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An insight into leadership with Ms. Brinda Bhattacharya

aishwarya

Dec 01, 2021

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This month IYAP is launching a new project “Women in Leadership” where we will be acknowledging the contribution of female leaders in our communities who have not only set examples for young girls but have also created their own statement in their fields of interest.

Today we will be talking to one such inspirational pioneer about her beliefs, work and role in leadership. So, without further ado allow me to introduce you to Ms. Brinda Bhattacharya from Nepal, a fresh Social Work Graduate, Former education coordinator and program associate at SAATH (a Social Work organization that works to provide support to marginalized communities, especially children and women). She will soon be joining TISS, Mumbai for her master’s degree in Social Work.

Hello! And thank you so much for joining us Ms. Brinda! We are so pleased to have you. So, to start off, how would you like to introduce yourself?

Brinda: Thank you! Before we begin. I would like to thank Aishwarya and IYAP for giving me this opportunity to share my story and my perception of women in leadership.

Something about me; I recently graduated with a Bachelors in Social Work. I was the educational coordinator and the program associate at SAATH. I had to leave the position to pursue my master’s degree in India. I am someone who likes to gather knowledge and share that knowledge with the people around me. I am very passionate about my work and studies. And I love working for women, children and education. I believe in being pro-choice and I introduce myself with the pronouns: she/her. 

Awesome, that pretty much sums up why you are our pick for this interview. Since you briefed us about the field that you’ve been working in: Social Work. Could you elaborate on the areas that you work in and tell us what have been your most significant works in these areas?

Brinda: Social Work was something I was always passionate about and I am lucky to have chosen it as my profession. I have worked with children, youth and women as the target population. I would like to break down my most significant works for these three areas.

As for children, I have been working to bridge the gap created by lack of extracurricular activities and leadership training provided to adolescents from lower economic backgrounds. These children, especially girls, do not know their self-worth. Therefore, when they joined our program it helped them develop their skills, realize their capabilities and understand that they are in-charge of their own life. It is beautiful to see how these young girls with the help of some facilities become so self-aware. 

*TW: trauma and self-harm*

One particular incident is of a girl who used to cut her hand. When her teachers found out about it she was punished. However, they failed to realize that she needed help and to be heard. After she joined our program, it was a very emotional journey for her to realize her struggles and decide to find assistance. It is very important to provide help for adolescents who are struggling and to be able to find comfort through it. 

Apart from that I have been working for women empowerment. In Nepal there are more illiterate women than men, which means that there are a percentage of women who do not know how to write, spell or even sign their own name. I got to work with these women when I joined SAATH. When they came in for the tailoring training program, they also received basic literacy training. The moment they recognized the words, the numbers and were able to form sentences; it gave them the confidence that they never had before. 

And finally when it comes to the youth, I have worked with them in skill development and capacity building. And the most significant incident was for a program promoting cultural sensitivity. The youth have the potential to become community mobilisers and to be able to talk to them and train them so that they can help the next generation was all very humbling. And I feel grateful to have been a part of it.

Indeed, a leader is a combination of the story she shapes and the people she inspires. Just listening about those instances is heart-warming. You are an amazing leader and that has become evident from the kind of work you do. Diving more into your leadership journey, what are the challenges you faced in your leadership role?

Brinda: “A leader is not born. A leader is made.” I am a very firm believer of this statement. Anybody and anyone; irrespective of your status, gender or background; can and surely will become a leader. 

Talking about challenges, my first challenge was to eliminate this term called “boss lady” or “lady boss”. When I was younger, I used to take pride in this term. But later it hit me, “Why is a boy called boss and a girl called lady boss?” Being a girl and a boss is treated as something special or rare; which is not true at all. Even when I was the Head Girl in my high school, there were instances that I was called out to be bossy for doing my job properly. So, making leadership and the term “boss” gender neutral was one of my very first challenges.

