Sometime towards the end of 2017, beginning 2018, I read the book Lean In: Woman, Work and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg. In many ways, reading this book now, in my 40s had shed light on many things I was experiencing but was unable to express in words exactly. As a woman, I was able to see clearer the topics she wrote about now then I was able to associate with in my 20s or 30s. And there were other topics that I saw parallels in my friends such as being a working woman and bringing up children and the support of a partner. And around this time last year, I made a decision to commit a year to contributing to growth of young women around me.
New year resolutions are sacred for me. I take a disciplined agile approach to my resolutions. There are minimal viable achievements, kanban flow of activities and iterations. However, this commitment was more like an idea, emerging through trial and errors with different personas. And in way, much more challenging as I actually have users other than myself. It wasn’t like I was my own product owner, scrum master and developer and customer. While the journey had its differences, the intent was the same – I wanted to equip young women with the knowledge of themselves and the skills to define the career they want for themselves. (knowing who they are, knowing what they want to do, knowing how to get there.)
Looking back, it was a challenging and rewarding year.
Trainer vs Coach vs Mentor vs Colleague vs Friend
These were the hats I wore in the course of the year.
As a trainer, I provide information and practical use of knowledge that they can’t just google and learn on their own.
As a coach, I ask questions to help them expand their thinking and guide them to arrive at answers on their own.
As a mentor, I share professional life experiences and market insights to give them a point of view to consider their options.
As a colleague, I share workload and collaborate at work and provide contextual guidance at the workplace.
As a friend, I listen and share personal life challenges and experiences and show sympathy or care when I can.
At least, I try to do the above. It’s not easy to navigate the different hats and I don’t wear all the hats with all of them. The minimum hats I will wear is to be a trainer and coach. It was not easy.
Switching hats whenever they need and knowing when they need which hat and wearing those hats comfortably were challenging. Sometimes, I was too much a friend when I should have been a colleague. Sometimes I should be a coach but I needed a friend. Sometime, I train because I’m impatient when I should have been a coach.
Pushing, pulling, persuading, cajoling, caring, crowding, sharing, showing, showering – every one a different path, every one a different means. Sometimes I get it right, sometimes, I miss the mark. I felt constantly the weight of the responsibility to do the right thing or at least, do no harm.
Being there for them also meant being there when I was not at my best. There were days when I thought my weakest was weaker than theirs. I couldn’t show up the way I wanted or show up at all. It also meant, they saw my most vulnerable moments when I should be showing them strength. And the lines were blurred.
And sometimes, I’m pleasantly surprised that I am also coached by them through these difficult corners. Their untainted lenses were refreshing and uplifting.
Today’s female leaders do not have to deal with formal discrimination (in most countries) where the laws have allowed us to vote, to stand in office, to be as equal to men as possible. The fight for legitimacy is over. But is it?
As Sheryl Sandberg said, there are simply not enough female leaders today to provide a balanced view. When the majority of the leaders are men, we think majority is the norm when the norm is formed with representation from 50% of the population.
We do not have to dress like men to be a leader at the workplace anymore. We come as we are embracing our femininity. But how do we deal with physical transformations that are face only by women? Physically, we still face child birth, menopause that are unique and affects us chemically and mentally.
An exmaple, who do I talk to when I’m going through when I’m tearing all the time? Never had it when I was in my 20s or 30s. Suddenly, in my 40s, tears seem to come from nowhere and I can’t seem to control it. Wasn’t crying just tearing. Is this a norm? How do I deal with it at the workplace? I also wonder how my colleagues deal with situations when they lactate.
When I closed the year in reflection, I had also had a new articulation of my commitment. It wasn’t simply to equip them for today, it is to equip these young women with a future support from other women. I feel keenly daily the lack of role models at the top I can chat with and a peer group I can draw strength from. And I hope more young women build strong relationships with each other for the support in the future. And I hope they will do the same with other young women in future.
Seeing the growth is rewarding albeit a growth that could be independent of our work together. Growth is natural and this year, especially meaningful for me to watch people grow in strength and stride.
This year, a new set of resolutions await, a new year of learnings. But I think this is one I will keep for another year.