As we explore possibilities while planning our way forward when it comes to Diversity and Inclusion, we often forget the people who put their entire life in making the dream of a diverse and inclusive world a reality in their own ways. In this article, let’s celebrate wins of each and every woman who chose to challenge status quo, chose to speak up, chose to change to rules of the game, and unflinchingly went after what she aspired for and made us all proud.
We have lots of examples- From Indra Nooyi, to Phogat girls, to Mary Kom, to Mithali Raj, to Kiran bedi, Kiran Mzumdar Shaw, Arundhati Roy, and not to forget all the strong successful women who came on our International women’s day Choose to challenge interview series, Riya Dalvi, Kaushiki Srivastava, Pooja Jauhari, Ira Singhal, Megha Mukhija, Bina Pillai, Shauravi Mallik, Tina Vinod, Ruchi Jain and Apoorva Purohit.
Each one of them chose to Challenge and reshaped the rules, and carved a space for themselves, a space they aspired for, a space they dreamt of. Each one of them had a story, faced their own challenges and overcame them. None of them had success served on a platter. They worked for it, even fought for it, struggled for it.
So what does it take to reshape the rules, for ourselves, and those around us? Sharing some insights from the conversation with Apurva Purohit.
It all starts with having the courage to listen to your heart. For each one of us, success can mean different things, and there are no right or wrong answers, but we have the right to choose our own path, unencumbered by societal pressures or expectations.
Next is the perseverance required to stay the course. As we navigate through life, well, life happens. Marriage, children, balancing two careers, elderly care, menopause…and all of these pit stops come up as obstacles. Many women fall off the course at one of these pit stops. Those who are able to navigate have Grit, laser focus on the dream they started with, and the will to ask for help when needed.
Another pertinent question often asked is- can women have it all? Well, the answer is yes, women can have it all. They simply have to define their all and not aim to be perfectionists at everything. Also remember, they will achieve success in different things at different phases in life and that is ok. No one’s life is a straight upward trajectory- whether personal or professional, there are always peaks and troughs.
For women at leadership levels, caught between a wall and a hard rock- on one side if they are tough they are seen as too aggressive and bossy, and if they are empathetic, they are too soft and not leadership material. A simple way to beat this conundrum is to remove the element of gender from leadership and approach each situation on it merit and deal with it the way it deserves. Be tough where it is needed, be empathetic and nurturing where needed, and don’t pay heed to perceptions.
An extremely structured and insightful conversation.
Let’s also look at the journeys of a few women who began to challenge the norms and led to reshaping the rules for not just themselves but for a number of people who shared the same dream. Here I would like to share the names four women whose journeys have inspired other women to pursue their dreams and continue to work towards it (this list isn’t exhaustive as there are many more):
1. Dr Vina Mazumdar – Dr. Vina Mazumdar was one of the first women to be involved in the ‘twin movements’ of Women’s Studies and Women’s Activism. She spent most of her time understanding the diverse experiences of women in the patriarchal system across India. Through her research, she and her colleagues realized that there wasn’t any widespread knowledge about lived experiences of underprivileged women, thus leading to the advent of the Centre For Women’s Development Studies (CWDS), in 1980. In 1982, Dr Vina Mazumdar became a founding member of the Indian Association of Women’s Studies (IAWS), which conducts national conferences to promote Women’s Studies, even to this day. (R, 2019)
2. Ela Bhatt – One of the prominent women working for the empowerment of the gender, Ela Bhatt founded SEWA – Self-Employed Women’s Association of India in the year 1972. Not only this, she painstakingly works towards causes of international labor and is a part of several cooperative, women, and micro-finance movements. She is particularly known for her involvement with The Elders’ Initiative which is all about the equality for girls and women. Due to her efforts, she was also honored with the Global Fairness Initiative Award in 2010 and awarded the Radcliffe Medal and the Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development in 2011. (De, 2018)
3. Pooja Goel – Pooja is the founder of Pink Collar Professionals, she has worked at corporates like Infosys and Edgeverve Systems for three years before pursuing an MBA in Sales & Marketing in 2018. During her time at IMT Ghaziabad, she developed an interest in startups and devoted time to understanding and learning about the processes involved in becoming an entrepreneur. Exploring the startup ecosystem and attending multiple women-oriented summits, it became evident to Pooja that women in the startup ecosystem played a very small part in the larger picture. This gap in ideal numbers led her to come with the idea of Pink Collar Professionals – a platform to help women entrepreneurs. Through PCP, Pooja helps women entrepreneurs chart plans for their success, transform their businesses to go digital and scale successfully. In a span of just three months, Pooja has assisted 34 women entrepreneurs to understand their businesses better and has successfully helped 12 women to work on digital transformation. She is currently providing a three-month mentorship to four businesses. She has been working with entrepreneurs from various sectors including edtech, online healthcare, gifting, clothing, and handmade jewelry. (Gowthaman, 2020)
4. Ragini Das – Ragini Das along with Anand Sinha, both ex-Zomato executives, have launched Leap, a platform helps mid-career women climb the ladder and reach leadership positions. Initially, available to members in the Delhi-NCR region, the powerful private network will later be open to women from all over India. Leap’s target audience is women in the 30-35 age group who are at the mid-career level. While they have currently chosen 30 founding members, there are 2,000 people on its waitlist, from companies like Google, Netflix, McKinsey & Co., Amazon, Uber, Zomato, BCG, and Teach for India. Apart from one-on-one offline connect meets, the membership also offers therapy sessions and the opportunity to be part of a 15-member peer group that meets every two months. It will have a Speaker Series, where it will bring in industry icons for smaller, intimate sessions. (Gowthaman, 2020)
Taking the examples of the lived realities of the above-mentioned women we also learn how women who have stood up for themselves have also become a powerful force in not just reshaping the rules but also have become strong allies and sponsors for many women just like themselves.
Would love to hear more stories from the readers who are reading this, on how the journey and work of a few individuals have helped them in reshaping their ways of thinking about inclusion and diversity.