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Why are women in top leadership positions tested and doubted? While it is annoying, this author refuses to stop leaning in – for the sake of generations to come.
Scared as hell, I walked into a meeting room which held the capacity to accommodate a hundred people at one point of time. All eyes were following me, even as I just tried to ignore this and looked straight at the chair that was meant for me.
I had been posted as Managing Director of a reputed organization, ruled by men since its inception. I am deliberately using this word ‘ruled’ because I got the heat as soon as I started working – although the picture became clearer only a month later. Anyways, I chaired the meeting and there were a hundred men with 5–20 years of experience, some almost on the verge of retirement. On top of it, I knew nothing more than basic physics (as I am a medical graduate) and the room was full of engineers!
I was shaking inside but I kept my ‘mask’ of calmness glowing. I pretended that I was confident (as they say, fake it till you make it) and asked for some introductions and wrapped up that first meeting very smartly, asking nothing else.
So as I said, in the very first month, there was a big strike by one cadre of employees which affected the working of the entire organization. Ignorant of local level politics, I was a bit worried as it was going to be a big black dot on my reputation that I could not ‘manage things’ being a woman leader. Since I had nothing much at stake and having a lot of support from my immediate boss, who by the way was also male, I decided to fight this nuisance.
Win or lose! I had no fear. In other words, it was a situation of “Do or Die” for me. I had decided to face this with all my tact and skills. I reached out for help from the local administration and ensured that it was available to me when needed. I took stern actions against the erring employees and especially the ‘manipulators’ who were provocating this from behind the curtain. Initially, this messed up things a little bit more but with an ingenious plan in action, soon enough the strike was dissolved. Above all, the masterminds behind this thing had to apologize in writing (on an affidavit). This was strike one!
Later during the same assignment, after a few months, I observed that people remembered my name in all the districts where I was making visits. Later some people told me that there was another reason for this apparent popularity. On coaxing a bit, I was told that people were scared. No! Not scared of me, but me being a woman, they were worried that if I made an inspection and something wrong was found, it would be a big blow to their male chauvinistic egos! Strike two!
I laughed because they were not scared of any penalty or anything else but because they didn’t want to be humiliated by a woman in front of other people. Well! As far as it worked towards getting the work done, I didn’t care much!
One of my senior officers asked me one day as to how I managed to take control of the department so well in such a short time. What he meant was that despite having no knowledge of technical stuff, how could I “know” things? My answer was that I learned from you! You guys taught me everything! He looked and smiled sheepishly. Teaching a woman who is your boss was perhaps the riskiest step he had ever taken! Strike three!
All these instances just left me with one question to ask! Why are women in top leadership positions tested and doubted? Honestly, it doesn’t stop me from performing my duties. Every time I am given a new assignment, I know that I will have to prove myself but I never give up! Why? Because balance is better!
I have to keep performing until that day when women are no longer doubted or tested for their leadership skills! I have a responsibility to my younger female generations to come, such that they are welcomed for any position without having to prove it again and again.
I am not giving up because I want to lean in (thanks, Sheryl Sandberg!) and do the hand holding for other women as much as I can. We deserve this and we need to bring in this balance soon.
Image via Unsplash
First published here.
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