14 March 2016 09:31:51 IST

How to become an empowered woman

“At the end of the day, you have to empower yourself”

“The mistake today’s working women make is measuring their success with the same yardstick as the men do,” said G Sree Vidhya, Managing Director, RSPL Group of Companies, and a loud cheer erupted in the room full of women.

At the Madras Management Association’s 14th annual Women Managers’ Convention, the common consensus was that while it was debatable if women can have it all, you can be pretty sure that they will try. Panels of successful women spoke to a rapt audience, relating inspirational anecdotes of how they juggled personal and professional lives.

Overcoming professional obstacles

The first special session of the day, ‘Jumping the Hurdles’, was chaired by Sathya Sriram, Head of Strategy and Marketing at The Hindu Group of Companies. Speakers at the session were Alisha Abdullah, India’s first female national racing champion; RM Anjana, Joint Managing Director, Dr Mohan’s Diabetes Specialities Centre and Vice-President of Madras Diabetes Research Foundation, and N Priya Ravichandran, Deputy Director (HQ), Tamil Nadu Fire and Rescue Services.

Kicking off the first session, Sathya Sriram cited a McKinsey report that said the small number of women in senior and top management positions was a matter of economic concern. Elaborating, she said women are traditionally more productive in the workplace as they do the same amount of work as others in a shorter time. But statistically, most women are employed in sectors with low productivity, such as agriculture. Women working in more productive sectors, she said, would help the economy.

Addressing the audience of working women, Dr RM Anjana suggested how to manage one’s personal and professional lives better. She said it was characteristic of women to feel guilty that they were not giving their best, be it at work or at home, but that they had no reason to. She also spoke of learning to prioritise and managing energy, and not time, so as to allow quality to remain in the work.

Priya, who was the first female officer to be recruited in the Tamil Nadu Fire and Rescue team, spoke about the work done during the Chennai floods and how initially the fact that she was a woman was held against her. “When was severely injured during the rescue operation at Kalas Mahal in 2012, the question that was asked was ‘How dare she go in before anyone else?’; not 'why did an officer go in?' That was a little troubling. But my bosses supported me, so it worked out,” she recollects.

Alisha spoke about being the only girl in the racing circuit. “All the boys were out to get me. When I was bike racing competitively, I got kicked off my bike a lot of times. This was the case even when I started racing in a car. But I gave it back to them once or twice. The boys didn’t stop even then, but I’d proven my point,” she says.

Styles of leadership

The second special session, ‘Leadership Styles’, was chaired by acclaimed dancer and choreographer Leela Samson, who has served as the director of Kalakshetra, chairperson of the Sangeet Natak Akademi and chairperson of the Central Board of Film Certification. The other speakers in the session were Archana Raghuram, Global Head of Outreach, Cognizant; Mariazeena Johnson, Managing Director, Sathyabhama University and G Sree Vidhya, Chairperson and Managing Director, RSPL Group of Companies.

Archana spoke about personal leadership and the four paradigms that she had created for herself which helped her grow in life, balancing her home and work to achieve the success she has today. She said, “Most women either quit after their marriage or after they have children. That needs to stop.”

Elaborating on the same point, Sree Vidhya said that since time immemorial, women have been excellent managers, “be it while managing the finances of the house or pleasing your in-laws”, she said, eliciting some chuckles from the audience.

Mariazeena spoke of how her father handed her the keys to the university when she had “barely finished my undergraduate degree. But I didn’t want to fail him, so I worked hard," she said, adding that most of the people she employed were women. “I learned a lot on the job, seeing as I didn’t have a background in management. One of the most important things was that both a smile and silence were golden. A simple smile can get you out of a lot of sticky situations, whereas silence can help you avoid sticky situations!”

The women at the convention are extremely successful, with each charting her own course to the top, but one thing was clear -- sometimes, when no one empowers you, you just empower yourself.