Social coding, new mantra for women managers

Social coding, new mantra for women managers

New identity: Developing self esteem & confidence helps combat the mesh of self doubt

As I started facilitating workshops for women managers across both middle management and senior levels with experience ranging from 10 plus to 15 years of experience, a few significant themes seem to recur across all of these.

The dilemmas, that emerged repeatedly, were around their own sense of identity being very closely tied to their roles at work and at home; the affirmations that they sought at both work and home; the constant need to meet the role expectation of others, seeking approvals and looking for affirmations.

 Literature review across India and the west echoes similar thoughts. So the next question is what are the reasons for this? Is it our socialisation experiences that form the bedrock of identity? How is identity and role development nurtured? How much is influenced by social, political and cultural underpinnings?

Is it the same across genders and generations? It was so interesting to note that in the workshop, through role plays, women intuitively took on stereotypical roles without even batting an eyelid. Does this mean that social coding is really hard to do away with and is wired innately? With women entering the workforce in large numbers and redefining the social milieu, these themes need to be understood and addressed. Women seem to be caught between trying to play multiple roles and excel in each of the those.
According to a developmental psychologist, Erik Erikson, our identity is shaped during our formative years largely through our role models, caregivers and key influencers during those years. A lot of these questions have plagued researchers and the one universal factor that plays a determining role is the individual’s notion and the willingness to go beyond thresholds.

 The crucible or the transformational experiences that shape and define a leader, play a determining role in developing the leader’s identity. What role could organisations play if any in developing role identity? It goes back to the individuals to actively seek diverse experiences and assignments that shape their identity. Boot-camps, since times immemorial, have played a crucial role in offering these experiences in a structured environment.

These are the little voices in our own heads that keeps murmuring and telling us what to do? Very often it is an innocuous comment we heard in our foundational years and it comes back to haunt us. The only effective way to conquer the demons is by identifying our own myths and stereotypes, and choosing to challenge them through effective dialogue with a coach or a trusted colleague or a partner Psychologist Martin Seligman, the founder of positive psychology, stresses on fostering the strengths of the individual across the years and from early on rather than focus on weaknesses (American Psychologist 2000).

One of the dimensions is focused on finding one’s own strengths and leveraging it. Research findings reflect that women find it harder to talk of their strengths and to project themselves positively. With all the pulls and pushes that women experience, the spiral of self doubt seems to cast a net quite often. This net of self doubt is often self created and has an immobilising effect on many.

Developing one’s own self esteem and confidence helps combat the net of self doubt. Why is it even more important for women leaders? Given the multiple roles that women play and juggle with, it is very often marked by intense period of ups and downs. During those periods, it is extremely important to have self faith and belief in oneself. The need for “likeability” and assurance from those who matter Vs “doing what is right” is extremely important.

The one most important ingredient that I believe is central to breaking the mould is willingness to bring about a change in one’s own worldview. This entails preparedness in making a tectonic shift from wanting to be liked, seeking approvals and affirmations from those who matter to now creating and redefining a new self. This can be hard, frustrating and sometimes even laborious. This process is fraught with anxiety, confusion and a desire to often fall back on past solutions and strategies. Resilience and faith in one’s own abilities goes a long way in creating and defining a new identity.

Alice H Eagly and Linda L Carli in the article “Women and the Labyrinth of Leadership” use the labyrinth as a metaphor to connote a complex journey to the top, which is attainable while navigating the twists and the turns.  Their research also points to the stereotypical perceptions and its role makes it harder for women to navigate the labyrinth. The answer is not a straightforward easy solution but a determined and willing approach to navigate the twists and turns that show up at each step of the way.

Ask for mentorship early on in your career a mentor is someone who provides guidance, coaching and feedback at all stages in one’s career. A mentor could be both within the organisation or external to the organisation.  The women in leadership literature is replete with stories of women who worked closely with a mentor and found it immensely beneficial to bounce ideas, seek guidance and successfully navigate the twists and turns in the leadership maze.

So, what are you waiting for, break the mould and don’t be afraid. As a great poet once said ‘what use are possibilities if not explored?”

(The writer is Head, Personal Leadership Development, Corporate HRD, Wipro Limited)

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