By | Divya Singh, Senior Director, Fusion Apps Development Strategic Customer Program, Oracle | www.jobsforher.com
As the world continues to tackle the ever-so-pertinent question of stereotyping women, challenge biases at the workplace, and work towards a gender-balanced workplace, we asked senior women leaders to tell us their story as they worked their way up the corporate ladder. Was it easy? It certainly wasn’t.
We’re talking to Divya Singh, Senior Director, Fusion Apps Development Strategic Customer Program, Oracle about her experiences right from when she started in her professional journey, to the trials and challenges that she overcame to be where she is today and some gems of advice that will hugely benefit you regardless of the career stage you’re in.
1) What has been the most challenging part of your career?
As I relate to the memoirs from my incredible journey, I see that challenges have been constant in my growing-up years and in my professional journey.
Growing up in a Hindu household and going to a Catholic school; dreaming of a career in Civil services and taking up a career in software; studying electronics engineering and taking up my first job as a software developer; growing up in a culture which emphasises respect to elders and moving to say ‘Yes’ only when you can; at times feeling incomprehensibly handicapped by the ordinariness of my roots; balancing motherhood and work; growing up in India and working with geographically distributed teams with diverse cultures; dealing with workplace biases and stereotypes; working with constantly changing technology, and going through rapid organisational changes are some of the situations in which being able to navigate the seas of challenges has been paramount.
Through these experiences, the thing that most accurately defines me is my spirit of ‘Face your challenges boldly and march ahead’!
2) What skills do you believe are in-built in women that help add value to the business?
While I was reading through some of the bibles of leadership and noting my personal experience, I noticed that some of the competencies which successful leaders possess, came very easily for women. Although studies prove that women possess a higher degree or function better on the below competencies than men, I would recommend not to limit to this list, as you may have many of your own; hence look at it as a relational process of you making a difference in a situation.
- Quicker adaptability to new experience
- Better planners with holistic approach
- Innate leadership skills
- Higher Emotional Intelligence
3) How do you handle work responsibilities and your personal life? What are the key aspects to keep in mind when you’re a working mother?
Through more than 2 decades of attempting to achieve work-life balance, I have come to realise that there is no single right way to make it work. The definition of work life balance changes at every phase of your life . It’s so personal and you need to make sure it’s tailored to you.
But then if you move away from the other it would reflect on all women, hence stay there and show them how to do it. I would like to share some tips that have worked for me.
- Create a good support system around you: Have a strong support system (including nannies, cooks, domestic help, not refusing help from family, utilising child-care facilities etc.), so that you have someone squarely in the corner at the home front, giving you enough headwinds at work.
- Don’t be too hard on yourself: Do not be guilty when judged and stop judging yourself as well
- Time Management: Figure out what you want to do and don’t want to do with your time (time for family/time from family for work) and then be absolutely ruthless about it
- Set expectations / Communicate openly: Communicate openly about your aspirations and goals at home and work hence making sure people understand what you are willing or not willing to do.
- Financial Management: Another aspect that most working women neglect is handling our finances better. This will help secure ones present and future. This will give you a sense of security to handle your situations better.
4) What is your advice to women who wish to change their career paths when they want to return to work after a break?
They say guilt is the curse of womanhood. The first step is to never be guilty about the decision of taking a career break or about changing a career path post your break. Second step is to stay on top of the latest trends in the industry you want to get back to. Always remember superior ideas will dethrone well-established stereotypes.
Another important point is to keep in touch with your network and sponsors with whom you have established your credibility throughout your break. That way you will have reliable mentors to guide you through your comeback.
Finally, trust your abilities and work towards your goal. Everything that is worth the while will require some effort on your side, and I encourage you to go for it, work smart and enjoy the results.
5) How do you think company policies help in shaping a woman’s journey at work and her individual development?
Back when I started my career, it was experience and learn or watch and learn.
Today, organisations are focusing on reducing gender polarisation through various focused programs: trainings on gender differences and bias, increased sensitivity to women’s need at workplace, creating strong women’s network & formal mentoring systems, reducing/eliminating gender pay gap, introducing women supportive policies and programs and steps to reduce leaking pipeline of women.
