Women can’t have it all, so can’t men

Your-way-of-success
Photo source: http://www.imigion.com

Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi’s famous quote at the Aspen Ideas Festival has caused a lot of stir. Mostly among feminists and journalists. Nooyi says that women pretend that they have it all but it’s not the truth. “Every day,” she says, “a woman needs to make a choice between whether she wants to be a wife or a mother at least once.” On the other hand, Kim Kardashian who many term as the poster girl of first world frivolity “begs to differ.” Kardashian says that her mother taught her that women can have it all if they prioritise right. Feminists and social mercenaries were quick to jump and dismiss Kardashian’s point of view. After all, “how could a world famous celebrity with a legion of staff to take care of childcare, career, and husband’s untameable ego know about the truth in the ground?”

As much as one may hate to admit it, Kardashian does have a point. A deep one too!

The world’s cruel, yes

Women undergo the biological event of child-birth and subsequent motherhood which causes them to take a break from their corporate careers. Women start out with peers from business schools in a corporate career, the top percentile get ahead of the race while the others are still at par with their male peers. There is, of course, the 25-40 age window where most women take a break from their corporate careers mostly because of motherhood obligations. Irrespective of what stage a woman is with her corporate career, the feminist lobby argues that she comes in with the disadvantage of starting behind her peers and loses the motivation to carry on. Even if the woman gathers enough motivation to join another corporate job, she finds out that her male peers have moved ahead and she has to catch up.

At work, the woman is worried about her child/children and the health of the family. She faces prejudice from her bosses because of the perceptions that a woman cannot stay back for late hours, and there is always the risk of another career break with a new pregnancy. Many corporate women complain that they were unfairly overlooked by their bosses for a well-deserved promotion because of gender bias. As a result of all that, a woman’s CV looks less prolific than a man’s. There are fewer women in leadership positions in the corporate world than men. All of the above is true. And all relevant. But is that how we really measure success?

Corporate success does not equate absolute success

All the issues listed above are true for the modern corporate woman. The truth is, corporate success and success in absolute terms are two different things. Would you call the “douchebag CTO of the global service firm who cannot tell a scone from a macaroon and talks like a jerk” a successful person? Does the word “CTO” negate the words “douchebag” and “jerk”? I guess not! In absolute terms, this guy has been unsuccessful in becoming an all-rounder. He is highly unsuccessful. In fact, in absolute terms chances are, more people will end up calling him a “loser with a capital L.”

Measure success on absolute value, not bell-curve placement

Why does no one talk about absolute value? Giving birth and nurturing a child in absolute terms is progressively more valuable than growing older and less valuable as a social and economic entity. After an individual is past her/his prime, the capacity of the individual to generate value diminishes. True, the individual may continue to earn more based on his experience. But s/he will progressively have lesser and lesser energy for family and friends, and lesser capability to remain “an interesting person.” Not to mention, beauty and pleasing looks will fade away too. The absolute value of the individual goes down. The only way to continue being valuable is to nurture a progressively valuable entity. A child is a great bet!

One’s placement in your organisation’s bell curve may not be in the lead area, but that’s really not a measure of somebody’s worth, right?

Men can’t have it all either

Once someone’s measurement standards are truly elevated to absolute terms, it is possible to acknowledge that men can’t have it all either. For a man, not succeeding is not an option. A man is born with the expectations to lead, to be faster, better, swifter than the rest.

While a man is busy attending to the world’s expectations, he fails to invest in overall well-being. He stops developing a personality, stops doing things that interested him once, and invests as much time as he can to vegetate and regain lost mind space. Being taught all life to have things under absolute and unequivocal control, to be on top is of the game now and always, men cannot afford to just float if they have to lead “a worthy life.”
Read about hikikomori in Japan. It’s the growing trend among men in Japan unable to cope with the society’s expectations around them to ultimately withdraw to a vegetative state. It’s a miserable life to lead. It’s not just a phenomenon in Japan. Men all around the world face the same burden and will continue to. We don’t need WHO statistics to tell us that significantly more men die of stress-related disease than women. Simply put, men have it tough too!

Kardashian may just be right

Prioritisation is an unfailing answer to the question, “What is success and how do you measure it?” I hope there will come a time when the world becomes more rational and measures people in absolute terms than their economic worth. Until then, there is one thing someone can always do. Just find out what one enjoys doing, prioritise that over everything else, and invest in overall welfare. As my 20 year old cousin puts it, “YOLO.” (If you didn’t get that, it’s possible that you’re past your prime)

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‘HR needs a seat at the table’ and other annoying peeves

Lately, there has been a surge of people talking and writing about HR’s need to find a ‘seat at the table.’ For the uninitiated that means, HR’s too dumb to be of any consequence to a CEO. HR needs to fight its way to grab a CEO’s attention. Why is no one talking about ‘marketing’ needing to grab the seat? Or ‘finance’? Not cool.

