Wednesday, December 7, 2011

What Gender Equality Truly Means

This is what started it all: a short video of an interview with Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook.

Even before we try to achieve the gender equality, we need to ask ourselves what exactly that looks like. How do we define gender equality? 

Here is my take on it. 

First and foremost, I am not a person who thinks that gender equality means that all women should have a career and all men should cook, clean, and do the rest of the house work. On the contrary, I believe that such situation will be another type of gender inequality where women are favored. I am not up for such extremes.

My picture of practical and sustainable gender equality includes the following 2 types of equality.

1. Equality of choice is the first part of the gender equality - what SHOULD happen. This is the comfort that an individual feels in their own choices. This is the part that can be achieved individually. 

2. Equality of perception is the other half of the gender equality - how we CAN make it happen. This is the respect that an individual gives to others’ choices based on cultural norms. This is the part that has to be achieved as a society or a culture. No individual can attain this on their own. 

1. Equality of choice

This simply means that both men and women should feel comfortable in choosing either career or home or both. They should feel confident in the fact that no matter what they choose to do, it will add value to their family and in turn, to the society. 

Most men and women do not feel that all their choices are valued equally. 

In order for our society to run well we need people to innovate, build and create wealth but also the people who raise their children well, people who make the homes from the houses and people who make a family out of a bunch of people living together. Then does it really matter who does what as long as they do it well?

Right now, it is not unusual to advise a career oriented woman that she should curtail her ambitions if she wants a rewarding family life, and look at a stay-at-home dad as a failure and label him a "sissy". 

Such difference of standards for men and women do not make it easy to choose what one truly wants to do. All men are almost forced to earn a living while it is optional for women to do so - in some cultures even prohibited. If you are a man who loves spending time with children do you have a freedom to choose to do that full time? If you are a woman who loves fixing stuff, do people encourage you to become an engineer?

The choice of a career and/or home should be based on your abilities, liking, and personal aspirations - not on your gender. There should be no shame, discomfort or helplessness in choosing the balance of career and home that works with you and your family. There should be true freedom in designing your work-home life to best fit your aspirations.  

2. Equality of perception:

In order for individuals to feel comfortable in their choices, we need to create the environment that perceives the value as it exists in those choices.

As a culture, we do not perceive the same value in the same choices made by men and women.

First of all, we do not perceive a nurturer's role (traditionally a woman's responsibility) to be as important as a protector or provider's role (traditionally a man's responsibility). Take a deep look at the crimes. In most cases the root cause of the criminal behavior is a dysfunctional family. That is a constant reminder that nurturing makes an equally important portion of a healthy upbringing, if not more, as providing does.

Let's just say that you are already ahead of the group is agreeing that both the roles are equally important and time consuming. Then does it really matter who does what as long as they do it well? Why do we perceive the same roles differently based on whether a man does it or a woman?

Do we value a stay-at-home dad the same way we value a competent, professional man? Why do career oriented women are perceived as more headstrong, stern, and overly ambitious than their men counterparts? When a woman sacrifices for her husband's career those are considered welcome compromises for the growth of the family or sometimes even taken for granted. But if a man sacrifices for his wife's career he is labeled a henpecked and unsuccessful husband. Why this perception inequality?

If we want women to be able to choose what they WANT to do, we MUST first make it acceptable for men to choose what they CAN do. We should encourage a woman wanting a career, and respect and value a man wanting to stay at home to run the household. 

Gender Equality = Equality of Choice + Equality of Perception

The key to achieving gender equality is to have both the equality of choice and perception. In order to foster equality of choice, we must have equality of perception. And equality of perception will not be a reality unless more individuals make the bold, nontraditional choices and become successful in doing so to establish the credit of equality of choice. 

That involves the ability and willingness to choose the path of resistance. That needs educating your sons that forget what your friends say, you have to cook, clean and do the dishes in the kitchen. That means buying toy trucks for your daughter along with the dolls and let her pick what she wants to play with. That means equally valuing the contributions of a CEO wife and her stay-at-home-dad husband.

