Poor gender diversity surprised me right from my hotel school days where I was part of minority, meager two percent of overall class strength, unfortunately the ratio weakened further as we moved through years. Moreover there was very clear demarcation of departments that men and women were believed to run. Things have not changed much even after many years. As I advanced in my career I started understanding far more serious issues of lesser women in boardrooms. While many women aspire to reach the boardrooms there are many factors that act as hinderance and one of the most common is difficulty to COMEBACK.
Having served as an executive for over ten years and becoming the first woman General Manager for Starwood Hotels in India, I have been reflecting how I got to this point. For me it was a comeback after six years and I think I just got it right the second time. I wanted to share some tips that helped me along the way.
Follow Your Heart
Often the fear of what may happen holds us back from following our heart. There are many voices around us that are telling us what to do and we stop listening to our own heart. Women often get trapped in voices like- do I have the skills to get back to office? Will my home run without me? Am I being fair to my family? It is natural and I heard these voices too. I followed my heart when I was discouraged by many to join a hotel school as career choice, chose to have a child when it was time to move forward in my ranks and most of my colleagues thought it was the end of another woman career. Took years of sabbatical to raise my child and build strong bonds with her and finally decided to make a comeback to the industry I had left a few years ago. Today when I look back I feel none of the choices derailed my career. Always remember Talent does not go anywhere, if you have it, it stays with you so its important to reach a point when YOU feel you are ready. You will reach your highest potential not when you are tolerating the circumstances of your life but when you have accepted it whole heartedly.
Try Roads less Travelled
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less travelled by and that has made all the difference”. Beautiful words by Robert Frost and they are true for all of us. Always remember you are unique. There is a hidden potential in all of us and it needs to be challenged time on time. I challenged myself by opting for less travelled roads. Having a good support system and family’s buy-in is essential. I was supported by my family in all the decisions I took, whether it was prioritizing motherhood against executive position, making a comeback to join the hotel in another country, staying away from my 6 years old daughter for two years and having moved four cities in the last 9 years. This agility and flexibility is very important if you want to venture on less traveled roads. The support and understanding from my family members gave me that extra wind beneath my wings
Believe in Yourself
Nothing can be achieved without some hard work but there is something that matters even more and that is Believing in yourself. Making a comeback was not easy. Having stayed 6 years away from the industry most of the people thought I shall be looking for start up positions. When I started to look for opportunities after 6 years I was offered roles that never interested me and I was rejected for the choices that I made. Surprisingly I faced most of the skepticism on my comeback by women recruiters more than men. Every time I heard a no over an email or a call I lost confidence for that moment but next moment it turned me stronger than before. I believed in myself so much that I knew all I needed was already 100% with me. This lesson has always stayed with me and I have never forgotten that choice at that juncture was a big reason for where I am today. I have used every opportunity to recruit women who are looking to make a comeback, without compromising on the competency required to do the job. Believing in your capabilities is easier said than done but if you want to get there you have to believe in yourself more than others do.
Good relationships don’t just happen, they require time, effort and continuous working. If you are on a sabbatical and looking for that right opportunity that your heart wants to follow, make a list of all the people who can professionally help you and stay connected with them. These are the people with whom you have established your credibility and they exactly know your strengths. Such connections can help you connect with someone right or offer/ create an opportunity for you which might help both. After many doors were shut on me, I decided to go in for a higher master degree to learn new management and leadership lessons to make a stronger comeback. I was based in Tanzania at that moment and was all set to join a university in London when one of my friends offered me to join his team in learning & development. This just happened over a call and overnight I changed my plans of higher education and decided to return to India, as my heart always wanted to return to the industry. I never had the need to change my job and ever think of higher studies. The management and leadership lessons I learnt walking around my work place all these years have contributed far better competencies However I have honed my leadership abilities through various workshops and programs I attended in last 9 years.
“Its never too late to spread your wings and take the leap, until then you will not know how far you can fly”