Flight Cadets Mohana Singh, Avani Chaturvedi, and Bhawana Kanth broke a major barrier last week when they became the first women fighter pilots of the Indian Air Force. A few days ago, Hillary Clinton breached another glass ceiling by becoming the first female Presidential nominee in the United States, representing the Democratic Party.
Every day, women are breaking some barrier or glass ceiling – in sports, finance, space, technology and leadership – or threatening to do so. These stories serve to inspire and motivate women and girls everywhere to aspire to be their best selves and follow their interests.
Because of the efforts of so many women and men who came before them paving the way, they can now dream of being whoever they wish to be, in whatever field they choose. Indian standup comedienne Radhika Vaz tweeted this week, “My dad was a fighter pilot. Now some girl is one day gonna say ‘my mom was a fighter pilot’.”
However as UN Women rightly points out, “Individual women have overcome these obstacles with great acclaim, and often to the benefit of society at large. But for women as a whole, the playing field needs to be level, opening opportunities for all.”
We still do not have equal representation of women at the top in any country, be it boardrooms, corporate and political decision-making bodies, and seats of power. As successful women, we owe it to ourselves, the generation before us who fought for the privileges we currently enjoy and the future generations who follow us, to continue to seek for equality and equity in every sphere of our lives, be it personal or professional, financial or educational, regarding opportunity or choice.
Luckily, there are a growing number of programmes to help us do just that. For example, in an effort to support women’s leadership, the US Department of State, along with Fortune Magazine and Vital Voices, runs a mentoring programme that matches emerging women leaders with one of For-tune’s Most Powerful Women. Through a nomination by the US Consulate of Mumbai, I was recently a participant of this programme along with 12 other women leaders from around the world, including two others from India.
During the four-week programme, we met with women leaders ranging from diplomats, bureaucrats and political leaders to business entrepreneurs and corporate women. Through candid conversations, they shared their personal journeys, the challenges they experienced, as well as tips and tricks for their success. In addition, we had the privilege of being individually mentored by a For-tune Most Powerful woman at her company. I was lucky to be mentored by Sandi Peterson, Group Worldwide Chairman, Johnson and Johnson and her colleagues Michelle Goodridge, President, Janssen Pharmaceuticals and Lauren Moore, Vice President, Corporate Citizenship.
I noticed many common themes among the words of wisdom they shared, including the following:
– Be authentic and don’t try to fit into a stereotype. Be yourself. Own who you are and don’t be afraid to be different.
– Focus on the goal at hand and not on yourself. It is not always about “you”.
– Have a clear vision about what you want. It is fine to be unsure of your journey but know where you are heading.
– Be open to new opportunities and take advantage of them. Encourage your team to do the same.
– Be inclusive and don’t speak a language that shuts men out.
– Always play fairly and never let someone else look bad.
– Keep pushing the boundaries. Magic happens when you get outside of your comfort zone. You will be able to better understand yourself and can better handle surprises.
– Have a kind word for women. Give yourself and each other a break. Try not to be hard about holding yourself to the gold standard.
– Take the time to step back and re-evaluate. Proactively plan for yourself.
– Look for the positive, go for the unexpected and rely on the network.
– Live every moment fully. Soak it in. Learn and take it in joyously. Be resilient.
– Have perseverance. Play the long game.
– Hone in on your passion. Apply your business skills to that passion.
– All through your life, look at life as a ladder and reach for the stars. But reach back and help someone else make it to the next rung, especially other women.
– Constantly ask yourself: “The women who worked under my leadership, where are they now?”
– Share what you learn. Talk to others. Give people courage to move on with their lives.
– Volunteer in your community.
– Listen, listen, listen.
– Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
– Manage your energy in addition to your time. It will help you sustain your work in the long run.
– Always keep a good sense of humour.
And the best advice of all in our quest to rise to the top and be perfect…..
– You can’t always give 100 percent to everything you do. So take the weighted average of your inputs in the various areas of your life. 80 percent + 80 percent + 80 percent adds up to more than 100%.
As I return to my daily routine after having this wonderful experience, I am extremely charged up and motivated to pay it forward. Through my organisation Safecity, I am working diligently with my team to make the issue of sexual violence more visible by educating women and men on the issue and existing legislation, and working with communities and institutions to making public spaces safer and accessible to all.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)