In many cases, this will look like a happy couple, both sharing the load of work at home to support their work outside of home. 

© Manasi Kakade, 2011

Friday, June 17, 2011

5 Step Guide to Becoming the Worst Leader

As they say in India, a Guru (means ‘a teacher’) is not just the one that teaches you how to do things right, but also the one who teaches you what not to do. This blog post is dedicated to all my Gurus who fit the latter category.

We all have ambitions. Many of us wish to be the best at what we do. You may be the one who wishes to be the best at what you do – “being the worst leader”.

This simple, 5 step guide, designed just for YOU, is guaranteed to take you there.

Let’s begin!

1. Never, and I mean NEVER say “Thank you” – It is such a weak phrase. It takes people on cloud number 9 and never brings them down.

“First of all, I don’t think anyone other than me is doing such a great job. And even if they are, ‘Thank you’ is unnecessary. They need to be reminded that perfection is impossible. They should keep trying.”

Wow! What an uncanny way of making people aware of the fact of the life – a cruel one, too! You have started on the right path. Keep up the attitude and you are on your way to becoming the “The worst leader”.

2. Be cynical - You probably have a natural talent for this, in which case you are ahead of the competition. But for those of you who think it is a piece of cake, let me tell you - it is harder than you think.

Your employees really want to work hard and add value to your team - suspect their motives.
They will bring forward excellent ideas for improving processes - question their credibility and the value of the information.
Some of them will even try to reduce the tension in the air with their sense of humor - but you better take those outrageous remarks seriously. There may just be some truth to it.

Add favoritism to the mix - support your favorites but doubt everybody else's competency, and you have got yourself a winner!

3. Resist any change – “Why change when things are running just fine. Plus not all change is good for you. Why risk experimenting when you don’t know if it will be for better or for worse? I say, let’s just keep things the way they are. It hasn’t hurt us so far. Why would it in future!”

Fantastic! You don’t seek out new, better ways neither do you let your employees figure out any. This is a great way to become worse from bad, and the worst from worse. Keep up the good work!

4. Curiosity killed the cat… or wait, was it you who killed a curious cat?  
One sure fire way of maintaining a status quo is to thrash any idea that opposes yours, shut up all the devil’s advocates, and discourage any questioning (or should I say, thinking). You are on a road to killing any innovation in your company. 

 Congratulations – your company has just become “content”.

“But are your employees and customers ‘satisfied’? There is a difference, you know.”

“Again, WHO cares?”

5. Don’t care Anything other than your opinions or anyone other than you doesn’t matter. Why should you be bothered!

“I am ready to retire.”
“I already reached the highest level I can.”
“The organization is doomed to failure anyway!”

Whatever your reason may be, you are bringing down the employee morale, pushing your company off the cliff, while thinking no one can strip you off your position.

Congratulations! You have just been awarded the title of “The worst leader”.

© Manasi Kakade, 2011

Friday, June 10, 2011

Top 11 Traits of Successful People

What makes a 'successful' person? I am not wondering, what achievements make a person 'successful' but I am wondering, what some common traits are of the people who we perceive as 'successful'.

Whatever your definition of success is, you will agree with me that some people seem to have that aura around them that makes us think, "I bet, he / she will be successful". What constitutes that aura? More I observe such people, more I figure out what they have, that seem to attract great happenings!

11. No gossip: They live by this rule.

They have an uncanny way of expressing their dissatisfaction without putting anyone down.

10. Easy to get along with: Their magnetic personality makes it easier to get along with them. They hardly make any enemies. Now, we all have acquaintance that may be envious or jealous of us. But generally speaking, these people easily get along with even the worst apples. They do not have to work hard to make it happen.

9. Excellent communication: Even when the rest of the office is chatting away all their frustrations, these people seem to blend in without participating. They use their sense of humor to see things in a bright light, and express those in a way that lightens the tension in the air. They understand the difference between opinions, facts, and perceptions. And they know that the freedom of speech comes with a responsibility.

