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Microsoft Provides Work Flexibility To Make Life Enriching For Leaders: Prerana Nayak, Microsoft

Women In Leadership Roles Have Gained Momentum, But A Lot Needs To Be Done

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Women In Leadership Roles Have Gained Momentum, But A Lot Needs To Be Done. Prerana Nayak, Principal Program Manager in Artificial Intelligence at Microsoft talks to BW Businessworld about the challenges for women leaders, gender equality and managing personal and professional life. 

What are the biggest challenges for women in leadership roles?

Mindset is the biggest challenge. Several stereotypical mindset issues affect women and their families alike, like mindset of not being self-confident, mindset of being thankful for a job than having ambition of a fulfilling career, mindset of giving kudos to women who give up their careers for their families, mindset that growing in careers means spending more time to office, mindset that we need to know 100 percent before taking on a new role, mindset that anything less than perfect is no good and so on. If you observe, a lot of this can be deemed self-inflicted by women. But it actually has a lot to do with the conditioning of the mindset from societal norms and the large number of women who have such a mindset does not help. What’s needed is a little nudge saying “you can do it – and do it on your own terms without compromising on the zeal of family responsibilities”. Mentors and role models play a huge role in providing this little nudge of converting pessimism to optimism, fear to confidence. I have benefitted from this “nudge” on several occasions of highs and lows in my life.

What progress have women made in terms of being perceived as a leader and what more can be done?

Women are more aware and accepted in leadership positions than there was before. This is partly due to women becoming more vocal about their careers and ambitions. We now have several women role models in all fields who have proven that career does not mean compromise on family life. Having more and more inspiring women in leadership positions makes the society more accepting of the fact that women can excel at multiple dimensions of life. Hopefully this flywheel effect will help us keep the momentum of change. But there is still a long way to go. There still are several women who will slow down in their careers believing they need to sacrifice careers for their kids.

Saying “take care of special needs of women employees in your team” actually sends a wrong message. I personally know several young women who will question diversity and inclusion by saying “why anything special for women? I got here on merit, I don’t need special treatment”. Instead let’s spread positive inspiration that is actionable for all – let’s celebrate role models more, in the process we will create more role models and the flywheel effect continues.

What are the work-life balance issues for the women in corporate world?

I personally feel that the work-life balance is an overhyped term. Unfortunately, several senior leaders, even women leaders in the industry advocate that they had to compromise on family responsibilities to be successful in their careers – that is such a negative sentiment. We should not get affected by that. We often carry our work in our mind when we get home and we often carry our kid’s homework in our minds to work – and it’s perfectly ok to do so. It’s called life lives without lines, and it’s actually a beautiful and triumphant feeling – let’s embrace it. We have one mind and that can nurture both – very seamlessly, very strongly, very creatively, and very successfully – let’s first trust we can. Then this “work life balance” becomes just another myth, which deserves to be ignored.

How can women find the perfect balance between personal and professional life? How is Microsoft helping them out?

It’s about making your own choices, owning those choices and carving a path for a guilt-free career. There is no one perfect balance, different things matter to different women. Microsoft has a huge influence in encouraging me to strive for making all dimensions of life more enriching, more fulfilling. I have lot of flexibilities in Microsoft. I don’t miss a single event in my kids’ school, in fact, so much that I actually participate in some of these events. As a culture, the flexibilities are available and availed by men and women alike.

At the same time, Microsoft keeps me interested and challenged with cutting edge work. So I don’t feel fatigued even if I have to stay up after putting kids to bed to work with partner teams across continents. I have made my own routine and it works for me, to make it worthwhile for everything that I have chosen to be important to me. Microsoft fosters a culture of growth mindset where our teams feel motivated to do better than the best.

Women are perceived to have a better EQ while men with better IQ. Do you think women leaders are better suited for some particular areas like HR?

What an individual is suited for depends on the aptitude of that person, not their gender. There is nothing like women are suitable for a certain type of role. In fact, it sounds so very orthodox and so very stereotypical in an era where women have climbed the highest epitomes in practically all fields – you name them, you will find women role models in that field. It’s unfortunate we are even asking this question in today’s day and age, when generations of women worked hard to ensure our generation does not face this stereotype that their generation did.

How can a woman achieve domain expertise in the technology sector to equalize gender diversity?

Women don’t need to do anything special for domain expertise – the route is exactly same for men and women. The only difference I have seen in women is that they always keep the option to quit their careers in their minds and sacrifice for family. Men never seem to even consider the option to quit their careers. For women who have the aptitude for technology, reach out, find your mentors, find your role models to give you a ‘nudge’ when you need it most, rule out the option of quitting careers, aspire for growth, and you’ll make your own little contribution to equalize gender diversity. More and more women were to think like this, we’d accelerate as a society.


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