The Power of Small Ripples
Even today, when everyone is incredibly mindful of gender disparity, it is rare to see women at the top compared to men, writes Shirley D’Costa
Have you heard of the power of small ripples? They make big waves, they say.
When I started my career in advertising, in the mid-2000s, I could count on one hand the number of women in mid or management positions at the agency I worked at. It baffled me. What was my path ahead supposed to be like? Who could I anchor to, to envision my career? In conversation with other women around the office, they spoke of male colleagues, who had risen in their careers far quicker, A defeatist air loomed around. The fast track was for the rare few, and your skill sets, your abilities didn't seem to matter.
A few years later, I pivoted to digital advertising, and by then a handful of women CEOs emerged in tech across the world. Some of them were spoken about more for their magazine covers and manicures, than for their business acumen or decisions in the press. It felt like the odds were stacked, no matter what you did. You had to speak louder, but not too loud. And you had to try harder. Twice as much, or thrice as much to be taken seriously, to be seen as a contender.
Even today, when everyone is incredibly mindful of gender disparity, it is rare to see women at the top compared to men. So what will it take for women to get a foot into the elusive C-Suite door?
As an entrant into the industry, if you knew somebody before you made it there, then you could do it too. It matters because study after study shows that gender diversity at the top is critical to generate broader change in pay equity, workplace policies and a more diverse and empowered workforce. It doesn’t hurt that multiple credible studies show that gender-balanced leadership team directly correlates with enhanced profitability and value creation.
And then there’s the Imposter Syndrome. No matter what your experience, or how much we achieve, there’s always the nagging doubt that we don’t deserve this or we aren’t good enough yet. So raising your hand takes that much more effort, and speaking up is a task. The fact that women leaders receive more behavioural feedback (as opposed to feedback on their work) just makes the situation more complicated.
While it may seem bleak, in my experience, there are a lot of little ripples, we can cause to create real, sustainable, big waves of change.
- Vocabulary: Guys, boys, bros- as harmless as you intend for these to be, using more inclusive language (I use, folks/ team/friends, for instance) and being mindful of your tone and voice can go a long way in improving morale and promoting a healthy environment for all in the workplace.
When your team members consciously speak respectfully and inclusively? That’s a ripple.
- Gender Assigned Roles: When at a meeting, Who’s calling the canteen, ordering the coffee? Who’s taking notes? Who’s setting up the next meeting? More often than not, the onus on being hospitable, rests with a woman. Notice it. And take action.
- Equal Opportunity- from hiring to the C-Suite- providing women equal opportunity, and carving clear paths for success helps them feel seen and helps them grow.
That’s a ripple.
- Let Women Speak: In my experience, when you sense a hesitation, and encourage women to speak up, they tend to offer insights that are more deliberate and carefully thought-through. There is a lot of value to be gained by having more women at the table and consistently inviting their input.
When the women on your team get used to being called upon and feel comfortable speaking up? That’s a ripple.
- Talk To Your Teams: About unconscious bias, sexism and gender parity. The more conversations we have around these topics, the more awareness we generate and the more change we can drive.
When you call out casual sexism or harmless ‘sexist jokes’ at work? That’s a ripple.
It's our job as leaders to codify some of these initiatives, across the organisation for real impact to be seen. And while we make these ripples that will go on to make bigger waves, the responsibility also extends to all genders in the workforce- to be mindful at every step of the way and create a healthy environment for all to thrive in.
(Shirley D’Costa Chief Business Officer, Kulfi Collective)
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