving balance is a series of imperfections and imbalances that eventually give you a sense of balance over time.

For instance, there are times when work demands more of my time and attention, leaving little room for family, and other times when I prioritize my personal life over work. This constant imbalance may cause guilt and regret, but over time, I’ve found that the key is to be happy with the choices I’ve made, knowing that my family is also happy because I’m happy. It’s about feeling that sense of overall balance that makes us thrive.

I’ve shared this learning with several women I mentor, encouraging them not to strive for balance every day, as it’s nearly impossible. Instead, it’s important to focus on finding a rhythm that works for you and your loved ones, and be content with the imperfections that come with it.

How should people create their identity when they arrive? What’s your personal story or your journey on saying this is me at this stage and how do I move to the next stage of striving and then to the next stage of thriving, which is now?

I think it’s about the core. If the core is strong, it doesn’t matter what you change on top, the core remains strong. It’s like the foundation, and that is the basis of all our identities. It comes from deep-rooted values that are ingrained in us, values that are timeless, like integrity, compassion, caring for others, being conscious of the environment, respecting elders, and shared growth. These values come from the core, and over time, they manifest themselves in different ways as we grow.

As individuals, it’s important to question ourselves on what we stand for and what we would like to stand for. If we can answer that question ourselves, no matter what happens around us, we will be seen as a person who values something. For me, that value is kindness. Today’s identities are a lot about our work and achievements, but we should always remember that these are driven by a set of core values that are like the foundation, holding everything together.

Our roles keep changing, and the world around us also changes, so our identities have to mould over time. The dynamics that we had between a boss and a team member, for example, have changed today. The identity of caring for others and the values that come with it will always remain, but the way it manifests will change.

In conclusion, as long as we are conscious of the fact that our identity is driven by a set of values that are at the core, we can stitch our identity together with a thread that will always tie everything together.

What is the one message that you would want to share with the other women around you?

I would start with kindness, and then I would add being bold. And I would also emphasize the importance of striving for excellence in whatever we do. Without that drive and dedication, we cannot expect to be recognized or advance in our careers. Achieving excellence requires sacrifice and trade-offs, but it is essential for building a strong identity and achieving our goals. I sometimes worry about people who talk about their challenges and want recognition without first demonstrating their merit and performance. Recognition and rewards must be earned, and while we can take someone’s personal struggles into account, it cannot be the first factor. So, in brief, my advice is to be kind, be bold, and always strive for excellence.

“As individuals, it’s important to question ourselves on what we stand for and what we would like to stand for. If we can answer that question ourselves, no matter what happens around us, we will be seen as a person who values something.”

Babita Baruah
Practitioner:

Babita Baruah

Executive Director, VMLYR & Regional Client Lead, at WPP
Babita Baruah is an Executive Director, VMLYR & Regional Client Lead, at WPP. She is a British Chevening Scholar, Speaker/Panelist at Harvard Business School at the India Conference 2016 and the Women’s Influence Forum at Geneva in 2018. Babita believes empowerment does not come from titles, but from the quality of people, we carry along with us. Her experiences have taught her the art of modulating her voice and learning how and when to say things but never to stop thinking or speaking. Babita believes in making life her teacher and mentor. She is truly passionate about capturing stories and emotions to make a difference in people’s lives. Babita Baruah is an Executive Director, VMLYR & Regional Client Lead, WPP. She is a British Chevening Scholar, Speaker/Panelist at Harvard Business School at the India Conference 2016 and the Women’s Influence Forum at Geneva in 2018. Babita believes empowerment does not come from titles, but from the quality of people we carry along with us. Her experiences have taught her the art of modulating her voice and learning how and when to say things but never to stop thinking or speaking. Babita believes in making life her teacher and mentor.
Chandrani-datta-Content-Manager-Tripura-Multinational-Singapore
Curator:
Chandrani Datta works as a Manager-Content Research and Development with almost a decade’s experience in writing and editing of content. A former journalist turned content manager, Chandrani has written and edited for different brands cutting across industries. The hunger for learning, meaningful work and novel experiences keeps her on her toes. An avid traveller, Chandrani’s interests lie in photography, reading and watching movies.

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