Another challenge was when my relatives would make comments about me being too ambitious for a girl. If I am high achieving I should not have to be compared to, or be considered equivalent to a boy. When people praise a girl’s success because “that is amazing for a girl” it makes her achievements seem rare and unexpected. Girls are just as capable as boys, if not more! These instances of sexism displeased me a lot when I was younger and were a challenge that I had to overcome.

But the biggest challenge was learning to become a follower. For me the process to becoming a leader was parallel to learning to become a follower. Young kids often ask me, “How to become a good leader?”. And I always tell them that first learn to become a part of the group and learn to become a follower. Yet, I would like to emphasize that as a reserved female leader asking to slow down, adapt and listen to other members more is completely different from the society telling me to be more “ladylike”. It is just better to listen to everyone, understand the team, and to learn what kind of a team-player you are.

Yes, absolutely. Teamwork is very important for leadership. You win greater battles as a unit and learn so much together. But, I was able to relate more to the misogynistic standards that people hold for female leaders. I guess society cannot forgo systematic sexism that easily. So, what would you tell young girls to help them overcome the challenges that they might face in leadership roles in today’s world?

Brinda: I think that the society we are in is evolving and becoming more accepting and there are girls and females who are doing wonderful work in their fields while having to face doubts and concerns about their potential. These doubts shake your confidence. Understand that you should not be lessened or become overconfident by what other people say. So, my advice is don’t be shaken by it and be confident, work on your skills with time and effort. 

My second advice is: Do Not Be a Sore Loser! When it comes to becoming a leader, you need to understand that you might make mistakes and you might lose. When you make mistakes, you can either let it be or you can learn from it. I am saying this from experience: you will make mistakes. Everyone does! So, learn to be okay with losing, learn from it and try not to repeat them again.

The third trait is honesty. I have observed young people giving in to easier means and choosing short-cuts. But at the end of the day, your hard-work is what will make you. In the long run, your honest work is what will gain people’s respect and make you a leader and someone they look up to. 

My last advice is about self-worth, resilience and anti-fragility. Most young girls who start their leadership journey at a very young age face a lot of negativity. Young people have a lot of insecurities that might stop us from doing what we want. Instead of letting other people define us we need to work on ourselves. We need to be resilient and know how to take harsh words directed at us. And we need to be antifragile and turn the bad aspect into something that makes us stronger! Some days are ugly, you might want to cry or give up. But learn to get up because at the end of the day if you want it then you need to go get it.

Right! There are many challenges that you will face in your life. The only way to deal with challenges is to face it head on. And I think, something that helps (including the tips that you gave) is hearing encouraging words from people you look up to or seniors who have been there before you. It is always assuring to hear that everything is going to be okay, especially from female leaders. So, thanks for that! Talking about senior leaders, are you satisfied with the female participation in your field and in our community?

Brinda: There are two parts to this. As for my field, there are a lot of female leaders in my field who are doing splendid work. But our field has more female leaders because of its philanthropic nature, empathetic nature, or feminine qualities. A few aspects of this field like finance, development, politics and policies building tend to be male dominated. It is almost like we have given these jobs a gender. Like when we call medical helpers, nurses and flight attendants were called air hostesses. Opportunities should be equal for everyone rather than be discriminated against by gender. We should judge them by their skills and capabilities. Again, because women are discriminated against in more career paths, I am very happy that there are some fields that give them the opportunity to lead and become independent. Hence I am satisfied that our field has a lot of scope for women and has amazing women participation.

Coming to the female leadership in my community. People always ask women, “How will you manage both the office and house?” When a woman goes to the office she is still expected to come back home and do the housework. But a man will not be expected to contribute at home. An illustration of modern women where she has 10 arms with a briefcase in one hand, a child in another, crockery in one and brooms in another; glorifies women and their struggles. These unhealthy expectations from women are often the cause of lack of female leadership and that needs to change. Women need to speak up! So, I do not think that women leadership in my community is good. But I think that there is hope because of these young girls who are questioning these standards, taking charge of their life and becoming great leaders.

