Being Woman

Being Woman

Ashwini Deshpande, Co-founder, Elephant, looks at her career journey as a woman, an entrepreneur, today as a motivator shares insights that she found on the way.

By Ashwini Deshpande

In my long work-life of 25+ years, I have rarely looked at myself from a gender lens. Partly because women have a natural acceptance in communication design and partly because I have been fortunate to be surrounded by equalists. Maybe the unequalists fell off the earth’s surface & I never noticed them!

In recent years, with experience & reach, I am frequently invited to speak to women at various workplaces, in various stages of their careers. First such opportunity was at a research organization that had over two dozen women scientists. I was rather excited to get to meet these highly accomplished women and looked forward to getting motivated rather than the other way around. So I did not question the occasion much though it was held on World Women’s Day. 

Many such opportunities followed. Each time I thought to myself whether it is right to be addressing women as a woman. I would question often myself whether I would be considered less accomplished if I was a man, whether my limited success is unfairly attributed to being a woman, whether being a woman is a handicap or advantage. There was no resolving these conflicts. 

I can’t quite articulate whether the discomfort was out of questioning my own ability to motivate people or whether I was in denial that women are differently abled at workplaces. 

I have now come to terms that I was in denial. Just because I was fortunate and could pursue my path unhindered by family responsibilities or other biases, I had no right to believe that every woman had it smooth. 

I started looking keenly at this issue this year as I was listed among "50 most Influential Women in Media" by Impact magazine, invited by "Microsoft Women in Tech” initiative as a motivational speaker and invited by Businessworld’s "Young Entrepreneur Awards" conference to be part of an all-women panel discussion. 

So here are 7 insights that I found to share ;

  1. Every single merit list of any exam small or big has girls topping the lists. Why they are not seen in equal percentages at leadership positions is an unresolved pain point. 
  2. Large percentage of girls take a break from work between 28 to 35 because of marriage, motherhood, husband’s career choices, health of parents or in-laws. Most of them get married without actually asking the crucial question about equal respect to each other’s work. So, I rarely see a father in his early thirties taking leave for his unwell child or mother. It is exactly at this point that women need to be counselled or mentored so they keep going. 
  3. Girls give up too early on themselves. They take the choice of opting out as a way to avoid conflicts at home front. In turn they give up on their own potential. Unfortunately, this is rarely acknowledged by the family members. They switch off before they can shine. 
  4. There are many flexi-options available today that border on entrepreneurship. Women need to consider options other than full-time job or full-time home-maker to discover their own place under the sun. 
  5. Despite education, urbanization, nuclear families, global exposure etc, family structures & expected behavioural patterns have seen very little change. The traditional definitions of a woman’s duties towards her household & family still remain what they were in the last century. 
  6. Even today, majority of girls are brought up to believe that working outside the house is a choice they will make and that their household will not be dependent on their income (fathers, brothers, husbands are there to do that). However, working inside the house is a given and that they will have no choice there. So what do you think the girl takes seriously? 
  7. Popular media glorifies the traditional roles & makes vampish characters out of those who defy them. 

The list can go on… 

Meanwhile, here is a link to short conversation between Sapna Bhardwaj of Businessworld and me… 

Published on Jul 31, 2015

Ashwini Deshpande, Co-Founder, Director, Head- Communication Design, Elephant Strategy + Design, spoke to BW Businessworld’s Sapna Bhardwaj at the sidelines of Young Entrepreneur Awards, recently held in New Delhi, India. Credits: Editing - Vijay Shankar, Ratnesh - Camera, Head Video Editorial - Sapna Bhardwaj      License- Standard YouTube License

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