The Annual MMA Women Managers’ Convention is a celebration of the spirit of women; and the many diverse roles women play. The event creates a platform for women across different walks of life, to come together, share their thoughts, opinions, insights and experiences.
Ms Judith Ravin, US Consul General, Chennai
I might not be here today as consul general if it weren’t for the many women who came before me, opening up avenues in society for future generations, demanding that our voices be heard, acknowledging the imperative of inclusive representation, and demonstrating that there is no limit to human potential, when society allows it to flourish.
As you know, March 8 is International Women’s Day. But for the United States, we reserve the entire month of March to celebrate and honour women’s history, and the many significant contributions that women have done and continue to do in society. Each March, the President of the United States designates as Women’s History Month, to shine a light on the extraordinary legacy of trailblazing women and girls who have built, shaped and improved upon our society. But as a woman, acknowledging those contributions is a lifelong pursuit, as we find ways to be mutually supportive. The US Department of State’s theme for this year is “embrace equity.”
Gender equity and equality is a long-standing cornerstone priority for the United States at home and abroad. We recognize that governments, economies, industries, and communities everywhere are stronger when they encourage and include the full participation of all members of society. Unleashing the talent of women, girls, and gender diverse and non-conforming persons of every background in all their diversity, starts with working to ensure that they have equal access and opportunities across security, health, education, culture, science and technology, economic and political spheres. Yet this remains a distant reality for many people around the world, particularly those facing, intersecting and compounding forms of discrimination.
The UN’s theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is ‘DigitALL: Innovation and Technology for Gender Equality.’ Around the world, women and girls face barriers to achieving education, training and resources necessary to succeed in an increasingly digital economy. The United States is committed to empowering women and girls in all their diversity, including preventing and responding to technology facilitated gender-based violence, and addressing the gender digital divide, among other priorities. Increasing the participation of women and girls in STEM catalyses economic growth and opportunity, and contributes to women’s economic security.
The US government has done tremendous work, advancing women’s economic empowerment. We are committed to gender equality, social inclusion, and advancing the status of women and girls globally as a foreign policy priority. Global prosperity, security and stability cannot be achieved without the full participation of women in the economic, social, business and political spheres. We are happy to commemorate Women’s History Month to elevate women leaders and changemakers like you, who are addressing gender-based violence, stigma and discrimination and reducing barriers in their communities.
Earlier this month, Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited New Delhi for the G20 Foreign Ministerial meet and Raisina dialogue. During that time, he met with women civil society leaders to discuss the important work on women’s empowerment and how it enriches and strengthens both India and the United States. It’s great to see organizations recruit, train and inspire future women leaders and celebrate them as they go the extra mile. As the oldest and largest democracies, the United States and India are better together. And in the month of March, we are better together for Her. Do not let others define you; take opportunities as they come your way and never think that life is a rectilinear path. It’s okay to make journeys on the way.
Importance of Adaptability
Ms Prabha Narasimhan, MD and CEO of Colgate-Palmolive (India) Ltd.
We can’t advance the agenda for women, only by women. We do need to advance as a collective and agree with the ‘Better Together.’ I come from a very privileged background. I grew up in a home where women had as much of a voice, perhaps sometimes too much as the men did in that house. We were strong and well-educated women who were taught to speak their mind. I didn’t feel that I had an elder brother in the house, four years elder than me.
When we talk about resilience, we usually tend to think about resilience in the capacity of overcoming adversity. But there is another angle to resilience, probably more or equally important angle, which is about adaptability. If all of us think back to just what we were three years ago, we would have not been able to do this. We were all just about in the throes of Covid lockdown at home, unable to see our families, unable to go to work and unable to do pretty much everything. Though it was traumatic and exceedingly difficult, all of us have coped and we have the joy of coming back together. That’s adaptability in the face of adversity.
Like Darwin said, it’s not always the strongest or the most intelligent of the species that does the best, it’s the most adaptable. I would urge you to look at your life and your career and think about the choices that you make and what you can do to adapt to opportunities that present themselves, rather than always thinking about it as something that you do in the face of adversity.
