Most challenges women face come from inside their homes rather than outside
Published on : Tuesday 08-03-2022
Payal Nanjiani, Leadership Expert, Executive Coach and Author.
What was the inspiration that prompted you to pursue this career path?
That’s a great question you’ve started with.
I observed early on in my career this wide gap between the successful few and the unsuccessful many. Few reach the pinnacle of success and leadership. Here in America alone, people spend 11 billion dollars on self-help products, including seminars, training, books and motivational tapes. And yet this wide gap exists.
Clearly, something significant is missing in our work culture. With the research I did, I landed up with some mind-blowing facts. And so, I set my foot out of corporate America and began working towards helping leaders achieve a transformation. My curiosity and research helped me understand the reason for this gap. It formed the springboard of ‘Success Within Leadership’, a training and coaching concept I founded that’s to date helped a million professionals become transformed leaders and succeed at what they do.
And today, its people like you and millions of others who inspire me to move forward. When I hear stories of people who have become successful using my ‘insider’ techniques and how it has transformed them into world-class leaders, I feel inspired to give more and serve more. Nothing gives me greater joy than seeing people rise. My drive to help people learn how to be world-class leaders got me started in book writing. I’ve made it my mission to help people become successful by teaching them the importance of a leadership mind-set. I feel my work is most rewarding.
Can you recall your early days – say the first few days at work or startups – and anything you would like to mention about that?
I never knew that I would be a leadership speaker and author or, for that matter, an entrepreneur.
I had a very successful start in my career, living the so-called 'American Dream.' Things got challenging when I stepped out of corporate America. For instance, I remember in the early days as a leadership speaker, the #1 challenge for me as a speaker and executive coach was that I was seen as a woman of colour in America. So, while the white women in the field of speaking and writing were coming up against what is popularised as the ‘glass ceiling’, women of colour, like myself, were hitting a ‘cemented ceiling’. It means it's a hard concrete ceiling, and you don't even know what to expect on the other side. I remember when I would approach organisations with my work, there would be a look of shock on their faces. There were times I was directly told, 'It's very uncommon to see a woman of Indian descent in the field of speaking here in America.'
Fast-forward today, my work has changed the results of numerous organisations and millions of people across the globe. I feel blessed that, to date, my workshops, keynotes, and books are helping millions of people awaken the leader.
I feel blessed today to be often recognised as the only woman of Indian descent to be a sought-after leadership speaker and author in America (and now globally). And I say this not to impress you but to express that your focus mustn't be what people think about you. Your focus should always be on what you want people to think about you. Once you know that, speed up in that direction.
I believe there's no way to accomplish anything of any value without having a challenge.
For a woman, it is a matter of finding the right balance between the jobs and managing the home – how do you manage this?
Let me tell you, in my work – coaching executives and helping leaders grow, conducting workshops and talks at various organisations worldwide, and writing books, basically I am all over the spectrum, traveling and managing home. In my view, I don't even think this phrase, work-life balance, as good as it sounds, is even real? I think we're just romanticising the idea of work-life balance.
Most women even today are playing double shifts every day. Most of the challenges women face come from inside their homes rather than from outside. For instance, if a child is misbehaving, the family would blame the mother, whereas disciplining a child is the responsibility of both the mom and the dad. Daily things like the food must be ready; the kids must be in school on time, the laundry folded, etc., are expected from women. And then, of course, there are expectations from the workplace too. Women want to grow in their careers.
So, I like to call it work-life integration. You have to know how to integrate the two rather than weigh them on two different sides of the scale. For instance, I want to focus my energy on doing what I love most – coaching and helping people become successful at their work, and when I do this, it makes me feel joyful and much energised. And then I take this joy and energy to my housework. I can't wake up in the morning and rush into the kitchen to cook food and do the housework because it disturbs my work-life integration.
What challenges (or privileges) do women stereotypically face based on their gender?
One of the biggest I have seen is that women have to prove themselves more than men. Women have to prove themselves by working 20% or 30% better than men. I've been there, and it's put a lot of pressure on you. It kills your confidence, and you enter into the self-sabotaging zone. And then you become more reluctant to share your ideas in group discussions.