8. Courage to stand up for one's believes: Just because they get along with everyone does not mean that they would not stand up for what is right. They sure make it a point to let 'right' people know how they feel. They appropriately choose what to say, to whom, and when to say it.

7. Continuous evaluation: They evaluate products, processes, and themselves, continuously to see how they can improve. If there is a better way of doing something, they would find it, learn it, and implement it.

6. Take risks: They are willing to try new avenues even at a risk of losing the comfort with certainty. They don’t care what others think of them. They are not scared to take on a road less travelled. They would rather take a failure than no attempt at all.

5. Graciously accept change: While most people are happy with the status-quo, these troopers do not mind change for a better tomorrow. In fact, they seek the change through their evaluation. And when it's time to deal with it, they do so with no complaints, no regrets, but only with enthusiasm.

4. Flexible decision making: They are capable of making the best possible decisions within the limitations of time and resources. They are not afraid of making quick decisions based on 'blink' assessments when the time demands it. But they are not ashamed either of analyzing every aspect before coming to a conclusion, when time permits it. Even when they are not the decision makers, they feel it is ethical to convey their view point only before the decision is made. But once decided they back it up even when it is not up to their expectations! A true team spirit!

3. Work ethic: Their work motto is, 'Think twice before making a decision, but once you have made it, do your best to see it through.' While the rest of the crowd is still lingering over the past mistakes, they ask what they can do to make the best of the given situation. Once accepted, they perform the task to the best of their ability and enthusiasm, even though it is doomed for failure. Almost always, they come out of it, better than their peers.

2. Genuinely care about others: They do, they seriously care about your happiness and progress as much as you do. They are happy for your growth - never jealous but always supportive. They willingly share their knowledge, network, and compassion. They make a difference in people's worlds, one act at a time.

1. Absolutely NO room for cynicism: ‘Don't ask if it is possible; ask how I can make it possible!’ However lunatic, far-fetched, difficult an idea may seem to others, they never doubt the possibility of it. Whatever their situation is, they do not forget to see the bright side of it. They never question their ability or that of their team. All they think of, is what can make this happen. And if anything or anyone hinders that, they get rid of those obstacles. Don't confuse their positive, winning attitude for unrealistic expectations. They never give up; they never predict failure; but they never take the win for granted.

© Manasi Kakade, 2011

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Risk - What does that mean to you?

Lately I have been hearing a lot about taking risks.

I understand that the size of everyone's comfort zone is different. What may be risky for one may be completely fine for someone else. In general, I am a person who loves to take chances. Even when the odds are against me, I would rather believe in the small probablity of results turning in my favor than suspect and worry about the unfavorable outcome. I prefer to try and fail than to face the scenario of "what would have happened if...?"

Coincidentally, I also find myself succeeding in the wierdest situations where most people would bet against me without thinking twice. Such frequent experiences increase my risk zone even more, make my belief in 'anything is possible' even stronger, and my thinking even more positive (or as some may say, unrealistic. :) I am becoming less and less risk averse day by day. Those who know me, know very well, that there is absoultely nothing that I believe is impossible. I think the extreme optimism results in favorable thoughts and required actions, yielding the desired results, in turn strengthening my positive thinking even more. So the cycle of taking risks continues. 

I always have been like this even as a child. But this is the first time I am thinking about what the other perspective may be. What makes people risk averse? Why some people always think, what they refer to as, 'realistic', and I call 'negative'? Obviously, our experiences shape our thinking. That's why the same perspective may be perceived as 'realistic' by someone but 'negative' by someone else. What I wonder is whether it can be the other way round - can our thinking shape our experiences? e.g. success comes to those who doubt its occurance the least.

I want to know what makes you take or not take a risk? What do you think is risky? Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences.

