For those of you who don’t know me, I was the first female Quality Assurance Manager of our 25 year old factory. When I was promoted for the first time, I was terrified rather than happy. Especially, when the promotion comes within 8 months of you joining the company. Often your self confidence is challenged by self doubt. “Can I live up to their expectations?”, “What happens when I do not perform?”, “What if my team doesn’t respect me?” are the questions that often run through your mind. However, just like a soldier, you hide your worst fears and charge ahead with head held high, ready to make
everyone proud … myself proud.
With the spirit of an adrenaline junkie, I went for it – my first day in the factory. Went through all the formalities, met the whose who of my workplace and finally it was time for me to meet my team. I was on cloud nine. I never had a team before. Nobody had called me “madam” before. Most importantly, I was never a manager before.
When twenty two people walked into the conference room, one by one, my heart started beating twenty two times faster. The ex manager was a tall, old man with several years of work experience. I am pretty sure, my fictitious description in their mind was that of an old lady, married, with 10 years of work experience. And, here I was, a young woman, unmarried, with less than a year experience. So, I finally felt the twenty two pairs of eyes don upon me – I couldn’t tell what were they thinking. So I decided to not over – analyze and keep a poker face on.
After a normal, formal and awkward introduction, the team went off to their respective work areas. “That wasn’t so bad”, I thought just to satisfy myself. After the brief introduction, I decided to take a look at the shop floor. The moment I walked in – I must confess, it was absolutely intimidating. All men with their machines, hooting on top of their lungs as if some cheerleader had just walked in. Standing next to the production crew, was my team. It was a relief to see them there. But to my surprise they were passing comments just like the rest. I immediately realized that the shop floor was my battlefield and I was its lone female warrior.
Amidst all the hegemony, the production supervisor walks up to me that day and says something to me. Those words have probably played a major role in shaping me up today.
He said “Welcome Madam to **** Factory, as you can see the shop floor is very hot, it requires a lot of strength to be able to work inside, not an ideal environment for a woman. You should relax in your office”
I would not call him a chauvinist neither myself a feminist to find offence. But I most certainly consider him ignorant. You see, there has never been a woman leader in operations. There has always been men, strong men!
As a young woman leader in an absolutely unfamiliar territory (Nigeria), in an unfamiliar culture, surrounded by judgmental people; below are some of the things I have learnt and would love to share my experience so that young women of tomorrow can learn how to Smile and continue to lead, even in the most difficult times.
- Beware of the over-friendly ones –
It feels great to have people around you who are friendly, jovial, giving guidance, sharing company gossips. BEWARE ! They are the most dangerous of the lot. I am not generalizing. However, in my experience, they are, what I call – The Information Seeker. They give you information to take more out from you. So do not entertain company gossips and control the data traffic coming out of your mouth at all times
2. Personal attributes speak louder than technical knowledge –
When you start your career for the first time, nobody expects you to be holding a PhD in your job. But what is monitored is your punctuality, discipline and how you relate with your subordinates. Yes! Subordinates. Especially, in African culture, lot of mutual respect is expected while dealing with your subordinates. That does not mean you need to be gentle and super friendly! Be firm yet cordial.
3. Don’t be a solution seeker; be a problem solver –
Let’s get one thing straight – in an organisation mostly people like to maintain their inertia. That is why you were hired. So imagine, if you keep seeking for solutions regularly – you are disrupting their comfort zone and nobody would want that. Hence, there is no harm in seeking a solution from your boss, but, also have your thought process handy as well. So that when the boss asks you for an opinion – you can actually give one !
4. Behind every successful woman, there are multiple men –
Perhaps, this is one of the most important point for a woman leader. I can passionately say that what I have become today is as a result of the wonderful men who have contributed so much in my life.
My first boss – I was shouted upon for coming late –> I was embarrassed BUT it made me punctual. I was asked to spend an entire shift on the shop floor –> I was exhausted BUT it made me powerful (learnt a lot!!) I was asked to come during night shift –> I was tired BUT it made me relentless.
My supervisor – he used to look at me as a child looks at his mother. When the entire factory would judge my capability ruthlessly, he would be there standing by my side, following my instructions, believing that I would bring in a difference.
My father – there cannot be an article where he will not be mentioned. Because he didn’t find it necessary to raise me like a man. He raised me as a fierce woman warrior ready to win every battle that comes along her way.
So the shop floor warrior did finally conquer and win the battle. I was the first ever woman quality manager who came, saw and conquered the shop floor ! This feeling will forever be etched in my heart.
Written by Shombrita Ghosh