By Abhishek Paul @ MycampusDays (LinkedIn)
It was an unusual experience for me to be 1 of only 2 men in a workshop with about 50 women. I felt like I had entered the ladies compartment by mistake! It was the inaugural edition of the Women’s Leadership workshop in the organization aimed at women in the managerial cadre, a tipping point where most of them drop out of the workforce. It was a high profile, high investment program. Having volunteered to be part of the team, I initially felt out of place as we set about designing the 2 day course. Though I had close to a decade of corporate experience, the perspective that the ladies shared thoroughly surprised me, for I had never looked at my colleagues or the events in the workplace quite like that.
Thankfully being a facilitator gives you that “positional authority” which helped me the first few times I stood in front of this unique audience. While the initial intent was to equip the women with certain skills and ideas (Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Lean In’ being the poison of choice) and thus prepare them to rise to greater responsibilities, I realized that not only was it insufficient but also not the most effective approach. Having been in more than a dozen editions covering over 500 women across India, I learnt some invaluable lessons.
1) Given that it was a women-only audience, when given an opportunity to share their stories, I heard some truly remarkable things which I would not have known about my colleagues even if I had continued to work alongside them for 5 more years! This cathartic exercise, done as a community, showed them that they weren’t alone and also made the discussions that followed real / relevant. More importantly my respect for them increased and I was able to see the person beyond the gender stereotypes.
2) Most women were clear that they didn’t want preferential / special treatment, but they did want accommodations made for different work styles and schedules. However, the importance of sharing their reasons/ perspectives before expecting to be understood stood out as a simple yet crucial component to the solution. I am sure that I would have behaved differently had I known then, what the women now shared.
3) While closing, we would have my colleague or myself share the “Man’s Perspective” and the reception to this segment went beyond anything I could’ve imagined. It was interesting for the women to understand that just as much as they were the heroines of their story, the men were not necessarily the moustache twirling villains. They were not fighting men per se and it was important that they viewed supportive men as partners in their struggle to make it a more gender neutral work place. This was an eye opener for quite a few women and they went back promising to do their bit to make their colleagues, husbands and family members their partners.
I have since moved on from the organization, but this workshop gave me moments that showed me how deeply we can touch the people we work with, when we are genuine and passionate in our concern. As we closed one particular workshop, a lady tearfully shared that she had planned to quit the company that week, but the 2 days had given her fresh hope and a desire to continue. While she closed with tears, I saw a few other participants walk up to her and hug her while the others applauded. It is real moments like this that affirm the larger purpose to our career and I am grateful to the amazing ladies who have been a part of mine!