Pooja Parthasarathy, a 20-something member of the 40 Women to Watch Over 40 and research analyst at Neuberger Berman shares her perspective on why she got involved with Forty Over 40.
A male colleague and I were recently chatting about gender differences in the workplace. During a thought provoking conversation on the disparity between male and female leaders, we pondered such questions as: What makes men help and mentor men (and women) so readily? Why do men befriend and lend their expertise to other men much quicker than women? Why are male leaders more willing to put themselves out there? In other words, all else equal, what makes women more guarded than their male counterparts? What do they feel like they have to lose?
As we mulled it over, I found myself crystallizing what I think I had already known at a subconscious level for a long time.
We have grown up in patriarchal societies that ceaselessly condition our minds to believe that men are more powerful than women. Men rule households, companies, countries. Young boys who grow up experiencing this power dynamic thus see “plenty” – plenty of men at the top and more than enough leadership positions to go around – and accordingly develop a mindset of abundance. Conversely, young girls grow up seeing few women in roles of authority and the struggles necessary in order to attain those positions. This inadvertently leads to a more guarded, scarcity mindset in women.
What happens as a result of these different mindsets?
It teaches women to be more risk averse, more hesitant about stepping forward, and less willing to compete because they believe they have more at stake. Research conducted by economists at the University of Chicago and UCSD studied gender differences in competition in matrilineal and patriarchal societies, as they sought to explain differences in the gender wage gap and prospects for advancement. As anticipated, Masai men, who represent a textbook example of a patriarchal tribe, chose a competitive environment more often than the women, were more confident in their abilities, and far less risk averse. But fascinatingly enough, women in matrilineal societies like the Khasi tribe in Nagaland, India made the same types of risk seeking choices as the Masai men, demonstrating the profound impact of a society that teaches women the mindset of plenty.
A research study like this makes very clear the power wielded by societal structure and influences. At a deeper level, it poses the question: How differently would an average woman raised in a patriarchal framework think about risk and competition if she also routinely came in contact with women who were able to excel in that same framework and were willing to share their expertise?
My desire to identify such women who have unequivocally demonstrated their ability to take on challenges, compete, and come out on top whilst lending a helping hand to younger women is one of the many reasons that drove me to become involved with the Forty Over 40 initiative with Christina Vuleta and Whitney Johnson. This year’s honorees feature women who have blazed trails in fields as diverse as art, scientific research, politics, media, finance, and technology: women who are equal parts awe-inspiring and approachable. More than anything, viewing the world through the lens of women like Kimberley Bryant, Nancy Rodkin Rotering, and Farah Mohamed to name just a few, has taught me how valuable it is to be willing to disrupt instead of merely following in the shadows of those before us.
I realize that I may not have the advantage of having as many leaders who look like me as my male counterparts do. However, initiatives like Forty Over 40 teach me that by knowing where and how to look, I, too, can develop that same mindset of plenty.