Self-Awareness – How can we achieve it?

In my previous article featuring my interview with Dr. Andrea Welker, one of her suggestions for aspiring leaders was to have self-awareness. I totally agree with her but I was also curious to know if there were any steps/tips to accomplish this. How can one become self-aware? Obviously, one of the ways that comes to mind is by paying more attention to (read: reflect or meditate) your everyday life and make mental or physical notes and then act upon those. But in my research for this article, I found out there are other ways too!

In this article published in Harvard Business Review two years ago, the author lists 5 ways to become more self-aware. He suggests meditating, writing down plans and priorities, taking psychometric tests, asking friends for informal feedback, and finally asking for feedback at work. You can read in detail about these strategies in the original article. Barring psychometric tests, I think I have tried a combination of all the aforementioned strategies and these work to some extent. If you are serious about becoming more self-aware, all you need is some discipline and structure to adopt these strategies.

Self-awareness is important for career success, and all successful leaders need this quality. You can also use the Johari Window to explore your relationships with self and others.

The Center for Creative Leadership posted this article on the 4 facets of self-awareness for leaders. The article suggests that “Self-awareness is the foundation for strengthening all leadership skills.” Check out their infographic; pretty cool, huh?

Self-awareness infographic

Taken from Click on the picture for the original article. 

As a woman professional, I was really drawn to the facet of leadership identity. The article mentions how leadership identity consists of three important aspects and the one that I reflected upon the most was the chosen identity – “These traits describe your status, characteristics you control, and skills. Common attributes in the chosen identity are your occupation, political affiliation, and hobbies, among others.”

Women still continue to be the primary caregivers for kids and older parents and relatives. They often tend to compromise their career aspirations and take up jobs that don’t go beyond the normal working hours or require extensive travel. Since they spend considerable amounts of time on work and family, pursuing their hobbies also becomes challenging. Again, there are a few women who are able to do all of it and it is commendable but I am referring to the majority of women. The big question here is what can stay-at-home or working moms do to create their leadership identities? How can they go about choosing a profession they really want rather than choosing one that is convenient to them? It may not be easy but I guess that is exactly what the journey towards becoming more self-aware will help accomplish. It will either help us make peace with your choices or propel us towards making changes.

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Conversation Series: In conversation with the Associate Dean, Andrea Welker

I was lucky to have two different one-on-one opportunities to sit and chat with Andrea Welker, PhD, PE, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, College of Engineering and Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Villanova University (VU). We talked about a lot of topics including leadership, culture, change, motherhood, careers, aspirations and mentoring to name a few. Although I was never her student, I have closely worked with her over the last couple of years. Most recently, we were conversing a lot about diversity and inclusion (D&I) topics as we are both members of the newly formed D&I committee at the College of Engineering at VU. I always have such fun and insightful conversations with Andrea and am thankful to her for sharing some of her tips.

On leadership, culture and change

“Sometimes just by being there, you automatically change the culture!”

She said this in reference to her position as the first female faculty member in her department a couple of years ago. Although there are a few other female professors now, Andrea often found herself having discussions with her male colleagues trying to make them look at things from different perspectives. She was the first in her department to talk about maternity leave policies and negotiate terms that worked best for the department, her career and her new family. As the only female faculty member for quite some time in the department, Andrea had a huge responsibility of changing the systems, policies and expectations in favor of female employees. While she wasn’t exclusively focusing on women-centric issues, she knew she had an important role to level the playing field for the incoming female faculty members.

On setting priorities and managing schedules 

Andrea is an active researcher and is the Principal Investigator (PI) of several grants, a full professor, a mom of two teenagers and of course the Associate Dean of Academic Affairs. How does she handle all these responsibilities while being so caring and even-tempered? I asked her if she could share some tips and without any pause, she said:

“To get the most out of your day, put everything on your calendar”

It’s all on her calendar. From exercise to meeting her students to taking her kids to the doctor’s office to blocking some time to work on important reports. One of her top priorities is health and she makes sure that at the beginning of the semester, she blocks time for the various activities on her calendar. “If I don’t block those hours on my calendar, I am pretty sure, there will be something else that will fill up those spots. Therefore, it is very important that I block it with ‘exercise’ before any other appointments take precedence over it. Everything else builds around that.”

