How have you improved the deservability in your own eyes?
I believe that the issue of deservability is closely linked to the imposter syndrome that many women experience. This can lead to self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy. I’m trying to steer clear of generalization, but research shows that women are often more self-critical and strive for perfection before applying for a role. These factors can hold us back, and it’s important to develop self-awareness and situational awareness in our professional lives.
When we consider whether someone is suitable for a role, we should look at whether they can do the job, rather than waiting for them to be fully ready or perfect. It’s common for us to be hired or given a new role based on our previous achievements and with a little bit of coaching and guidance, we can deliver effectively. It’s important to avoid becoming redundant by only doing something we already know well. Instead, we should focus on how we can grow and make an impact in our roles.
Deservability is about working hard, making an impact, and bringing our authentic selves to the table. It’s also about creating shareholder and company value. If we have a strong work ethic and stay relevant through continuous learning, the question of whether we deserve a role becomes irrelevant. Instead, we should focus on what we can bring to the role and whether the role deserves us. By changing our perspective, we can challenge ourselves and reach our full potential.
How do you overcome your sense of guilt and self-doubt?
I’ll give you a personal example. I attended my daughter’s high school graduation. She’s in her 12th year and about to take all her boards and apply. While I was thrilled that she’s a very bright, hardworking child, I was also thrilled by the fact that there hasn’t been one significant event of her school life that I had missed. I was looking at it and wondering if it’s because I felt guilty. But no, I wanted to be a part of it because early on, when she was growing up, I did miss some important milestones. So, I had to rebalance and look at what’s more important for me.
When a lot of younger professionals ask me this question, I tell them, “You have to look at your career as a marathon, not a sprint, right?” In your 35 years of proper professional career, or maybe even more if you’re doing something on your own independently, a few years here and there don’t matter. Now, if you feel like you want to spend time doing something, then you have to take ownership and accountability for it. There will always be external factors. You will have conflicting demands, priorities. Just when you’re reaching the peak of your career, you will need to be a primary caregiver if you have kids. They’ll be at a school-going age or college. Your parents may need your attention. You could have passions, pets, anything. So it’s nothing to do with mother, daughter, wife, or anything like that.
So how do you balance it out? I think it’s more about integrating everything and a little bit of just-in-time management, which is what worked for me. I don’t know if it’s going to work for everyone else. I took some conscious decisions about my career in terms of what I wanted to do and what’s going to work. One can always argue, right? Maybe some milestone could have been achieved five years earlier or maybe two years earlier. But that’s all right. I mean, when you look at the entire construct, on balance, did you meet whatever you wanted to meet? And are you happy? By and large, I think that’s where I would look at.
So, my advice is, don’t be too hard on yourself. And don’t look at artificial milestones in comparison, saying, “By your 10th year of your career, you should be in this position.” Things keep changing. You have 25-year-olds leading large companies, startups, everything has changed.
What is the one actionable change that you made which paid you well in the long run?
In my opinion, versatility is an attribute that I value greatly. I enjoy trying new things and having diverse experiences. In my personal life, I aim to learn something new every two years, whether it be a new skill or hobby, or exploring a different facet of life. I also apply this mentality to my professional life. There’s a lot of debate about being a deep specialist versus a generalist, and I think the jury’s still out on that one. At different points in your career, different approaches may work. For me, it’s about exploring different experiences and roles that align with my strengths, which include starting something new, incubating, problem-solving, critical thinking, and implementing strategy. I’ve been fortunate to have played many different roles and had various rotational opportunities that have allowed me to expand my skills and knowledge. My organization, sponsors, counselors, and coaches, including you and Venkat, have helped me shape my career narrative, playing to my strengths rather than being boxed in. I find that the best roles are those with no defined structure, the more ambiguous, the better, as it allows me to expand my remit and find more interesting things to do. Some people may need a defined job description, but that has never been an issue for me.
If there’s so much of mentoring, then why are women not getting the right sponsors and the right allies?
I think a lot of times I hear that women are over-mentored and under-sponsored. There’s just a lot of coaching and everything. That’s not the problem. The problem is not that they’re not good enough or whatever. And I think a lot of the over-coaching or mentoring actually makes them feel, Why do we need so much of it? It’s almost like the sponsorship is not as much as it should be. And organizations do recognize this, and there’s a lot of intentional action that is there. It’s the same kind of thing. My own personal view is that maybe we don’t attach as much importance to the whole networking, moving outside of our comfort zones, meeting new people, understanding their journeys, etc. So a little bit of non-linear thinking, more circular, hazy kind of networking can also really help, instead of it being very task-oriented.
