In the groups that I run for building career skills in women, one of the sessions, focuses on mental models that limit the retention and growth of female talent in the workplaces. Some of these mental models are individually held by women, that they are able to work through & challenge.
But the killer mental models that stump me and are the most difficult to break, are the ones that are held by individuals, families, communities & societies.
One such is what I call the ‘Too Tall For a Groom’ mental model.
A 32 year old female leader in Mumbai “My parents told me when I got a promotion – ‘its already difficult to find you a groom, if you go on getting so many promotions and qualifications, how will we ever be able to find a groom for you?’ ”
A 31 year old friend’s daughter who is an IIT, MBA working with a large Consulting group “I told my mother to find me a guy who is better qualified than me, earning more than me and in a higher position than me”
My uncle about his 5 ft 9 inch daughter “She is growing so tall! Won’t be able to find a groom for her who is taller!”
Apparently, one might wonder what the last statement has to do with the first two; if you dig deeper you will see the consistent message:
Don’t be bigger than your husband; don’t be better than your male colleague; don’t be so tall.
How is this connected to career skills, retention & growth of female talent?
a)Internalized by women themselves, this results in them:
- Unconsciously (and many times consciously) limiting their potential, not building skills & competencies for senior roles or slow pedaling their careers to fit into this model
- Taking a secondary position/not claiming their spaces in interpersonal contexts (or not Sitting at The Table, as Sheryl Sandberg would say)
- Being apologetic about their power (Remember the telecom ad where the female boss is almost begging her report, who happens to be her husband, to complete some work?)
- Not choosing to be in roles that have ‘power’ (read finance, balance sheet, P&L) but only support roles; it is no surprise that in India a majority of working women are in staff functions!
b)Internalized by men this results in:
- Discomfort around ‘powerful’ women
- Assigning ‘household’ activities to women (note taking, event organization etc)
- Disparaging of commitment to work “you should be looking after your family”
No wonder the latest study by Mckinsey, Women in the Workplace, states that societal mindsets play a big role in retention & growth of female talent in the workplaces!
Each of us, men and women have to challenge our mental models.
Ladies & Gentlemen, let us all Stand Tall together… women don’t have to stoop to conquer!