Humans crave power. They crave obedience. They crave authority. The higher we go up the ladder, the more impatient we become. The more successful we become, the more we expect from other people. To find a boss who does not follow these rules is rare. And as a woman boss, someone who does not feel the need to be serious and aggressive is also rare.
And that is what Shabnam Siddiqui is – a rare woman leader. She is the Director of United Nations Global Compact Network in India.
Having had a chance to work with her, I have seen her talk to clients, interact with juniors and discuss with lawyers. She does all of it with the same temperament and the same ease. She works with precision and efficiency, but at the same time she is tolerant with people who know less than her and shares her knowledge freely. Not only that, she is available for work at all times, and equally passionately, pursues her interest in wildlife photography.
So I was curious to talk to her about women, ‘having it all’, glass ceilings and so on. And thankfully I got that opportunity this time:
Jyoti: Hi Shabnam, I have known you a while now and you come across as very independent, confident and happy. How does that culturally fit? Because I know I face a lot of flak for it.
Shabnam: Life is all about growing and learning, and making peace with one’s choices in life. Over the years I have realised that individual’s, especially women’s, needs and choices across decades vary and only few of us who are independent and confident can ride the wave and do exactly what we desire to do. Most women and men, as the decades pass by, get enmeshed in a life that they might not be happy about, but have developed a comfort zone for, and so trudge along. I think I am happier only in the sense that I take complete ownership and accountability for my life and its choices.
Jyoti: You work with public and private sector alike. Have you had any experience with the infamous glass ceilings? Some women face glass ceilings, others glass walls and some are absolutely confident there is no such thing. What are your thoughts on it?
Shabnam: I think glass ceilings exist. In addition to gender, ceilings and walls are also determined by the community you belong to, the region you come from, the language you speak and the lineage you can / cannot boast about. In life, we will come across people who have gotten tired of the struggles and accepted their place, and there are always others who keep fighting. I belong to the latter group.
Not that I was ever ambitious as such. For me, deliverables have been more important than hierarchy, and I have always shone in the professional responsibilities I have undertaken. I can be confident that no one is better at the job that I do, and of course all of us have different roles to play, so the ideal space is to work together.
And I have learnt in life that not only the hand that rocks the cradle might or might not rule the world, but the hand that rakes in the most money will rule the world for sure, irrespective of the gender, community, region that the hand belongs to. Money alone has no glass ceilings.
It is always beneficial to understand the market and your worth in it. Let me narrate a small story as an example.
A father, before he died, said to his son: “This is a watch your grandfather gave me, and is more than 200 years old. But before I give it to you, go to the watch shop on the first street, and tell him I want to sell it, and see how much he offers you.”
He went, and then came back to his father, and said, “The watchmaker offered 5 dollars because it’s old.”
The father then said to him: “Go to the coffee shop.”
He went and then came back, and said: “He also offered 5 dollars, father.”
“Now go to the museum and show that watch.”
He went and then came back, and said to his father, “They offered me a million dollars for this piece.”
The father said: “I wanted to let you know that the right place values you in the right way. Don’t find yourself in the wrong place and get angry if you are not valued. Those that know your value are those who appreciate you, don’t stay in a place where nobody sees your value.”
Jyoti: Very well said, and practical too! We all tend to make that mistake. Now, coming to the other aspects of life, how do you find time to balance your work, your passion and your personal life?
Shabnam: Very very difficult. And very very easy at the same time. Difficult because my work does not happen in limited hours, in some ways I am always on the job. My passion for wildlife photography on the other hand provides me respite, but I have to steal time all the time. The biggest collateral damage of all that, is sleep and proper rest. My personal life, my family and close circle of friends perhaps give me the most balance. They are my biggest supporters and worst critics. They help me stay grounded.
Jyoti: As an amateur wildlife photographer, what are your thoughts on the environmental impact on animals. Do share your experience with us.
Shabnam: It is devastating for sure. The speed at which species are going extinct, the rise in human animal conflict, the mindless development at the cost of environmental wipeout will come to bite us sooner than we think.
Growing up we were reminded that the earth has not been given to us as an inheritance to finish off, but we are simply caretakers of this beautiful earth for the next generation. Unfortunately mindless consumerism, short-lived pleasures and shortsighted goals are heralding us towards definite doom.
Jyoti: I hope more and more people realize this before it’s too late. Back to women, Eyra’s sole aim is to tell them that they have a choice and they have a voice. Anything you would like to share with us?
Shabnam: Women definitely have a voice and a choice. It’s important to find your own safe spaces to grow, to nourish a talent / hobby that gives you pleasure, the ability to decide what is important and of value for you and then take accountability for those choices. Never let another person tell you what you can or cannot do, find it out yourself. Never put others down, especially because life comes a full circle before we know it. I have learnt in life that many a times it is more important to be kind, than being right.
And most importantly enjoy each moment of life. This is the only life we have.
Cherish it and celebrate it. Unless we realise our worth, no one will think us to be worthy. I end this with a short poem by Laura Ding Edwards:
If the mountain seems too big today, then climb a hill instead
If the morning brings you sadness, it’s ok to stay in bed
A day is not a lifetime, a rest is not defeat
Don’t think of it as a failure, just a quiet, kind retreat
The mountain will still be there, when you want to try again
You can climb it in your own time, just love yourself till then.
*All images used in this article are either Eyra’s own design or widely and freely available on the internet.*