As part of our Leading Women series, we want to highlight the professional challenges and career aspirations of women we work with here in Asia.
In this feature, Rasleen Kaur, Head of Corporate Strategy and Investor Relations at Policybazaar Group, explains why it is best to not get too carried away with real or perceived gender bias at work. Sometimes, the best strategy is to set your mind right and to let your work speak for itself.
Q: Who was the first woman you looked up to and why did you want to be like her?
For me, gender was never a consideration when I was looking for inspiration. Teachings about my faith were an integral part of my childhood. In Sikhism, we were always taught that women were equal with men in all fields of life. There were tales of female leaders and warriors that my mum used to tell me as bedtime stories.
That formed the foundation of my thinking process, especially coming from a professor who exemplified finding a balance between her professional and personal life. It was a lot about what my mum imparted to me.
Also, growing up, I found many other women who instilled strength in me. Those excelling in their respective professional fields – that was most fascinating.
Q: Have you become more risk-averse or risk-seeking as you progressed in your career?
I was never risk-averse, to be honest. I fall somewhere in between being risk-neutral and risk-seeking. Challenges drive me, and I have never hesitated from trying something new, as that helps in widening horizons. I would say that comes naturally to me because I belong to a family of entrepreneurs.
When I joined Policybazaar (PB), it was just a startup. And taking that job straight after finishing my MBA, I was told to look for more stable options.
I’ll tell you how [taking this job] came about. When the CEO Yashish (Dahiya) came to my campus to recruit potential employees, his pitch went something like, “I don’t know if we will shut down in one year. But I definitely know what we want to build.” There was this clarity of thought, and I appreciated his candour about the risk. When I asked him about my role, all he said was, “It is an open field and you can pick what you like.” That struck a chord with me. So that’s how I came to join PB. And I must say that journey has been interesting from day one, and it has kept me on my toes since.
Having said that, ironically, one of my jobs at PB is to keep an eye out for risks and mitigate them as early as possible. I’ve always worn different hats and doing things outside my comfort zone has always been the spark for me.
Q: Have you had moments of self-doubt on your journey and how did you manage them?
I must confess that I rarely have moments of self-doubt. I know that if I’ve working with the right intentions and if there is a logical conclusion that I’m chasing, I’d go for it. There might be detours along the way and the goals might change during the journey. But I have the zeal to stand up after I fall, and I just keep going.
My work involves being the devil’s advocate, and it’s very regular to be challenged when I have to make tough calls. But I get a thrill out of being able to manoeuvre these situations while keeping everybody on board.
Q: What do you think will be some of the challenges the next generation of women leaders will face?
I would say that manoeuvring the delicate balance of professional and personal priorities will always be a challenge, especially with the increasing cutthroat competition. And I think women don’t want any special handouts or [preferential] treatment, no matter what name we give it.
But biological differences will always be there, and we can’t deny those. I think the pandemic has shown us how there can be flexible choices when it comes to work, irrespective of gender, without affecting the outputs. And I think that mental health will improve as a by-product of such initiatives.
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Q: Why do you think empathy is such a key part of leadership and why has it only just emerged as a topic of discussion?
Empathy is an integral part of leadership. And the need for it is magnified during a crisis. If your employees don’t feel invested emotionally, then they will always just be employees and not your warriors.
Empathy is a two-way street. In my team, we know that we’ve got each other’s backs in times of crisis, because we all know that a team is as strong as its weakest link. We are out there as a battalion and not as individual warriors. And if we are schooled to think about the effects that our actions have on our stakeholders, then we would have started our journey right.
We endeavour to mirror that culture throughout the organization by means of policies and to sustain that through scale-ups. We take immense pride in the fact that there is rarely any attrition in senior management at Policybazaar, and I would say that the culture [of being empathetic] is deeply rooted in the multiple layers of management. To be able to witness that at play is beautiful. I believe empathy is an important driver in getting people to work towards a common goal.
Q: What are some of the strategies that can help women achieve more prominent roles in male-dominated industries?
First, do not think of it as a negative. I would say that women in these positions should view it as a blessing in a disguise because it’s an opportunity to stand out without having to do anything. I guess a positive frame of mind always helps, whether you’re in the situation of being a minority or when it comes to any other challenge that’s thrown at you. Once you’re confident in your head, you will also do whatever it takes to achieve the goal you’ve set for yourself.
Second, don’t hold back just because you think the world has a bias against your gender. This may or may not be true. So having this mindset will save you from doing a disservice to yourself. Nobody appreciates weakness and I think if you’re strong enough to command what you want, you will get it, woman or not. There cannot be a rule book or a one-size-fits-all strategy for dealing with this. When you are in the game, you do whatever is needed.
Q: What are some assumptions or biases you have noticed being a female leader?
There are quite a few, I would say, like women cannot work long hours if needed. Or that they will not be inclined towards work post-marriage or -maternity. Oftentimes, there is also the crediting of gender over merit when it comes to advancements in career.
But you cannot change the world in one go. What’s important is keeping an internal locus of control and to keep working without giving too much mindshare to these biases. This is how I operate. Any bias that becomes a hindrance to you, just ignore it.
Q: What’s the one piece of advice you would give to your 10-year-old self?
Every vision can be translated into reality, so dream big. Bigger than what you think is possible. And don’t lose sight of the goal – you will eventually find a way to reach it. Also, never say no to any work. There should be an unsatiable hunger to do more, always, in every field. Don’t be afraid to experiment in unknown domains, and always have the itch to do something novel. In short, I would say, learn fast, unlearn faster and relearn the first test.
For more inspiring stories of women breaking conventions and taking the lead in the Asia Pacific, visit the official Leading Women page on the Page Executive website below:
Leading Women: Navigate complex teams with respect and effective communication
How the best companies are attracting the talent they want
The value of mentorship and sponsorship, and what it can do for your company