Advice for students and aspiring leaders

Being self-aware is really important; know your strengths and weaknesses and blind spots. You should try to find people that can help you fill in those gaps for you because you’re never going to be all that. It’s just not humanly possible but there are enough people in the world that if you ally yourself with the right people, you can make things work.

Also, know the big picture. While it is good to pursue several different paths, it helps a bit if they all align with your overarching goal. Take some time to figure it out and then focus your efforts in that direction.

Finally, be persistent. That is the key to success. Everybody fails but you just can’t let it completely bring you down. You should learn something from it but you can’t just let it destroy you.

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Conversation with Dean Deb Tyksinski

I first met with Dean Deborah Tyksinski (Founding Dean of the College of Professional Studies at Villanova University) a year ago when she attended an informational session on Toastmasters. I was working on founding a Toastmasters club for faculty and staff at Villanova and was conducting demo sessions. When I got an email from her stating that she would attend the meeting, I was thrilled. I never expected a dean to come to that meeting but there she was, sitting in the front row curious and eager to learn about the format and other aspects of the Toastmasters Educational program. My first impression of her was that she is a lifelong learner and when I met with her recently for this interview, I realized I was right!

Deb was a working student and has never allowed herself to get comfortable no matter where she was on her career path. Although there were short phases in her life where she would convince herself “this is it” and try to settle, she miserably failed. She would soon find herself setting up new goals and trying out something new. Her pursuit often made her uncomfortable but she loved it because “being uncomfortable is a part of growing process. Growth is an ugly process but what comes out of that is beautiful.” That’s her philosophy and thanks to some of her peers who pushed her to get uncomfortable (grow) on the rare occasions when she got too comfortable for longer than usual. Deb also told me that it is very important to have a peer group that shares your goals and interests as these are going to be the people who will inspire and guide you when you are sidetracked. She also said that not everyone is lucky to have such peer groups at their work place or in the neighborhood but that shouldn’t be an excuse for not growing. Her suggestion is to seek volunteering opportunities and to look for more leadership roles like being a board member. “There is so much you can learn from these opportunities.”

As our conversation was progressing, I also realized that Deb is not a woman who would like to highlight her gender. She thinks women have the same opportunities as men but many a times women don’t want to work hard or get uncomfortable. While some women are socio-economically disadvantageous and face genuine difficulty in advancing, others who have reached great heights were able to do so because they worked tirelessly and primarily because they had self-actualization. When I disagreed with her and suggested that women actually have more challenges than men in their career paths and it’s not just a matter of self-actualization, I was again awestruck by her down-to-earth attitude and willingness to hear my viewpoints.

I never had this kind of a two-way conversation with a woman leader before and I am so grateful to her for this opportunity. Had her schedule not been so tightly booked, I am pretty sure I would have been there all day. I have included excerpts from our conversation below. Hope you enjoy reading it!

Sonali: Describe your journey so far?

Deb: I will say it was iterative. I always found myself reaching for something else. I didn’t know I wanted to be the dean of a college when I graduated from college but I always knew I wanted to grow and have an impact. As you transform, you must keep asking yourself questions and be willing to be uncomfortable. I think I am adventurous and don’t hesitate in taking calculated risks. Our limitations are internal and if we can get rid of them inside our mind, we can accomplish anything.

Sonali: How would you define your leadership style?

Deb: I am more of a facilitator and I think I adapt my style based on the staff I am working with. People are different and processes vary from one place to another. I am sensitive to what people need and try to lead them in that way. I don’t like micromanaging as I consider myself an ‘ideas’ person and would love to spend more time thinking about those than looking over people’s shoulders. However, if it’s a new team or a new process, I don’t mind getting my hands dirty initially before letting the team take over.

Sonali: What advice do you have for young men and women who are not sure which career path to pursue?

