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85: Tehseen Zaidi: Advocating for gender diversity in the workplace
Episode 85 β€’ 22nd November 2022 β€’ The Elephant in the Room β€’ Sudha Singh
00:00:00 00:24:28

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What is it like to be brought up in a conservative, small town where girls are groomed from their childhood to just be good daughters, wives and mothers? 

For the 85th episode of The Elephant in the Room podcast I spoke with Tehseen Zaidi, Head Communications, Syngenta India. Growing up in a small town in UP, Tehseen was unlike her peers, she was opinionated and spoke her mind. She was influenced and supported in large measure by her father (her role model) who believed in empowering his girls, enabling them to fly and define their own journey. 

It was refreshing speaking to Tehseen, she was disarmingly candid - opening up about her personal life, her mantra’s to beating the imposter syndrome, her advocacy for gender diversity/women in leadership. We also spoke about πŸ‘‡πŸΎπŸ‘‡πŸΎπŸ‘‡πŸΎ

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ Challenges women face in progressing to managerial and leadership positions including the barriers she faced in her professional life

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ Self doubt/imposter syndrome (she has no time for it); negotiating pay rise and promotions

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ The role of mentors and sponsors in supporting women to grow and lead

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ What differentiates women leaders and the role of empathy in leadership

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ Her advise for aspiring women leaders

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ Balancing act: juggling a career, family and personal ambitions

Thank you Tehseen for making time for this wonderful conversation and supporting women on their journey. 

Memorable Passages from the podcast: 

My Guest on The Elephant in the Room Tehseen Zaidi Head - Communications, Syngenta India

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ Good afternoon Sudha. Thanks for the wonderful opportunity. It's always good to connect with like-minded people and speak your heart out on the subjects you really like. So thank you once again for the opportunity. 

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ Well, the first introduction of mine will be someone who passionately works for women, and who always believes that women can empower each other.

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ Professionally I've been a media professional for past 20 years. I've spent, more than a decade with NDTV, taking care of the crisis communications, proactive communications, PR, relationships and networking. Currently I'm working with a Swiss-based multinational called, Syngenta India private limited, where I'm heading their corporate communications department. Apart from this introduction of mine, I am a mommy to two boys, one who's going to be a teenager soon, and the other one who's six year old and a very, very naughty brat . I'm also a pet lover with a cat and two birds who coexist and love each other. 

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ No, they roam around freely and coexist beautifully. 

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ Well, that's a very interesting question Sudha. Yes, I grew up in conservative environment where the only future for a girl child was to get their basic education, which is still 10th or maybe till 12th. And then look beautiful, cook tasty food, sing well, be presentable and be a good wife. So that's how women in my town were treated.

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ For me, it was different. I was a very stubborn child from my beginning. So when I was like towards my teens, my mother started teaching me how to cook good food because according to her, this was the primary responsibility of a girl and I will be judged if I don't know cooking.

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ So that is where my rebel started and I said, No, whoever I'll be marrying will cook for me and I'll not cook for the person. Coming back to your question, who influences me the most? Yes, my father, my mentor, who's no more physically with me, but he inspires me, he guides me in each and every step of my life I take. He's my biggest critique, mentor, my guide and my well-wisher.

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ So when my mom used to push me for cooking, and I will purposely run away saying, it's not my job. My father will say, she will be empowered and educated to that level that, she will have 10 khansamas - means the cooks, and the guy should be brave enough to marry this kind of a woman.

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ So my girl is not meant for doing household chores, she is meant to be a leader, I want to see her empowered. I don't want to spend money for dowry, rather, I'll spend that money on her education so that she can take care of her family and she can own for her lifetime. And that is where I'm coming from.

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ Yes, of course, and I feel every woman does face. Some speak out, some are vocal about it and some are silent. So I am the vocal one. Yes, there are are barriers, in India, fortunately, or unfortunately, 

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ Unfortunately, there are not males supporting, they feel that job goes only in the females kitty. So barriers are like, you know, okay, my father supported me, I got educated, I was empowered enough and I was free to choose my life partner, which I chose, who's equally supportive. But the problem arises that when you have family or you have a ailing parent, societal pressure.

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ So, yes, while they do that, they have to compromise a little bit on their career. Like for me, I denied promotions twice in my high-flying career. When I was on my peak, I had to say no because I wanted to be a good mom, I wanted to justify my role and I refused many offers from the industry. So I'm happy about it, I have no. But I feel yes, if responsibilities are equally divided and if we have a very good support system, again coming back to my point, if strong women support each other, I think we'll be able to fill up this void very, very soon. 

