Nikita Jain, IIM BA, Founder & CEO of Eubrics
Working women tend to do things alone, and in the process, they often feel lonely and isolated. This phenomenon is what I call the Do-It-Yourself Syndrome, and it is common even in India, despite the social conditioning of Asian women to stay focused on relationships and build ties to keep their families united. The journey of leadership is all about building great relationships and being an inspiration for the people. Networking, delegating, and leveraging relationships at work are all ways of mitigating the DIY Syndrome for professional women.
In my own career, I found the concept of relationship-building particularly intriguing. Coming from a ‘can do’ upbringing, I always believed that I could get anything done myself if I worked hard enough, and this belief was reinforced by my strong academic achievements. But things changed after I began to work. I was constantly surprised by how often the rewards and resources allotted at my workplace were distributed based on who had built the right relationships. Quickly embarking on new projects, executing ideas, even validating another’s idea is easy for those who can act with a simple phone-call. This reality is true for both men and women, but their responses to it, in my experience, are different.
Building effective, functional relationships was a bigger challenge for me and my fellow women colleagues than for my male associates. In multiple conversations with other women leaders, I have discovered that when it comes to building networks and leveraging relationships, women in India face a values-based conflict. They are deeply conditioned to be the givers in every relationship, and thus, when they act in an assertive, outcome-driven way, they are often labeled as bossy. This result creates a conflict between their self-view of being outcome-driven and the external obligation of being empathetic and giving. Irrespective of their achievements, professional women are consistently evaluated on their ability to demonstrate empathy and care. In 2018, in a global employee survey conducted by one of my organizations, the characteristics of high performers were different for men and for women in India. High-performing men were associated with their drive for achievement, while high-performing women were associated with their relationships and level of care for others.
While I was ambitious in my career, as an Indian girl I felt deeply connected with the fundamental values of being empathetic and a giver. I grew up drawing deep inspiration from my elder sister, Mansi. She has always been the caring one, taking into consideration everyone’s opinions and always putting herself in others’ shoes. She served as a model for me, teaching me how to care deeply, and I applied this model with my teams, clients, and managers in order to build trust and deep relationships.
My struggle was to balance my natural outcome-oriented personality with my instinct for empathy. Often, I ended up having to choose one or the other and then felt dissatisfied with people’s perception of me. I wanted to solve this dilemma, so I spoke to male colleagues, mentors, and team-members, trying to balance empathy and ambition so that I could build functional relationships. During this process I realized that, as a woman with Indian values, the task posed barriers at multiple, unexplored levels for me. I had to be vulnerable, ask for help, and let go of my constant need to be perfect, in order to align others with my goals. These necessities seemed scary because of their potential impact on my credibility, which I had earned through years of sacrifice, balancing acts, and hard work. On the other hand, continuing with inadequate and weak relationships would have impaired the growth of my team and my career. So, in the end, I chose vulnerability.
My formula for success was to share my plans honestly and seek support from others. I complemented these tactics with my talent for being empathetic and approachable, so that others could seek my support without any fear of losing status. These strategies helped me to establish mutual expectations clearly and respectfully.
This excerpt was extracted from our latest book in the ‘Rethinking Asia Series’. To read the full article in ‘Rethinking Asia 8: Women’s Leadership Retold,’ click here.
Learn more about the Center for Asia Leadership’s programmes in strategic foresight and adaptive leadership here at bit.ly/lead-asia.
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