Women’s empowerment has been a topic of discussion for decades now. With each passing year, more and more women are breaking barriers and shattering the glass ceiling. In today’s world, it is not just about gender equality but also about giving equal opportunities and respect to women. In this article, we interview Dr. Silaja, an enterprising leader with almost 30 years of experience in academia, startups, government organizations, and the corporate world. She has worked in a global environment and has closely worked with various NGOs dealing with menstrual hygiene and women empowerment. She has also been a leader in bringing about diversity, inclusion, and equity in the workplace. In this interview with SheSight Magazine, Dr. Sailaja spoke with Dr. Anju Nandakumar and shared her insights on the importance of education, empowering women, and the need for financial independence for women.
Dr. Sailaja, with such an impressive background, could you tell us what education means to you and how it has helped you evolve as a person?
Education is a crucial skill for all of us. It is something that cannot be stolen. There is a Sanskrit saying which says that anything in this world can be stolen from us except education. Education provides us with new perspectives and helps us evolve as individuals. Whether it’s a Master’s or a Ph.D. higher education gives us a lot of new perspectives and helps us understand things from another person’s point of view. As a person dealing with real-life situations, education, research, and everything helps you evolve as a person and deal with such situations.
You have been a strong advocate of empowering women and have worked towards normalizing the idea that women are part of society and should contribute towards building it, not just as homemakers. So, how do you engage women to be active participants in society?
Women are the future and play a vital role in bringing up future citizens of any nation. As parents, especially mothers, we have more responsibility to educate, bring up our children, nurture them, and instill values in them. Being at home is a full-time job, whether you are a homemaker, in the corporate sector, or in the social sector. Women have a great role to play in empowering themselves, their children, and other people they deal with every day. Values take us a long way in life, especially for women.
Being financially independent is crucial for women. What advice would you give to women on how financial independence would help them?
It’s always imperative that women are financially independent because it gives them a lot of self-confidence. The moment you feel that you should go and ask someone for money, it’s very embarrassing, especially these days. Financial independence brings confidence and courage to be there for yourself. It is crucial to become a role model for your children. Even a lot of celebrities talk about it. Financial independence for a woman is extremely important, especially in the modern days.
You have been an entrepreneur mentor for many years. What three qualities would you say an entrepreneur should have?
An entrepreneur should have three essential qualities: relevance, patience, and perseverance. These are the top three qualities that an entrepreneur should have because it’s not easy to be there, to do things on your own. It takes time, patience, and a lot of perseverance to achieve success.
Could you provide more information on the difference between equality and equity in the workplace?
Sure, equality and equity are often used interchangeably but they have different meanings. Equality means treating everyone the same, regardless of their background or needs. In the workplace, this would mean treating all employees equally, providing them with the same opportunities, and having the same standards for everyone.
On the other hand, equity means treating people fairly by taking into account their differences and providing what they need to be successful. In the workplace, this means providing accommodations for people with disabilities, offering flexible work arrangements for working parents, and addressing pay gaps that exist between different genders or races.
So, while equality is important, equity is equally important to ensure that all employees have the support they need to be successful and that everyone has the same opportunities to grow and develop in their careers.
Can you share your views on the importance of constructive feedback and how it can help in self-improvement, especially for women?
I strongly believe that constructive feedback is crucial for self-improvement, not only for women but for anyone in any profession. We should always appreciate each other and give positive feedback but also provide constructive feedback because it helps in identifying areas for improvement. Instead of waiting for an event like International Women’s Day to support and help each other, it should be a norm and a habit for all of us to not be jealous of each other and work together to break the glass ceiling. It is important to maintain a work-life balance, and if we aim for excellence instead of perfection, it can help reduce the mental pressure that comes with trying to be a super mom or a super performer. We should not compare ourselves with anyone else and should build on our strengths while improving on our weaknesses.
How can a society grow without judgment towards individuals of different genders, especially the transgender community?
To grow without judgment towards individuals of different genders, including the transgender community, we need to treat everyone equally and with respect. It is important to be sensitive to the needs of all individuals, including those with disabilities. We should provide user-friendly facilities and ensure that everyone has access to the same quality of life. From an HR perspective, we need to be prepared to accommodate individuals of different genders and provide necessary facilities such as separate washrooms. It is important to give everyone an equal opportunity to work and succeed without any discrimination or bias.
Can you share your experience as a social worker during the pandemic and what it taught you?
As a social worker during the pandemic, I learned the importance of empathy and compassion towards those who were affected by the pandemic. It was a challenging time for many individuals and families, and it taught me the significance of being patient and understanding. I also realized the importance of technology and how it can be used to connect with people virtually. It was a time when we had to adapt and find new ways to provide support and assistance to those in need. It taught me that as a society, we need to be better prepared for such situations and work together to overcome any challenges that may arise.
Thank you so much for taking the time to share your insights and experiences with us today. It has been a pleasure to have this conversation with you and to learn from your perspective as a social worker. Your commitment to promoting inclusion, supporting mental health, and advocating for constructive feedback is inspiring. Your dedication to breaking down barriers and supporting individuals from all walks of life is truly admirable. Thank you again for joining us today, and we wish you all the best in your future endeavors.