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ No, I never dealt with it and I never had a self-doubt, honestly. And I am very clear in my heart and in my head on what I want to do, what I want to achieve, where I want to take a backseat and where I want to be the driver.

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ So I drive my own life. And the mantra to drive my own life is being myself. I firmly believe that when you are yourself and you pamper yourself and you nurture yourself without being judged and without always trying to be the best in every aspect and always trying to do the best for every relationship.

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ Sometimes there are some things which you just need to leave. So that is where the secret of my, always never being in a self-doubt lies. That I will think this is the, and I will be convinced there will be no second doubt and I'll be able to convince people that I am right and this is what I want.

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ I'd like to add that success comes automatically. When you know your work well, you are confident of your work. Success can wait, maybe what I was supposed to achieve five years back, I will achieve now. Because I have the talent, I have the ability and I'm sincere in my work. So when I do it, there is no looking back. 

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ Yes, of course. I was very clear in my head from the time I got married, that before turning 30, I'll have two kids. At 40, I want to look as young as I can, so now I'm 38 and I'm living my life on my own terms and conditions while my kids are grown up and they're living their own life. So that's what my target was and I achieved it. 

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ Yes, of course we do live in India. And why do I blame India? It's all over the world. 

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ So while I was pregnant the second time, I was working in a high stress news environment, the newsroom, I was working with one of the leading news channels of India, which is NDTV, and it was considered a woman-dominated organisation. Considering that, one fine day my male colleague who was senior to me, I told him that, okay, I am pregnant, I'll not be able to work on this show further because I have to give a handover anyways. He looked at me with surprise eyes and a very strange look, and he was like, "Oh, your career is gone” in a newsroom. "How dare you plan to have a second child?" So I was like, "It's my wish".

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ He said, "Oh, so now you have to take a backseat in your career, and now I don't think you will be able to excel the way you want to”. So the kind of vibes I received from him was like, very negative. And the second thing, the same colleague when I returned to work and if I speak his language, he said, "Babu, now you have kids, two kids to take care of, I don't think so, you'll be able to cater prime time requirements, you'll be able to stay late night for the 9:00 PM prime time program. I said, "Why not?". He said "No. Who will take care of your child?". I was like "I am senior enough to do a primetime show. Leave it on me where my kids are and how I manage. It's not your headache, it's mine. Give me what I want to do". We had a back-and-forth argument, and he was trying to convince me that since I'm a mother of two, I should take a show at a junior level, which I refused to. And I said, "Okay you want me to stay in office till 11:00 PM?". He said yes, and he made sure that I leave office by 11 even if there is no work.. That is the kind of challenges we face. 

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ I'll say it's very unfortunate, and the biggest barrier I see is that women are not supported well. I am lucky enough that while I was have my family way I had the full support system from NDTV, my employers NDTV, they had a crΓ¨che facility. So the moment you deliver your child, you will get six months maternity leave with a one month of leave clubbed to it. So seven months you are free to do your mommy role.

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ The second good part was that there was a full-fledged crΓ¨che, with five nannies, two nursery trainers, one office doctor, one homeopathic doctor every week and they will not take more than six kids in one shift. Mother will have full access to the camera and it was within the premises. I like to stress on that within the premises crΓ¨che facilities is very important, because when a mother returns to work after giving birth to a life, she's so attached to that life that she will not like to stay long hours without that little one. So the liberty was that while working, I can go any time to see my child, however many times I feel like no one is going to ask me.

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ My work should not suffer, rest it was my choice. So I nurtured my kids while working professionally, which is a privilege many women are not able to avail. In fact, in a very recent conversation with Ms. Smriti Irani I said you have made maternity leave mandatory. You should also make crΓ¨che facility mandatory within the premises of the office or in the same building. Three, four corporates can pool and have one crΓ¨che. So that the mother is not anxious, she can see her child, she doesn't have separation anxiety, and she can do a work life balance. And that ways we'll be able to get more women in leadership role. Secondly, if you have an ailing parent, in-laws or your family, you should be offered work from home facility.

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ So you give a job to a woman, she will do magic. Don't ask her what time she's doing. You assign her, she might sit at midnight and finish that work with all her dedication. So I say how we can welcome women to leadership positions to the boardroom, is by supporting them, nurturing them, giving them what they want and unconditionally without telling them, "Oh, this is a favour we are doing" the moment you do a favour it will not be liked by many women like me.

