Mehjabeen Taj Aalam, Technology Head – Digital & Customer Engagements, Tata Capital
Q. As a Woman Leader, how challenging has it been for you to succeed in your chosen field?
For a working woman, career challenges are manifold. While some are gender driven, some are gender agnostic. We face many stereotypes and unconscious biases which tend to overlook our true potential and talent. Be it the Glass Ceiling, the Sticky Floor, the wage gap at work, or the leisure gap at home – you name it, we have lived it. Our success lies in how we deal with any situation. We can either fight it or make the limitations work for us.
Taking personal responsibility of my dreams and aspirations have always served me well. I operate from the belief that my dreams are no one else’s obligation but mine. When you process things that way, you work in a far more constructive manner. Instead of getting defensive and emotional, staying calm and focused will help you achieve more. I have always found it more beneficial to a create a common ground with challenging people and situation, rather than allowing them to hold me back. And this has repeatedly helped me in creating a cohesive and nurturing ecosystem for myself and others.
Q. How have you been able to convert obstacles in your career path into opportunities?
Before Alice got to wonderland, she had to fall. Tough things will happen. Don’t crib, work out a solution. And seek help wherever necessary. I have always believed that there is no lack of support out there, just a shortage of asking for help.
One of my greatest professional challenges has been to break out of the boxes people naturally want to place you in. Whenever I took upon new challenges or entered new domains, I surrounded myself with subject matter experts, creating a personal network of advisors or mentors. Depending upon where I was in the learning continuum, I connected at different levels, may it be with my colleagues, bosses, cross-functional peers, or even juniors. This ensured that I had the appropriate context and understanding of my job.
Getting comfortable with change is another important lesson I have learnt over the years. Being in the ever so dynamic and fast paced IT industry, the only constant we deal with is change. You can never afford to rest on your laurels. Just because you did something well in the past does not mean the future owes you anything. You need to work hard and prove yourself at all stages of your career.
Through my work I try to position myself as reliable and trustworthy. For women, given their family and social dynamics, this is the most important attribute that an organisation looks for before it can entrust you with additional responsibility. Stick around, become dependable, manage ambiguity. When employers start relying on you, they tend to discriminate less.
Q. Tech industry is dominated by male leaders. How women can excel, assume leadership roles, and make a mark for themselves?
As a technologist in the finance domain, I have noticed a smaller number of women representation and women leadership. Women employees represent a fair share of the overall workforce but there is a serious dearth of leadership opportunities for them. There are many factors at play for this shrinking women population as we go up the hierarchies, and the gap only becomes starker as we move into the STEM fields. This under representation of women in the technical fields is attributable to our social conditioning and stereotyping that provides a very non-conducive environment for growth.
Women need to play to the strength of their own skillset instead of matching the style of their male counterparts. If you are offered a new role or a challenge, do not underestimate your competencies or get tentative about your eligibility – see learning as part of the job.
Network. Perhaps the most destructive result of the work/family balancing act is that it leaves very little time for socialising and building professional networks. However, daunting it may seem, you need to make time for it as you grow in your career.
Give back. We rise by lifting others. Support people, encourage them, and celebrate their success. Real leadership comes when people like you and want to work with you.
Q. How can we create a culture of inclusiveness and diversity at a workplace?
While explicit gender bias has largely disappeared from the workplace due to tougher legislation and increased focus on diversity issues, implicit biases are still rampant. To tackle these, an organisation needs to integrate inclusivity in its core values starting right from inclusive recruitment strategies.
It’s not just the responsibility of men to help women overcome these roadblocks, but also of other women. Especially women at the top need to extend their hand and help pull up other women too. It makes a big difference when there are women at the top.
Q. Any interesting anecdote that you would like to share that has inspired or kept you motivated in your career?
I once read this life maxim in a book and it got etched in my memory forever – “People will forget what you did for them or gave them, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” Much later in life I realised that this quote was based on a famous quote from the civil right activist Maya Angelou whose own quote apparently was a close paraphrase of a quote attributed to Carl Beuhner – both however focusing primarily on one idea that people can forget a lot of things, but they cannot and will not forget how you make them feel.
Though the relevance of this idea extends to all the people with whom we interact, but in my own experience, I have seen the phenomenal constructive effect it has on relationships with our teams, professional counterparts, and seniors. We may not always agree with each other and from time to time, we are bound to have sub-optimal experiences, but we can always make those around us feel that we understand and respect them. And not just during people’s lows, but even during their highs – supporting and encouraging them, celebrating their success, goes a long way. We rise by lifting others.
Q. Which is one woman personality you admire the most and why? Your message to the aspiring Women Leaders?
I get exhilarated when I see a woman standing up and doing her thing. As I live and continue to get inspired from such women, I dream of a world where more women would be celebrated for their success and leadership.
Remember, your dreams are no one else’s obligation. If you want it, you are responsible for getting it. Assume that responsibility. The world won’t always be fair, and many won’t play by the rules. But that’s part of the deal. Whatever will make you uncomfortable will be your biggest opportunity for growth.
“Women need to play to the strength of their own skillset, instead of matching the style of their male counterparts. If you are offered a new role or a challenge, do not underestimate your competencies or get tentative about your eligibility – see learning as part of the job.”