Friday, March 25, 2011

UNICEF's Tap Project

Please see if you can plan a meal out at one of the restaurants participating in UNICEF's Tap Project.

Just $1 raised through the UNICEF Tap Project can provide a child with safe water for 40 days.

Clean drinking water is a luxury in many countries. Please do not take it for granted if you have it. Be determined not to waste any water. You may be doing it without even being aware of it. Please be mindful of your habits - e.g. letting the tap water run when you are brushing your teeth or doing dishes.

Gandhiji has said, "There is enough in this world for everybody's need, but not enough for anybody's greed." In this global village, whatever affects one person, is going to come back and bite everyone else sooner or later.

Be selfish for your kids' future, and help the needy NOW.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A lesson of life from my grandpa

My last post "Carrot or stick?" raised some questions about competition. Is competition necessary to foster creativity, or is it detrimental to bringing out creativity, especially in children? Here is what I feel about it.

It is what you compete with and the keepers of the competition that decide the output. 

Great teachers, skilled parents, and a community that encourages innovation but discourages mediocrity can support a healthy and happy competition pretty darn well.  

But realistically, speaking you are not going to get the ideal combination of all three to yield excellent outcomes in a competition. Which is why, in general, societies either outdo themselves in pressurizing kids to a rat-race (stereotypes China and India) or totally make anything and everything acceptable (stereotype the USA). 

In the first case, certainty of results takes precedence over power of experiments. This rewards unhealthy affection to yield results but sometimes ignores the means. It usually sets stricter boundaries on what is acceptable, and discourages any aberrations, thus 'punishing' the creativity. Students and adults strive to be good at everything and end up not being great at anything - defeating the very purpose of competing - to bring the best out of everyone. 

In the later case,  ubiquitous appreciation for every deed of Tom, Dick and Harry takes precedence over truly recognizing, appreciating and fostering unique talent in every individual. This lowers expectations across the board. This praises the good means no matter what the result is. It usually sets pretty flexible standards of what is acceptable, thus not particularly rewarding day-to-day efforts to go above and beyond. Students and adults tend to think of themselves as doing 'fine' at everything than striving to be even better - defeating the very purpose of education and training - to bring the best out of everyone.

I feel, there has to be a golden mean between the two for achieving the best possible results. And while it may seem an impossible task, we would be wrong not even trying for it. 

As for what we compete with, let me share this story with you. It happened to me and changed my outlook of life forever.

I must be 10-11 years old. I am fortunate to have amazing parents, great teachers, and privileged to get the best
(appreciation, encouragement etc.) from the community that is trapped in a rat-race, only because I was at the top of the competition.

Yet, seeing my classmates, cousins, even my brother, being compared to me, and told to be like me, and asked to do better just to surpass me, hurt me. I was working hard - not to do the best I can, but to maintain my position as a topper. 

One  beautiful morning, I was complaining to my mom about a fellow classmate and how she was always nosy, asking me what grades I got, and keeping track of that just to compare those with hers so that she knows how much more she needs to beat me. All the logical reasons that my mother listed to convince me that it is not worth my energy and time to be angry about what she did but instead I should focus on what I could do, were in vain. 

My grandfather, (who just so happens, is a well-known educator) heard all this. He came up to me and took me out in the balcony. He asked me who I was competing with. 

I yelled her name. He said, "Wrong!"

I named some other classmates. Again the same response, "Wrong!" 

Then I started using my creativity: "I am competing with the kids from the other school; with all the kids in India; with the kids from the rest of the world; with the adults all over the world..." 

But every time, he would say the same thing, "Wrong!"

By that time, I was angrier at my grandpa than I was at the girl. 
I gave up. 
I asked him, "You tell me, who I am competing with."

I can never forget what he said after that. These words always encourage me to bring the best out of me, no matter what the rest of the world is doing. Today, even if for a split second, I find comparing myself to somebody else, I instantly remember these words and feel so much at peace.