Another challenge I see women leaders face is the idea of perfectionism. Now, whether you blame it on society or work culture, it's something women need to let go of. You can't allow others to decide perfection for you. I always set my standards of perfection.
Have you ever missed a career/ business opportunity or promotion due to your gender?
Oh, yes, it has happened a few times, but I have never stopped to look back at it and worry about it. My focus is always on what I have and what I aim to get.
Are workplaces today more sensitive to gender issues than a decade ago?
Absolutely. Let me share this incident with you. In 2009, I was invited to a privileged CEO club in Washington, DC. While I was there, I observed we were only three women (me included) in a room full of 75 CEOs. From there until now, what year is this? 2022, there have been significant movements. Years back, we weren't discussing women's growth into leadership roles. We weren't aware of the number of women in the C-suite compared to men. Today women are more competitive. I see women are more of a competition now. We are discussing pay equity. I do see more women now in board meetings.
Which women's 'cause' needs to be challenged and changed first?
In my opinion, the first ‘cause’ we must address is getting men and women to enjoy home responsibilities equally. How do you think a male-dominated work culture can empower women when men do not find joy in doing housework or taking office leave to care for a sick family member?
While men are rewarded for displaying leadership traits like power or ambition, women are condemned and criticised for the same things. Women are told to focus more on the home. Now isn't reaching for the seemingly impossible an all-American tradition? And to achieve this impossible, I feel we all need a cushioning system. A man can confidently work and grow because the woman takes care of the house and other nitty gritty-basically offering support. And so, the same applies to a woman – a woman can confidently grow if the man or the family supports her in many ways. That's where we need to begin.
Are there areas at work that still restrict women when it comes to a leadership role?
Yes. Typically, I see this at CEO levels. But I am sure the root of it starts from the mid-level. And honestly, women are more to blame for this inequality. I've coached both women, and I often see men take up opportunities even when they aren't ready for them while women give up on promotions and opportunities in fear of not being prepared or ready for this.
What women-related myths or taboos need to be broken?
One of the big ones is that a home can be made by a woman only. I think a home needs love, affection, care, and nurturing. Those things can come from a man or a woman.
Another myth in the workplace is that work flexibility is a women's problem. Why? Because women are considered primary caregivers. We need to address this, and I think our work-flexibility policies need to be revised in ways where men and women are equally offered caregiving flexibilities.
And third I would add that there are not enough qualified women to fill CEO jobs. Women make up a little more than 46% of the workforce. So we need to see how we are placing women in leadership roles and how we are training them.
Do you have a mentor or a role model? If yes, you may state briefly how it inspired you.
So, when I first got started in this field of leadership speaking, coaching, and book writing, there weren't women of Indian descent in America that I was aware of that were doing exactly what I wanted to be doing. It's typically a white-dominated field. So there wasn't any role model or guidance I could have then. And eventually, I became known as the only woman of Indian descent to be a leadership speaker and author in the USA. And America is one place where you get known not by your gender or colour but for the value you bring.
What would be your message to the youth who are just starting their career?
I would say this – any challenge that comes your way doesn't come based on your gender or colour. Challenges are for anyone who dreams big, and your job is to stick to your higher purpose. When you decide keeping your higher goal in mind, there is no confusion, there's. The Universe will show you your next step. Your job is to overcome the challenge and not get sucked into any biases. I always quote my own quote that success never discriminates between a man and women. It only sees your true commitment and intention.
Describe yourself or your aspirations and dreams in 3 words.
It's easier for me to describe my dream – Leadership in one and all!
Recognised by the TIMES Group as the most influential personality in leadership speaking and executive coaching, Payal Nanjiani is a globally acclaimed Indian-American leadership expert, executive coach, and author. Payal's Transformative Leadership Programs help professionals recognize and overcome their leadership challenges and achieve a leadership breakthrough.
A New York award-winning author, Payal's books help you be a peak performer and reach your next level. Payal has been honoured and featured extensively on America's Fox 50 news channel, Mumbai Mirror, global magazines, and multiple worldwide media for her work in leadership.
Payal lives with her philosophy – 'Leadership starts and ends with YOU'™ and believes that you can achieve success in any economy.