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ Indeed very important and let me tell you what I am, I am because I had a woman mentor who was a mother of three, who was in a leadership role, and totally understood how to support a woman. She knew, if I tell her, my child is unwell, I will take leave tomorrow. She said, Yes, that's your right. Do it. And we will take care of the work the next day. So we should have women who support each other. Women who are in leadership role should know what a woman needs to give her best. So mentors are really important and women mentors do magic if they really support women. 

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ And sponsorships are required, specially in the case of women where they take a break in their career. Let me tell you, I have so many of my friends who were on the peak of their career and they had to take a break just to take care of parents, family, child nurturing, and when I met them after three, four years, they were totally under confident. They were not the same ones. They had hesitation going out, they had hesitation speaking. So that gap is there and they were the most talented pool from the industry. If they would have been nurtured, well sponsored, they would've been valuable assets for the industry, for the corporate, for any organisation. Unfortunately, they were not mentored well, they were not sponsored. It's the industry's loss apart from what they lost.

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ I'd like to take the liberty of saying four things 

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ What comes to my mind often, the foremost is empathy. Without empathy, no one will flourish or excel. That's a must . Second is, trust and appreciating the uniqueness of each individual because each individual, each professional is unique in his or her own way.

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ So we should respect that, empathise with them, appreciate them, trust them. And the last thing which I'll say is freedom of thoughts and freedom of speech, which is most important. See, the biggest concern for organisation is when the most passionate people become quiet. And you know why they become quiet? They become quiet because they are not trusted and they don't have that freedom of expressing their thoughts and speech. 

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ So all these things, combined together will be a huge change and the organisation will gain a lot if they follow these for everyone, irrespective of gender, irrespective of caste, or irrespective of special ability which the individual posses.

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ Certainly women leaders are different from men and I feel that women are better managers, they are better organisers because the one thing which they really follow is empathy, and whoever follows empathy will be a successful leader.

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ So you should understand the concern of your employee. You should identify their skill and be human, and I feel women are exceptional in giving that human touch to everything. So while my leadership style has always been a transformational and affiliative mix of leadership style, I largely believe connecting with people and giving that human touch that's for the growth of the organisation. And the second thing which I follow is that, there are two goals; one is the organisational growth and one is the personal growth. So being a leader, one should see the team members are growing personally, they are climbing the ladder positively or not. If they're not climbing, then it's the fault of the line manager, it's the fault of the leader. So a leader should always be ready to up skill the employees and their teammates. 

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ First thing which comes to top of my mind is be yourself. Be yourself. Don't be afraid of anything, don't be afraid of getting judged, follow your heart and mind and speak up for the right thing. And be a support to a woman, I always keep repeating myself. Empowered women, empower women. Be that empowered woman who's always their selflessly smiling and empowering another woman without her knowing about it and without just saying that you are doing it. Don't say, just do it and try to pull as many woman as you can. And the second mantra is never, ever try to be perfect. Be happy with your imperfections, don't try to do things perfectly instead of try to do things positively. And have your own space, I firmly believe when you are happy from inside, you pamper yourself while you upgrade your skills, then only you'll be able to take care of your family. If you are not happy, you are not satisfied with yourself, you will not be able to give the best to your family, to your organisation or to anyone around. 

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ Well, that's a difficult task, but I feel that, I've been practicing it for last 15 years and now I'm pro at it. The first month after to it; Define your objectives. Once you are clear in your head what your objectives are, then you divide your time. I know this is my time, this is my children's time, this is my time to up skill myself. And I have basically trained my kids that way, that if it's a Sunday, two hours, I'm sleeping, they are not going to knock my door because they know that's my me time. Similarly, whatsoever comes on a Saturday between that particular time, I will say no to it because that's my time for my children, my family.

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ So I feel, a work-life balance is very important and a very disciplined routine is important. Second thing, which I really follow in my life is yoga and meditation. That keeps you fit and your mind fit. You meditate and you will feel the energy and the positivity and you'll be able to focus on what you want rather than thinking thousand things at a time.

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ So what I do is I divide my time and I focus on what is important to do that time, and I try to maintain the timetable. So that's my mantra. Tough question, but yes, I'll say don't be rebel, listen to your parents because they're more experienced and they have seen life closely than what you have seen. Don't always feel that, you know, Okay, the parents are the barriers or they will not give you the right advice. Just follow your dreams, follow your passion and be yourself. Once again I'll say that, that once you are yourself, everything follows.

πŸ‘‰πŸΎ Thank you. Thank you for having me over. I hope we gather some insight and we'll be able to support more women through this and we'll keep doing these kind of sessions more often.

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