In an era where technology is bringing about paradigm shifts, innovation keeps companies in the forefront and both genders have an equal opportunity to innovate. Also with women confidently challenging the status quo and in a world where innovation is the future, I am of the strong belief that it is not just about gender — it’s the image you have built, it’s about excellence and staying on the top of the game.
6) How have you adapted to the recent change brought about by the pandemic?
The pandemic sent shockwaves through industries and economies, but conceivably the greatest impact on humans has been in the form of uncertainty and fear.
The big difference was the new routine of work-from-home and to deal with the associated challenges. While there is no blue print on strategies adopted to manage the changes, I have some personal lessons to share.
At work, I made a conscious change in leadership and management competencies: Communication with my team and stakeholders became more frequent, culture of openness and transparency became the need of the hour, I motivated my team by trusting them, encouraged them to participate in various well-being programs planned by the company to overcome social isolation, respected and encouraged individual flexibility and enforced regular ‘no-meeting days’ to avoid online conference stress.
At a personal level, I have been diligent in taking care of my physical well-being and also mental well-being through my online fitness routine and compulsory meditation. I had never spent so much of day-time with my family ever, hence setting expectations on my work life at home was important. I learnt to have enormous amounts of patience and figured out the crux of anger management. Through all this, I am also constantly mastering the trick of work-life balance.
7) Can you cite an instance or two where networking has played an important role in charting your career path?
I am of the strong belief that networking is a key skill to success. I have always identified sponsors both inside and outside the organisation. I constantly work out the power, influence and interest of my network to help prioritize my list of sponsors. I keep in touch with my sponsors to build/maintain relationships and to share my accomplishments.
In my career there was a point where my progression was stalled despite being a star performer, and this is where my sponsor network helped me break through it.
8) Looking back on your journey, what advice would you give to your younger self?
While I am very proud about how my career and life has shaped up, in retrospect, I wish I had better estimated my capability of taking risks.
Everything one wants to do in the twenties will pay off in the next half to one decade. Whatever it is you want to achieve, if you trust the idea – Go Do It, if you don’t do it, you will regret it. In your 30s and 40s, it will be so much harder to make the same decision.
9) How important according to you, is a mentor for a woman who is ready to start, restart, and rise in her career?
The landscape of business today is complex and dynamic, hence effectively maneuvering and navigating through this is critical. A combination of strong experiential business skills, soft skills and hard skills is at the heart of this.
Having a mentor who has more experience, who gives you honest feedback, who can inspire/motivate you, who believes in you more than you do and who gives you the map to reach your goal; provides an opportunity to glean an understanding of the best ways to accomplish this.
10) What are some important points for women to keep in mind while juggling work and family during this pandemic?
The pandemic has given people the opportunity to implement both management and soft skills that they have learnt in a more structured manner.
As everyone is spending a lot of time at home and with family, it’s not a bad idea to fall back on soft skills like anger management, effective communications, time management, expectations setting and emotional intelligence to maintain sanity while at home.
I would always advise people to stay relevant and stay ahead of the literature in your industry; allow fear to be your motivator so that the despair can turn into desperation and in turn translate to success.
And most important of all is to be a meticulous planner making sure you are inhumanly thorough in your preparations, weighing contingencies and every course of action with precision. This will prevent you from being caught flat-footed or unprepared.
11) Have you faced any gender discrimination during your career journey thus far and how did you tackle it?
Like all women who have been battling stereotypes since the very inception of the world we know today, I too have faced my share of stereotypes and biases both at work and outside.
– When I returned to work after childbirth I had to contend raised eyebrows / taunts about choosing my career over my child
– People decided for me that I can’t travel because I had a child
– Not being invited to socializing meets at work because I was the only woman.
These instances made me wonder if I was facing the moments that everyone spoke about: women making a choice between professional goals and personal goals. While I was navigating through these downs, I realised I could do both.
Instead of giving into guilt of forgoing one of them, I looked for solutions. I leveraged flexibility at work, hired help and took my family support. I also discovered that it is up to me to have the thumb to press the ‘Level Playing Field’ button, the need to function with a high level of emotional intelligence and that being a parent or a woman will not affect my skills. I can proudly claim that all these experiences only left me prepared for my next role.
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