Keep the following in mind and stop worrying about the seat.

HR’s too big-ass for the seat
The business runs on people. Marketing runs on people. Finance runs on people. And HR manages people. It’s pervasive. Without anybody managing the human resources of the enterprise, everything crumbles. No questions on that. Trying to fit something that big into one seat is just too much effort. The CEO gets that. At least if s/he is smart!

No, HR’s not shutting down
Lately, many are saying that HR departments will likely shut down because they tend to be too administrative and have no business focus. ‘Average’ is not an HR problem. ‘Average’ is unacceptable anywhere. Be exceptional and no one will dare touch you.

Hire exceptional to appear exceptional
Do not settle for ‘average’ to meet goal sheets. Always aim for the exceptional. Make efforts to hire the right people even if it takes three times longer. Don’t take the easy way out. Every hiring should be imaginative and inventive. Just put some deep thinking. People will thank you.

Customise, customise, customise- train right
The needs of every new hire and every batch is different. Don’t take the easy way out and make ‘standards’ a way of life. Customise, customise, customise. Make the ‘orientation module’ and ‘training 203’ your biggest enemies.

The next time, no one talks to you about the seat. Remember it’s you who makes the seating arrangement.

The three mistakes of my professional life

Picture source: OnlyOneDrop

Picture source: OnlyOneDrop

We work hard to avoid problems at work. We aim to respond to all important mails, deliver on deadlines, make clients happy, and avoid any conflict with the manager or a colleague. But no matter how hard we try, inventive problems emerge every time from quarters where we least expect and cause havoc in our lives in ways which we are least prepared for. There will never be a period in our professional (or personal) life where we haven’t made a slip or two. Sometimes its bad luck, and on other times it’s a small innocuous detail which we were lazy to ignore at the beginning. If I start taking stock of all the small and big mistakes that I’ve made across the course of my professional life, I’d end up with a number large enough to hide my embarrassed face in the sand until it gets dark outside. But every time I’ve made a mistake-small or big- I’ve grown wiser. I can unequivocally claim that I am a more mature professional than what I was, a hundred mistakes earlier.

Here are three great mistakes I committed in my professional life and what I learnt from them. (I call them great because, they give me the confidence to claim that I am a better professional now.)

Forgetting to put my out-of-office— It was just a small vacation and I remembered at the airport that I had forgotten to put my out-of-office auto reply on. I told myself that I had responded to everyone and had set all my business in order before I left. Hence, any new e-mail would be new business. New business can surely wait for a couple of days. I was wrong. Not only did I lose out on opportunities, my confidence that I had everything covered before the vacation was shaken. I did miss out a couple of important ones in all the excitement of a long-awaited break. Result was a catastrophic first day back at work followed by a frustrated FB status message, “I wish the vacation was never over.”

What I do now: I put my OoO the moment I remember it, even if it is a month before the vacation. I schedule it for the period I will be out for the vacation. I am now 100 per cent OoO compliant.

Not editing an important e-mail— It’s good to be confident about one’s writing skills. But not putting the effort to edit is just not acceptable. Almost immediately after writing something which I am proud of, I can identify several areas of improvement when I read it. The more time I spend editing, the better it gets. While there is no end to how much one can edit, sending an important e-mail out without editing is a sin. The value gets dissipated by half if there are structural issues or incoherent arguments, and by another quarter if there are grammatical errors. (c’mon don’t tell me you don’t judge people who write bad sentences).

What I do now: I quickly put myself in the shoes of the person reading my e-mails and read it top to bottom to see if it makes sense. Spotting grammar errors is a function of practice, and I keep improving every time. Now, at times I even edit informal e-mails; getting it right is better that getting it wrong, isn’t it?

Too lazy to wear many hats— This is a classic case. I consider myself a focused professional. When I am working on something, I find it very difficult to do something else in the middle of it even if it is urgent. I dread these words from any colleague, “it will only take five minutes of your time.” I keep telling myself, “this is not what I had planned for.” And though I know that what my colleague has asked for is important, I will tend to resist it. And my colleague will wonder why I am acting difficult for something so easy. Many times, we resist doing something new because it required us to think differently. It breaks our inertia. And we are all driven by inertia.

What I do now: Whenever I receive any task that threatens to break my current inertia, I ask myself one question, “is this urgent and important?” If the answer is anything but a “Yes,” I will find a great way to reason with my colleague and tell her/him when I would do it and why it’s not necessary to do it right away. I do not frown or grumble or make “that face” anymore.

Problems at work will never cease to exist, if you’ve had a perfect day at work with nothing going wrong, it is probable that you’ve not done anything important.