Chitra Anand is a doctoral researcher and professor at Forbes School of Business, and an Innovation and Culture Change speaker. Follow her on Twitter @chitra_anand.
I was brought up in a traditional Indian home by two immigrant parents who came to Canada from India in the sixties.
My upbringing took the shape of a traditional household with traditional roles. My father went to work to provide for the family; my mother stayed home, took care of the kids and the household. It was a conservative and strict upbringing. I was not allowed to wear dresses above my knee, show my bare arms, have sleepovers or date boys.
These were all cultural limitations, but even with them, I was encouraged to do well in school, pursue my passions, have a career, be great and chase my dreams.
I was told that I can do anything that I set my mind to.
I was never told that, by being female, I was at a disadvantage. Thus, it never crossed my mind, and I never felt disadvantaged.
The first time that I heard about gender inequality was when I was 28. It was at my second job when I started to see things, hear about the problem, and start to experience it. It's amazing actually – I went through high school, university and two jobs without feeling like being female had its challenges.
I believe this was because of what I was raised to believe and the lens through which I viewed the world. It was the narrative that I created in my mind because of the environment in which I was surrounded.
We are in an interesting time now. There is a lot of focus on women in the workplace. The diversity agenda is under fire and women are at the core of it; equal pay, equal opportunity, women on boards.
Many would say that it is a difficult time for women. I would argue that there is no better time to be a woman.
Yes, it is challenging; yes, it is hard; yes, there are stats to prove all of this – but there is also opportunity, an opportunity to lead as women in business.
I am a communications executive, and our industry is responsible for creating external narratives for companies, for brands, for people. What I advocate and believe in is that women need to create and focus on internal narratives. What is the message that we are sending ourselves, but moreover, what is the story that we are creating for ourselves as women?
If you were to survey senior employees about the hours they work, it would likely be more than 10-to-12 hours a day, plus weekends. Most of the women that I know don't want to work those kind of hours. Why? Because we are multidimensional.
What do I mean by this? There are several things in life that define us; we are not defined by just our jobs. Personally, I have many passions: travel, sports and fitness, writing, spending time with friends and family, reading, learning – and I have two kids and a husband. I need these things to make me whole. I am not one-dimensional.
If I chose to be a chief executive, I would go in eyes wide open, knowing that my time would not be my own. My husband and I have talked about this. I believe women have, to some extent, chosen not to take on these roles because of the massive time commitment involved. If you want to be a CEO, you can be, just know what you are signing up for. Think about this objectively, with an open mindset.
I am a female visible minority in tech; if I had allowed statistics, injustices and bad behaviour to influence me negatively, I would have been defeated. I have used it as intelligence – ammunition to propel myself forward – and it has not been easy, but I would not have it any other way. It is the lessons along the way that have defined me, taught me, and that have awakened me.
So regarding the adversity women face in the workplace, I would say three things:
Be the narrative that you want to be. Who are you, what is your story, what is your unique value, your personal power? Define it, create it, live it, own it.
Don't give up your personal power in times of adversity. Bad things are going to happen; good things are going to happen; people behave inappropriately; they will steal your ideas; they will be sexist; they will be prejudiced; they will say inappropriate things – but that is just life. It is not a male problem; it is not a female problem; it is a human problem. Know what your value is, do not give up your personal power in times of adversity. Remain focused and clear-headed.
Lead your business using a problem-solving mindset. Business people, at their core, are problem-solvers. We just use different crafts, disciplines, and levers. Use this mindset when tackling challenges. When problem-solving, you are taking a pro-active approach to shaping your environment. You look at the possibilities, and this ultimately leads to creativity.
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