Deb: Life is a journey and not a sprint. So many things in life will be revealed when you explore. There are so many treasures within us but we don’t find those unless we dig.

Sonali: What are some of the things you love doing or would love to do?

Deb: I love to walk and I enjoy yoga. I want to do some social work which has taken a back seat in the recent past. I love to be outdoors and gardening is one of my passions. I also have an antique business with my husband and I think I am obsessed with it.

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The latest numbers on women CEOs in public companies…..good or bad?

Strategy& (part of the PwC network of firms) annually highlights the incoming class of CEOs at the world’s largest 2,500 public companies in a report called CEO Success study. I recently read this report, which was published in strategy+business magazine. There were a few key findings related to accountability, turnover rates and a lot of other interesting information but the one that caught my attention was the progress of women. Can you guess how many women CEOs were appointed in these public companies during 2016?

I will get to that number pretty soon but below is a video that quickly summarizes the report and here is the link for the entire report.

Three major regions were analyzed and the percentage of women CEOs in US and Canada region was the highest. The other two regions studied were Western Europe and Brazil, Russia, India, and China (the BRIC countries). Any guesses who came in second? Well, the second place goes to China at 5.3 percent. US and Canada region was slightly ahead at 5.7%. What can these statistics tell us about these countries? Although the total number of women CEOs appointed at the top 2500 public companies was at 12, (yes, just 12) what is it that these companies are doing differently than their competitors and peers? What can these regions and other parts of the world do to bring up that number? I don’t have the answers but it is definitely worthwhile to explore and figure out what works and if other regions can adapt those practices to promote women.

While 12 women CEOs is not a great feat, looking at it from a context that there were none until a few years ago can help put things in perspective. It is a moment of celebration but also a reminder that a lot needs to be done while there is momentum.

What can we do to increase this number not just in these countries and industries but globally across all sectors? I would love to hear your thoughts!

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Great momentum but….

When I was living in India, more than a decade ago, the discussions regarding gender gap focused on preventing female foeticide, equal educational opportunities for all girls, ending violence against them, and making the communities safer. Economic empowerment of women was also an issue that was discussed as a solution to close the gender gap. When I moved to the US, gender gap was and is still a hot topic but the gender gap that gets the most attention is, in earnings. Another prominent gender gap is the STEM gender gap. I have also recently come across new metrics for gender gap and that’s the gap in investing and also gender wealth gap. Pretty cool but I am not sure if these gaps are officially measured. It however made me realize that the term ‘gender gap’ is vaguely used by a lot of people to refer to gaps in employment and/or wages (pay).

The term gender gap consists of various categories and during my research, I found out a reliable source – World Economic Forum – that discusses global gender gap and the categories included in calculating the global gender gap index. Spoiler alert: Since we are talking about India and US, according to this annual report, which was released in 2016, US ranked 45 (slipped down from 23 in 2006….what!!!) and India ranked 87 in gender equality.

The Global Gender Gap Index examines the gap between men and women in four fundamental categories (subindexes):

  1. Economic Participation and Opportunity
  2. Educational Attainment
  3. Health and Survival and
  4. Political Empowerment.

For more information on these categories and the indicators that compose them, visit this page!

While I touched upon the first three categories at the beginning of this article, I did not mention anything about political empowerment despite all the rhetoric surrounding the recent US presidential elections. I often wonder why a country like the US still cannot boast of a female president. More than five decades ago, India had a female Prime Minister (PM), Indira Gandhi, who was elected as the PM three times. In 2007, we also had Pratibha Patil, the first woman to serve as the President of India. We are yet to see something like that happen here in the US. There is still a long way to go but on a positive note, US ranks #1 on the educational attainment category and #26 on the economic participation and opportunity category.

It is also encouraging to see all the great work that UN Women – United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women – is doing.

In a report titled – Gender Equality: It’s time, they emphasize five priorities:

  1. Increasing women’s leadership and participation
  2. Ending violence against women and girls
  3. Engaging women in all aspects of peace & security processes and humanitarian action
  4. Enhancing women’s economic empowerment
  5. Making gender equality central to national development planning and budgeting

While some nations have already achieved gender equality, others have a long way to go. Wherever you are and whoever you might be, we can all take tiny steps towards accomplishing this goal. What are you going to do?


