FULLY FEMININE & FULLY FIERCE

Saba Adil, Chief People & Operation Officer, Aegon Life Insurance talks about how attitude, ambition and courage is what it takes to for women to excel in leadership positions

04 Mar, 2019 by SABA ADIL

Throughout my career, I’ve spent time at different levels of management, contributing in different functions, be it Human Resources, which remains my core, to Project Management and Operations (Customer Services, Branch Ops, Underwriting et al). What I have firmly believed and realized in this journey is that more often than not, you define where you’d want to be and want to reach; your success is your definition. In every field, you have people who will encourage your potential, even challenge you to achieve what you haven’t envisaged. And then you have people who will take you down at the slightest. You can decide who you want to believe. That will decide your direction.

Fortunately for me, I have been surrounded by people who do not believe that a woman can be any less ambitious or cannot take on leadership roles. I have always had the encouragement from family, from colleagues who have believed more in me than sometimes I could! I never had to wonder if I could or could not accomplish something because of my gender.

I recently saw a video clip by Pixar that showcased so beautifully how women don’t need to feel the need to fit in, but carve their own, independent path and I could so relate to it. It may have been a man’s world (once upon a time) but the shackles have been loosened if not broken. We often cage ourselves by our own lock-ins or biases and refuse to know our potential in a bid to be ‘one-of-the-guys’. We are not men and diversity of thought, of action, of opinion is what we bring to the table.

I completely subscribe to the words of Safra Catz, the CEO of Oracle: “The attitude you need to have is not to think out of the box. Instead it’s don’t even see the box.” We are not competing men versus women - we are talking about how we can complement through skills, competencies, inherent and acquired attributes through our different journeys in life.

It takes a lot of courage and efforts - the act of shedding the conventional biases. ‘Women in sales’ is a no-no or ‘a woman cannot give her 100% with family priorities’ or ‘women cannot be aggressive leaders’ and so on. Reinventing this thought and this mindset is not easy. But it has to be done, and we are moving towards it. And believe me, men do not have it easy too.

They face another bunch of biases - that they don’t need to be around their families as much, they can put in late hours or travel without any breaks, etc.

The positive is that I can see organizations making extra efforts and launching campaigns to recruit women who have taken breaks for maternity or care for the elderly. I can see flexible work ecosystems to allow for blending work and life without interrupting either. I can see men sharing the load at their homes - proudly being hands-on dads, taking paternity leaves to extend support and making sure they take half the responsibility of the household. The shift may not be radical but it exists and it is important to encourage it. When my team member says he has to attend his kid’s annual day, I don’t see as many eyebrows going up; nor do I see a question mark when a female candidate is passionate for a travel-intensive job profile.

Instinctively, we think about women being care-givers and men being bread-winners, but the notion is changing. We need to integrate diversity within the work culture. Being feminine doesn’t have to mean being docile - you need to know your job, know your sense of purpose, define what success means to you and go for it - as fiercely as any other person.

Feedback: saba.adil@aegonlife.com Category: Backbeat Volume No: 15 Issue No: 39

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