Women professionals

Manage Your Arcs to Climb Up – 5Cs for Women to attain C-suite status

By: Susila Cherla, Nokia

I got a call last Sunday evening from my friend, who hesitantly said, ‘Do you know, Mrs. Trivedi quit her job last Friday, two months after giving birth to her second child’. Mrs. Trivedi was a gold medallist in Engineering and has been pursuing a successful career with an MNC. Aren’t such news familiar in our society, especially women who quit their careers just after marriage, after childbirth or during the middle of their career? Having great regards to the women who chose to remain, pure homemakers, isn’t it that times have changed where women can balance both family and careers successfully when Sustainable Development Goal 5 emphatically mentions to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.  

While reminiscing the famous saying, “your dreams are not yours alone”, no doubt, there is a significant contribution of the family in a woman’s successful career. It goes without saying in Indian or APAC context that whatever may be the career aspirations of a woman, she is expected to handle it along with family accountabilities. In this context, reflecting, I feel it is necessary that women need to manage and be clear about few arcs in various phases of her life/career to pursue a successful career. Arcs, here, I mean the bumps/hurdles/decisions one needs to take.

The 5Cs is a well-known marketing framework and I am using the same name in this context as my assessment does have few of the Cs from the 5 Cs as well.

I can assert that our society is liberated but still is evolving. If ‘gender diversity’ is still a Human Resources/People Manager’s Key Performance Indicator, when we see “save the girl child” or “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao “slogans around and if still companies need to take initiatives to address gender diversity, it only proves that the social issue is not yet addressed/resolved.

We are nourishing aspirations in women and what is next?

With 20 years of MNC work experience and being a mother of 2 Children (18 and 11 years), reflecting my journey, I created this framework “5Cs framework to attain C-suite status”

Clear –There may be societal, parental pressures for a girl child during the time she needs to decide what she wants to study or graduate in. That’s the 1st arc a girl encounters. At that stage, it’s critical that she is clear on what her aspiration is. Once she is clear, sometimes it is very hard, she may need to convince her parents or whom so ever to pursue that aspiration

“When I was 15 years old, I had to decide whether I wanted to pursue engineering or medicine. Personally, I wanted to become a Doctor, but I never shared it with my mother and she wanted me to be an Engineer. As I didn’t manage my 1st arc well, I ended up being an Engineer”

Communicate – Women hit the 2nd arc when they get married. However liberal we are, in the Indian context, many aspects are still influenced by spouse and in-laws. Woman need to communicate what her aspiration is. If she assumes that her aspirations will be well received or will be understood, then she is up for a disaster. Similar communication needs to be conveyed proactively at the office front at the time of marriage on how she would handle both responsibilities if the desire is to aspire higher in echelon.

“I got married when I was 21years. I completed Engineering and wanted to pursue Masters in Computer Science. My mother has communicated during the proposal stage to the prospective groom that I would pursue my higher education. Though it was aligned with him, after marriage, my mother in law had her concerns. Her 1st concern was that I would study in a co-education college and 2nd concern was that I would be away from my husband in a different city. This is the scenario in 20th century. I handled this arc well by being in complete communication with my in-laws, my University (Andhra University). The University was flexible w.r.t leaves I took post my wedding.

Collaborate – The next arc is when Woman gets her 1st child. This is the most impacting arc for any women. Lot of emotions get added to the game. To leave the child at a daycare or at home and go to work is extremely painful. One of the most important emotions women need to handle is guilt. Collaboration is the key to success to handle this arc. Collaboration with spouse, in-laws, colleagues, manager is important. In fact, if it’s well managed, one would enjoy one’s career and motherhood well.

“My son was born when I was 24 years old and I was a Software Engineer. In 1999, even companies like Motorola didn’t have remote working/working from home options. However, collaboration with peers, manager, in-laws, parents, spouse worked very well for me. I went on a 3 month on-site assignment to USA for the 1st time when my son was 9 months old. My son was well-taken care by my parents. I received more than 2 awards in the 1st year after my son was born. I managed to keep the guilt aside in spite of social pressures and brought in focus.  

Context – As you progress in your career and in your personal life, it is essential that you create a context for your life. I vouch that you would experience failure in either personal or professional life daily. Without the right context, one of the options women resort to is to quit. That’s the 4th Arc. If you want to grow high in your career, the backdoor of quitting must be closed. It’s a backdoor available only for women. We rarely hear men saying that they want to quit their job to balance on their personal life. If that backdoor is not available for men, why not women set the right context and get over the backdoor option?

“After my 2 children were born, I was promoted to a Project Manager. I had to manage a team of 25 employees and 4 programs. I created a context of ‘self-love and quality of life’. Whatever may happen, how much ever I may fail on the personal front or official front, I will not stop loving myself and keep looking at how our quality of life improved. It created miracles for me. My children grew responsibly, I got at least 15 awards in a span of 4 years, got promoted as Engineering Manager in 3 years.”

Courage – After 15+yrs of career, most of us(men/women) experience a sense of stagnation, a sense of pointlessness. Perhaps, it is also a mid-life crisis. This I would term as the 5th arc. To overcome this, one needs courage. Courage to disrupt, the courage to confront the status quo, courage to create a vision and courage to communicate that vision.

“When I was 36yrs old, I hit the experience of stagnation. I was an Engineering Manager. That role was an aspiration for me when I was 24 years and it got fulfilled. During the same time, Motorola got acquired by Nokia Siemens Network. Motorola CEO visited R&D Bangalore centre and made the announcement of the acquisition by showing us 4 slides. I couldn’t understand one table which gave the logic for the acquisition. I was not okay that I didn’t understand it. I was not okay that I am not part of the decision-making team. I questioned the status quo. That’s what made me write GMAT at such late age and pursue full-time Post Graduation Program in Management at ISB (Indian School of Business), Hyderabad. I disrupted myself from an operations person and invented myself as a strategic person. In my current role, I am responsible for strategic engagement with Nokia Suppliers.

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