He calmly said, "Your competition is never with anyone. It is with 100%. May it be 100% marks on the test, or 100% efforts that you put in for your dance, or 100% sincerity you have when you are talking to people. Your competition is with yourself to achieve that 100% every time you do something."

After that day, I did not mind sharing my grades with anyone, and still managed to be at the top of the class. Thank you, grandpa!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Carrot or stick?

Have we lowered the standards of our kids so much that 'sloppy' is the new 'cute' & 'OK' is new 'great'?

Today, at my work we sent out valentine's day 'thank you' cards to our supporters. They are not just any cards; they are colored by children, 2-14 years old, that participate in the services that our organization supports. That's what makes these cards cute and emotionally appealing. No child was told what exactly they should do but they were directed to color whatever they want in the space given to them. This means they can be as creative as they want.

Here are some of my observations:
- Like any other task done by a group of people, the quality of work varied from the good, the bad, to the ugly. Some cards were nicely done; some others were average; and many were sloppy.
- In general, the quality became better with age.
- In every age group, there were ranges of quality of the coloring (number of colors used, staying within the boundaries allowed and color combinations)and creativity.
- As far as planning 'where to color', younger kids seem to let their imagination (& hence the coloring) flow, while the older kids were confining to the boundaries set for them through the printed design.
- When it came to designing what they want to show, younger kids were relying mostly on random lines in one color, where as older children drew more defined shapes such as flowers, hearts and people, and then colored those using multiple colors. Some wrote nice messages. Some even used scented crayons to go an extra mile.

What bothered me was that the overall quality of these cards was not at all what I expected. I did not grow up in the USA so I do not have any idea of how it used to be here. I am also keeping in mind that the children who participated may not represent a random sample. Most of them may share similar socio-economic backgrounds. But still I feel that as compared to the experiences of their contemporaries in India (where many children in general are less privileged), these kids are lagging.

Is it because the expectations set for them are less, and no matter what they d,o they are still praised for being 'cute' or for 'trying'? Are they not challenging themselves because no one tells them that they can be even better? Is 'no stick, only carrot' approach thrashing their creativity?

I distinctly remember, my mother giving me a hard time on drawing in first grade. Why? Because the leaves of a coconut tree that I drew were too far apart and hence unrealistic; because I used to draw 'visible' legs on a duck that is in water; because my rising Sun should not be full if it must look like rising.

I also remember my teacher praising my best friend (who is now an artist) for having the discipline to color within the boundaries, and an eye for using color combinations belonging to a pallet, and giving me a lower grade for doing exactly the opposite - neither showcasing skills nor the discipline.

It was a no-brainer for my parents or teachers that drawing or coloring is not my cup of tea neither did I enjoy it. Yet, that was no excuse for performing poorly and not improving or learning to be better than what I was. And although I never really started liking drawing, I improved at it enough to be good at it.

The expectations for all the class were set based on the best performing student, not average, forget the weakest link. What was expected of me was crystal clear to me - to be the best, not just the best that I can be but the best there can be. The ideal was right there - the best student in the class. To start with, we all have to be like them. For them, the ideal was even higher, better students in higher classes, from different schools, even different cities. The competition was for the top. And good teachers made it healthy and hopeful. No matter what the results were at the end of the school year, I don't remember ever being sad for not beating the top student, but always feeling good for doing better than the previous year. (I also recall the feeling of relief when finally in the 8th grade the drawing courses became optional and electives. But that feeling was unavoidable.)

It is this training that later developed in me appreciation for art and creativity that is now manifested in ways other than drawing. It is that mentality that makes me always shoot for the best and be sure that I can get it if I am willing to work for it. And yes, if I can get an A in drawing, nothing else is impossible. ;)

Seems to me, that in most situations, we need the stick as much as we need the carrot. We are robbing the kids today of the opportunity to realize their potential. We are wrongfully encouraging them to think that mediocrity is acceptable. We are thrashing their creativity under the veil of 'appreciating efforts'. We are forcing them to race to the bottom.

Is that what we really want?