Perhaps one of the reasons could also be that there’s a lot more responsibility, even now, the balance of work and household responsibilities is still, I think, more on women than it is on men, although there are always exceptions, and that’s getting better. But it’s still there. So time pressures are more. Maybe that’s where they try to optimize by seeing what is really important. And I feel that investment in the long term, or just understanding how someone else’s career has been, that is really very helpful. I feel that is the one thing that we need to do.
Even when you look at sponsors, there are some company-appointed sponsors, and there are some who have a natural affiliation with sponsors, because of someone who’s senior, someone who knows you, recognizes you, and you’ve invested in building a trusting relationship where you have actually delivered something. But that takes time. So, I think we have to think a little differently about it, not be restrained by the construct, the program, my sponsor, my mentor, but anyone can be a mentor or a sponsor. I have often found that my younger colleagues sometimes are very good at teaching me something which I hadn’t thought about. Learning can come in any form or shape at any age.
So you are saying women need to learn to speak up more?
I believe that women are speaking up. However, it’s important to consider where they are finding the opportunity to speak up and how they perceive themselves. This relates to your earlier point about deservability — do they see themselves as deserving of a certain role, or does the role deserve them? To properly assess their skills and position in the market, women need to compare themselves to others and consider what is required for the role. It’s important to ask — “What is required for this role? What is the market looking like? What is my peer group looking like?” This involves understanding the environment and spending less time on being only task-oriented. Ambiguity and the ability to connect the dots are essential skills here. Women are doing a good job of speaking up, and organizations are creating safe spaces for them to do so. However, it’s important to consider whether women are aware of all the opportunities available to them and whether they are being too harsh on themselves. This requires talking to others, attending conferences and learning events, and actively participating in forums. Investing time in these activities means pulling time away from other tasks, so it’s important to prioritize effectively.
How do you embrace and build this fluidity across the life roles that you lead?
I’m quite curious about somethings and I am not competing with others. While it’s natural to benchmark yourself against others in a competitive environment, I personally stopped doing that a long time ago. For me, it’s more about whether I can do something or not, and what it takes to do it. My own innate sense of curiosity about my abilities drives me forward. Additionally, I value versatility and enjoy different experiences and ask myself whether I can do something. For instance, many years back when I used to travel on this one particular patch full of jungles, the road between Gurgaon and Faridabad, I used to be very curious about what are those jungles. And how do you get there? And then serendipity brought me to this off-roading group. I got myself a gypsy, and I started off-roading. And I was able to explore those forests so it happened. Similarly, while waiting for my daughter’s piano classes, I decided to learn the violin instead of simply reading magazines. Writing has always been a passion, and meditation helped me explore my thoughts and turn them into prose and poetry. I even got my work published and received good feedback. I believe in the power of taking actions and seeing where it leads, regardless of the outcome.
Tell me a little bit more about what this book of poems “A Vast Empty” is all about.
I’ve been an avid reader of poetry for a long time. While I enjoy reading the classics, one poet who has had a profound impact on me is Rainer Maria Rilke. His poems evoke a sense of tranquility, calmness, and the beauty of life. Most of the poetry I’ve come across is quite painful, focusing on themes of injustice and suffering. I wanted to write poetry that would make people feel good about themselves, explore their inner calmness and divinity, and delve into their own identity, whether it be through devotion, love, or hope. A lot of my inspiration comes from nature, and my primary goal was for people to be able to relate to my words. I didn’t want to write heavy, structured poems, but rather something simple that people could easily connect with. It brings me great joy when people tell me that they can relate to my poems and see themselves in them. Writing this book of poetry has been a labor of love, inspired by moments of enlightenment and clarity that came and went over a period of two and a half years.
Writing a poem requires a different kind of vocabulary. How did you build that kind of vocabulary?
I read a lot. As I thought about why I enjoy writing poetry rather than novels, I realized that for me, poetry requires inspiration. It allows me to take something out of context and apply a different frame to it, creating powerful imagery and evoking emotions. Inspiration can come from anywhere, whether it’s something someone says or nature itself. Writing a novel, on the other hand, requires structure and discipline with a plot and character traits already in mind. For me, poetry is more about being mindful and aware of my surroundings, finding beauty in unexpected things, and letting the words flow when the inspiration strikes. I don’t have a magic formula, but this is what works for me.
I believe it’s important to actively seek out opportunities to live more mindfully and make time for the things that matter to us. For me, this means focusing on one task at a time, as I’ve discovered that I’m not able to effectively multitask. Whether it’s walking, reading, or listening to music, I prefer to do one thing and fully immerse myself in the experience. This realization has led me to appreciate the importance of being present in the moment and savouring each experience without the pressure of trying to maximize productivity or efficiency.
It’s important to consider whether women are aware of all the opportunities available to them and whether they are being too harsh on themselves. This requires talking to others, attending conferences and learning events, and actively participating in forums.