Self-Awareness and Sisterhood
Recently, I was asked to share the importance of self-awareness in my journey as a woman leader. Yes, “woman leader” because we are far from rendering gender irrelevant to a person’s profession or title. Nonetheless, it was a good question and rather thought-provoking.
I believe self-awareness is a crucial component in both personal and professional success. Since the question was framed in the context of gender, my retrospection was guided in that direction. Early in my career, I began to recognize internalized misogynistic beliefs and how I subconsciously enacted them. As I reflect on them today, here are a few worth sharing:
To succeed in a man’s world: As a millennial woman who grew up surrounded by successful women from the ’80s and ’90s, it wasn’t just subliminal messaging; it was out, loud, and clear. If you want to succeed in a man’s world, you must think, act, and work like a man. Recognizing this mislearning helped me shed the weight of being a misfit, instead embracing my authentic self, especially my feminine characteristics, and understanding the power of empathy as a leader. Today, in 2023, we have seen leaders like Jacinda Ardern show us compassion in action; further, a popular study by one of my associates, Dr. Garikipati, showed us that female-led countries handled coronaviruses better due to caring and thoughtful leadership.
“Our results clearly indicate that women leaders reacted more quickly and decisively in the face of potential fatalities,” — said Supriya Garikipati, a developmental economist at Liverpool University, co-author with Reading University’s Uma Kambhampati.
Women vs. Women: I had to undo the belief that women must compete with each other on the path to success. Instead, I learned the underrated power of sisterhood and that actual development occurs when women help each other succeed. My need to delve deep and uncover causes revealed the origin of this intergender war, which resulted from centuries of cultural norms that rendered women dependent and led to the evolutionary instinct to compete for limited resources. It took a lot of introspection and conscious work, but today I identify with Audre Lorde’s words that put into perspective that a fight for “me” is meaningless if my actions support a culture that represses “we."
The warped value-to-effort ratio: Lastly, but equally important, is my ongoing learning. I’ll be honest; this one is difficult for me. To recognize and accept my value, but the most difficult of all is voicing my value. I looked around, probed to see if I was the only one battling this internal conflict, and realized it was universal. A recent US study highlighted that women’s efforts in the workplace are highly undervalued. One reason: women go about their efforts “quietly” compared to men. More often than not, we undervalue ourselves. Couple this with the large gap in representation, and we have, as Lily Singh said in her infamous Ted Talk: women paid in gratitude instead of a seat at the table, not just by others but even by ourselves.
While self-awareness, introspection, and self-work are necessary and continuous processes, there is something we can do, together, to grow as women and as leaders:
- Build sisterhood on shared value: By advocating for each other, we can learn how to communicate our own worth and stop putting in the effort quietly.
- Celebrate informed choices: The ability to choose is the true mark of freedom. Therefore, celebrating each other’s choices, even when they are different from ours, is the only way ahead.
- Take care of yourself: Shed the weight of martyrism carried by women for centuries. We can only be good leaders and build strong relationships if we care for ourselves first.