To give you a personal example, I worked for Hindustan Unilever for about 23 years before I joined Colgate nine months ago. In those 23 years, I loved the organization. I had absolutely no reason to leave. I lived in Bangalore. But 10 years into my career journey, they moved the Bangalore office to Mumbai. For personal reasons, I didn’t think it was a great idea to move to Mumbai. So, I had to leave. It was feeling like, ‘Oh, my God.’ There is home and there is the second home and you got to make a choice between those two. We always tend to choose our first home than our second home.
However, when I flipped the situation in my head and said, ‘Okay, this is an opportunity for me to see what else I can do out there.’ It opened a whole lot of new doors. Of course, serendipity would have it that I was back in Unilever in six months. But that’s another story for another day. The point is, there is an opportunity being adaptable in the face of opportunity.
I must also tell you that I’m a huge cricket fan. No discussion of mine can be complete without a reference to cricket. I woke up this morning to a tweet by cricketer K L Rahul, which said, ‘Things that you love need patience.’ That was in reference to his match winning 75 against Australia after going through a lean patch. True. Things that you love need patience, whether they’re relationships, careers or anything else that you value in life. It’s never ever going to be a straight path. It’s going to have its deviations and ups and downs. It’s going to have its moments where you feel that you must step off and give up. It’s the ability to persevere in those moments that allows you to reach your destination.
Like some wise person said, ‘a career is not a sprint, it’s more of a marathon.’ There’ll be moments where you run ahead of the pack and moments where you really drag, thinking that you are not going to make it to the finish line. Then there is the joy of saying, ‘No, I can do it. I’m going to persevere. I’m going to get there.’ Having now worked for 25 years, I can surely tell you that there are not all highs, there are certainly enough and more lows that need to get managed.
Betting on your ability
The last point that I want to make is that women must have the ability to bet on their ability. Women tend to underestimate the capacity and the potential they have and this holds them back to achieving way more than they can achieve. Many women have fought for the ability to allow us to take up pretty much any profession. What holds us back is actually personal. Have you ever thought that there is something that people around you tell, ‘You can do it,’ but you think, ‘No. I can’t do this’?
I’ll give you an example of this from my career. I was with HUL for about 14 years and I’d never done sales in those 14 years. We were in Dubai, and I got a call from the sales director. He said, ‘Come and meet me.’ I am always happy to meet people. So, I met him and he said, “Would you like to come and head the Delhi branch for HUL?” I thought it was a case of mistaken identity. I have never done sales before. Anybody who knows me knows that my Hindi is suspect. Hearing the words, ‘Go and be the first woman branch manager of Delhi branch,’ my instinctive response was, ‘No. I don’t think I can do the job.’
Then he gave me a 10-minute lecture on how he thought, I could do the job and said, “Don’t worry, go into it.” Convinced by that fantastic lecture, I did take the job. I can’t say I was the best branch manager ever, because that would be a lie. But I can tell you that it certainly added a lot to my leadership journey and to the confidence that I have in my own ability. Every other time that I’ve been faced with a question of, ‘Do I think I can do something or I can’t do something?’ I look back to that moment and I think that if other people can have the confidence that I can do it, then surely I deserve to give myself the confidence that I can do it.
I want to end on an absolute literally classic from way back in childhood, called, ‘The Little Engine That Could.’ The line goes, ‘I think I can. I think I can. I think I can. I have a plan and I can do almost anything. I think I can.’
7 New Rules of Leadership
Mr Shane Cragun, CEO & Co-Founder, LeadersCode
If you have the right leadership, you get to play in a very big way. But the leadership discipline has lagged far behind. There needs to be a new way to think about leadership. We’ve created a startup called ‘LeadersCode,’ and identified the seven big things you can do as a leader, that make all the difference in the world. Since the pandemic, the playing field is different. It’s boundary-less. You can be very powerful in your home office, on your laptop. But we also know that it’s hyper competitive and there are strong headwinds. Many of you feel that it seems to be a 24/7 sprint. What are the new rules of leadership that will allow you to do well in this hyper competitive environment? That’s what we researched the last five years. We need to think about it differently. Because the world is so complex and challenging, you have to play really big. You cannot play in the weeds. You have to fly high. You have to go hard and fast; big, bold and courageous. Otherwise, the headwinds will slow you down. Play as a team.
