I'M NOT AFRAID

Thursday, March 8, 2012
The one quality that is most essential for success is ‘courage’. As Winston Churchill once said, “Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities… because it is the quality which guarantees all others.” On the 8th of every March, we celebrate the ‘International Women’s Day’ and the one thought that comes to my mind about women leaders is – would we as women have achieved more if we were more courageous? The answer is a resounding ‘YES’! My favorite leader Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook since 2008, while speaking at the graduation ceremony of an all-girls college, asked the young girls to answer one question, “What would I do if I were not afraid?” If they answered this question honestly and did all the things they wanted to without being scared of consequences, scared of what others would think, scared to tread the untrodden path; the results would be dramatic, for they could do much more, take more responsibilities and in the process, be better leaders. The reason a lot of women aren’t seen in top leadership positions is because they are afraid… afraid of making their own rules in a “man’s world”. It is not that they are less talented, or that they have less experience and less opportunities; it’s mostly because they are not bold enough to take that extra step. If you want to change the world, if you want to stand out and make a place for yourself, then you must also have the courage to make your own rules and live by them. Women who did that not only achieved personal success but also made the world a better place.

DO NOT BE AFRAID TO DARE

“Attacking is the only secret. Dare and the world always yields; or if it beats you sometimes, dare again , and it will succumb.” --William Thackeray

Do not be afraid to do different things; things, which had never been done before by any woman; for if a whole lot of women had not dared, the world would not have been the way we see it today.

If she had not dared to enter a “man’s profession”, we would not have discovered radium. Marie Curie went on to become the first woman to win the Nobel Prize; and she said, “Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood.” If it hadn’t been for these daring women who took enormous chances and made great discoveries in spite of or rather because of the resistance they faced in the male-dominated field, a lot of mysteries would not have been solved. If research is to be believed, then according to the book The Madame Curie Complex, women scientists have often asked different questions, used different methods, come up with different explanations for phenomena in the natural world, and in doing so, have transformed forever a scientist’s role. They have also proved that the concept of ‘male professions’ is a myth. If decades ago, Madame Curie had to fight hard against the general perception of people that science was not for women, then today a whole lot of women are fighting the perception that ‘technology’ is not a field for women. Those are daring women like Sheryl Sandberg and many more who have worked hard to change this mindset and pave the way for future female leaders. It’s not surprising that this time, IBM decided to appoint Virginia Rometty as its first ever female CEO, something unheard of in technology companies. However, women like Meg Whitman (e-Bay) and Carly Fiorina (HP) have already shown that women are as capable of handling technology as men!

The world may not always have been fair to the fairer sex, but it has not deterred many from daring to live their dreams. According to an old Chinese proverb, women hold up half the sky. Do they get their ‘half’ of the pie on earth too? We still live in a world that does not do justice to women, and this fact has been highlighted in the numerous true stories compiled in a book aptly named Half the sky. The best part is that these are stories of courage, of hope. These are stories of how women across Asia and Africa turned oppression into opportunity. One story is of a Cambodian teenager sold into sex slavery who had the courage to run away and start afresh. Today, she runs a thriving retail business. Another heart breaking story is of a woman from Ethiopia who suffered devastating injuries during child birth. Not only did she fight for survival but in time, became a surgeon. Ordinary women, but with extraordinary stories. They may not have changed the world. No, not yet. But they dared to change their world; that’s what courage is all about.

It’s time each woman dared to change the rules and dared to live her dream.

DO NOT BE AFRAID TO LEAD

“Men rule because women let them. Male misogyny is real enough, and it has dreadful consequences, but female misogyny is what keeps women out of power.” --Germaine Greer

“What will electing a woman PM do for Australian women?” --Sun Herald, June 28, 2010

For any company to be truly successful and for any country to truly become a powerful nation, the rule is the same – making the women powerful. If there is one country that has done it and shown the world what a difference it can make, it’s China. Compared to 1949, the status of Chinese women as of today has changed significantly; and this has been possible due to (apart from numerous other factors) one milestone, which came when in 1954, a clause on men and women being equal was included in the country’s constitution. This meant that women had the same status as men; politically, economically, culturally and educationally, in all aspects of life. Additionally, this equality status became formally protected by law. China was now ready to take on the world, because a country that looks after its women grows the fastest. It is the best growth strategy that any company or country can adopt. After all, the world’s greatest unexploited economic resource is the female half of the population. The ones who have this foresight will stay ahead of competitors and lead.

One organization that realized this early was Google. When Marissa became the first woman engineer to be hired by Google, this is what Larry Page and Sergey Brin told her, “You know, we have seven engineers, and they’re all guys. But we’ve thought a lot about how we want to start our company, and we’ve read a lot of books, and we know that organizations work better when there is gender balance. So it’s important to us that we have a strong group of women, especially technical women, in the company.” Today, numerous Fortune 500 companies are being headed by women. They bring along with them two qualities, which are distinctly female; that of ‘patience and compassion’, which makes them better leaders. It’s said Krishna was a better leader than Ram because he had these two qualities, which Ram did not have. So though Ram became the perfect man, it was Krishna who became the perfect leader.

DO NOT BE AFRAID TO BE ‘YOU’

“The highest courage is to dare to appear to be what one is.”
-- John Spalding

Do not be afraid to accept who you are, as you are. You are as strong (or as weak) as you think you are. Rejoice in who you are, and be honest to yourself. You are a woman, but you can be as competent as any man if you fearlessly chase your dreams. Every generation has its set of problems; those are the strong women who make it easier for the next generation.

So women of today, remember that you owe it to the future generations; come out from behind the curtains and show the world what you are capable of doing. As Mark Twain once said, “Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Believe in you, believe in the power of a woman and say it out loud, “I’m not afraid.”