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My reflections on some parts of the ILO-Gallup Report

Here’s an article from the International Labour Organization’s Newsroom. It discusses the findings of the ILO-Gallup report, “Towards a better future for women and work: Voices of women and men ”. If you don’t have time to read the entire report, here’s a summary of key findings.

Some excerpts and my comments:

“Reconciling work with care for their families, however, poses a significant challenge for working women globally.”

You must have heard of the African proverb, “It take a village to raise a child.” Parents have to build great networks to help them bring up their children. Just make sure that  people in your network have a positive influence on kids. It is a collective effort and don’t mistaken it with outsourcing. Your group can get together and talk about skills, interest and preference. Then, when it’s someone’s turn, they can volunteer to teach kids a new skill, or engage them in an activity or just relax and have some meaningful conversations. It’s a bonus if the people in your network are diverse!

Delegation and automation also helps with several routine tasks. Take advantage of technology and automate certain tasks. Hire help for other tasks and if you can’t afford it at this time, share the workload with family members. It is a great way to get the kids engaged and have fun while doing a family chore. I strongly believe that kids should have at least one daily chore, no matter what size, as it teaches kids to be responsible.

“In Northern Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, Southern Asia and the Arab States, “family members do not approve of women working” is among the top five most frequently mentioned obstacles that working women face.”

I consider myself very lucky that I had a working mom who taught me very early on in my childhood what it means to balance work and family life. She was a devoted teacher until she retired a few years ago and still motivates me to do my best. My mother in law is equally supportive of me and constantly encourages me and instills the confidence in me that if a woman can think of something, she can do it! I am forever grateful to these two beautiful women in my life. However, I do know of families where either the parents or the in-laws don’t approve of women working. To them I would like to say this. Imagine how well-rounded the kids will be if both the parents participated in all aspects of their upbringing.

Some families let the woman work if she treats her family chores as priority. In other words, a working woman will still be responsible to come back home and take care of the kids, cook for the family, clean and help with the kids’ homework etc. She can’t afford to stay late at work or attend evening meetings or travel for extended periods and has to take leave of absence should something happen to kids. Some families are also worried about how their daughters or daughters-in-law will be treated at work. Attitudes take time to change and there is already a lot of change happening in these countries. Women are able to go out and work and families are not only approving it but are proud of it.

In conclusion, men and women in a family should sit together and come up with a plan on what works best for their family. If a woman wants to work, the men in the family should try to come up with strategies to accommodate it. It is best not to make assumptions on either side!

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It is sheer coincidence that I am launching my blog – WomeNova Exchange – on 2017 International Women’s Day (IWD). I had been thinking of launching this blog since September 2016 but there was always something to distract me and had I not pushed myself hard this time, I wouldn’t be writing these lines. Interestingly, the theme for this year’s IWD is #BeBoldForChange and I think this blog is just a tiny step towards that ‘change’. It is an effort to find out answers and seek guidance from people, particularly women, who have already been bold and are a role model for others.

When I first conceived the idea of starting this blog, my goal was to talk to women leaders and find out what is it that got them to the top? Why are there still fewer women in leadership positions? How would they describe their journey? What are their suggestions for future women leaders? I kept thinking about these questions and many more and the need to get the answers for those intensified over time partly because of what was happening on the US political front and partly because of my own experiences.

I am hoping that WomeNova Exchange is going to be an avenue where women can find the courage and inspiration to #BeBoldForChange. A platform where women will connect, learn, support and inspire one another. A place where women will virtually come together to talk about their dreams, challenges, careers, families and everything in between.

My plan is to post my conversations, and interviews with women (some in leadership positions, some aspiring to be there). I will also be re-posting articles that focus on women issues and anything that I deem inspirational and helpful to women. You are more than welcome to share your ideas, inspiration, tips and hacks.

If you have been wondering why the name WomeNova then keep checking back. One of my future posts will reveal the story behind the name!

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