Master Disruption: Do not sit home and wait for disruption to hit. You go right into it. There’s a difference between the big wave surfers that will surf a wave 33 meters or higher and everyone else. When they see the swell getting so big, they get excited and go right into the biggest part of the wave. Everyone else runs for safety. If you’re going to play big, you must master disruption. You must go right into it. If you need to change, you must pivot quickly. You don’t wait. Disrupt before being disrupted. You’re not a victim of your environment. You own your environment.
Go for the moonshots: Shoot for the moon and the Mars. It’s not about simple goals anymore. That doesn’t motivate people. They want to be involved in moonshots and movements. Gandhi never had a badge that said ‘Vice President of a movement.’ Everybody wanted to be a part because their heart and soul was in it. Movements are about hearts and spirits. What can you do to inspire a movement to play big and shoot for the stars with realism?
Tap into your ecosystem: If I’m an industry, I can simply worry about my industry or I can play deep with my customers, my suppliers and my partners and build a very big tribe around me with capabilities. You can play by yourself or you can play with a big tribe. That means that as you work, you’re thinking about the people in your sphere of influence. Reach out and grab capabilities from your friends and bring them in.
Solve unsolvable problems: It’s no longer about just simple innovation. As Elon Musk does, solve unsolvable problems. What are the things that hold you back and how can you break through those barriers? Elon Musk said this the other day, when he was asked, “How can you do such incredible things?” He said, “Because I don’t think and see the world like other people. I was in my car in Los Angeles and the commute was really, really bad. I had to get to the airport. I said, this traffic in Los Angeles is ridiculous. We’ve got to solve it. What do you think most people would think of? ‘Let’s add another lane, maybe an express lane. Hey, let’s do a double decker highway.’ I don’t think like that. I use first principle thinking. What that means is, I simply ask: I want to go from here to here. What’s the best way? And, I’m going to dig a tunnel.”
Now he can go from his house in Los Angeles to the airport in seven minutes, going 200 miles an hour in a tunnel. The idea here is, we all can innovate. But it’s now about solving the problems that everyone thought was unsolvable. Those are what we call headwinds or barriers.
Understand your superpower: Your superpower might be operations or marketing. That’s your expertise. A superpower is what Gandhi had, which was his ability to show presence and ethos and people flocked to him. He would not have been a very good carpenter or auto mechanic. That’s technical expertise. Each of you have a superpower you are born with. That’s your voice. Find your voice and play big with that. Don’t worry about being perfect in everything. Each of you have a specific contribution to make and build everything around that.
It also applies to organizations. Toyota says, ‘We do one thing really well and everything else is pretty good. And the one thing is, we know how to build quality automobiles. That’s our superpower. Everything else just has to be industry average.’ In your life, it’s not about normal skills. It’s about something that’s unique to you.
Go for collective intelligence: It is no longer about celebrity CEOs or individual brilliance. It’s team and collective intelligence.
Become a resilient corporate athlete: If you don’t have the stamina to lead yourself, it’s going to be hard to lead others. No one derails you. You are the one that owns your career.
Visions and missions no longer have the power to do big things because they just engage your heads and hands. It’s inspiration that matters. When you have inspired employees or yourself, you can do amazing things. The new leadership science is that you don’t have to build it, nor do you have to own your capabilities. You can plug it like a USB drive into the computer. The old way of leadership is that you need to build it and own it. The best way to do now is find an ecosystem partner and plug it in. Don’t worry if you have it or not. Find a friend and bring him in, to solve unsolvable problems.
Ask yourself this question: ‘What makes me truly unique? How do I build that into what I’m doing?’ You don’t have to fake being anybody you’re not. Stick with the authentic you. Feed and fuel your superpower. Emphasize team over individual. There is no such thing as an individual CEO with brilliance. The world is too complex for one person to manage. Put a team around you that will help you make the right decisions and overcome setbacks. And lastly, become a resilient corporate athlete. To lead today, it takes incredible physical and emotional stamina and mental agility.