I agree. People just assume that superior and professional positions should go to men. Ironically, this deems true even in the fields that the society has labeled to be women’s area of expertise. Like a woman is expected to cook (at home), but most chefs are men. Teaching is considered to be a female dominated career, but the position of professors are mostly assigned to men. (Although things are changing) That is a very toxic double standard that you brought to light. And I am glad that you did, because most people stray away from this unfair treatment. Instead they glorify women’s sacrifice to be something great. It might seem like you are raising women up, but you’re only putting more pressure on them. 

In-spite of the toxic standards and sexism in the world, the one thing that keeps us going is the hope that things are changing. And they really are because young girls are questioning these norms and standing up for themselves! But what about young boys? How do you suggest boys and men play a role in female leadership?

Brinda: These standards have been prevailing because of a system that has been existing for generations. What we can do as a generation is to change things for the better. Once a little girl told me that she never knew that girls could become doctors until she met a real female doctor because doctors are illustrated to be men and women are shown to be nurses. Little children internalize whatever they observe so we need parents, teachers and elders to teach young girls and boys about females in leadership. 

My suggestion to young boys is to forget the concept of “being a man” and “being a gentleman”. There are many cases where men try to be gentlemen, giving suggestions to women when it is not needed, and they get upset when they lose. Young men need to ditch these wrong ideologies that they have about being a man and understand that when they compete against a female leader it should not be seen as a gender race. Patriarchy is not something that men do, but they are a part of it. I ask young men to treat us equally and fairly, be okay with competing, and not see it as something out of ordinary. Let’s slowly try to fade away from our gender biases.

I loved how you tried to explain it to the male audience especially when you said that patriarchy is not something they run, pointing out that it is toxic for men too. All we ask from them is to see women as their counterparts and not as inferior beings. Plus (like you said), let’s normalize losing to female leaders because it does not make you less of a man. It only means that she is slightly better than you, has worked harder and she deserves it! Now, moving on to something more personal, who or what is your biggest inspiration?

Brinda: When it comes to inspirations, I am very fortunate to have quite a few female role models in my life. But the one I look up to the most is my mother! I always say that she has a spine of an iron rod! She has been through so much, but every time I see her no matter what has happened she is fine. She is a professor with an M.Phil. degree which is huge especially in her time when women tend to face a lot of difficulties and give up on their dreams. My mother came to Nepal after marriage and it was a new place for her and she did not know the language. But she did not lose her confidence and  overcame the challenges because she loved teaching. As I grew up I admired her more and more. There were many challenges in her life but she always got right back up! She is the reason I suggested young girls to be resilient and antifragile. I have grown up with people like my mother and in a very nice family. I have been raised in a very gender-neutral way. My mother never let me feel less because I am a girl, nor did she let any man in her life or my life make us feel less capable. She always tells me: You can do what you like and be what you want just as long as you don’t hurt others, everything is fine. And that’s why she is my biggest inspiration.

Amazing. I think mothers are really important in creating strong female leaders. They are always supporting you. They are right beside you while you fight the messed-up system. Their support is one of the greatest things you can have in your leadership journey. 

We are reaching the end of this very exciting interview. Before we sign off, what is your advice to your fellow females? 

Brinda: I want to tell them what I tell myself every day. The first thing is to be confident and not be scared to speak up. You need to feel like you can do it in order to actually do it. Work on yourself and build yourself up. Never be scared of making mistakes because they are the primary source of learning. And be so competent that you can be known to the whole world through your work and achievements. Our society tries to define us by who we are. But when the right time comes it won’t be your age, your gender, your caste, your religion that makes you successful; it will be what you are doing, what you have done and what you will do. 

Thank you!

Thank you so much for such amazing words Ms. Brinda. I think the people who will read this interview will be really inspired by everything that you’ve said. Thank you for joining us and sharing your story with us! We are glad for leaders like you, we celebrate you and we wish you all the best for your future endeavors.

(The Interview was conducted on 24th of July 2021.)

About the Author:

aishwarya

Aishwarya Shrestha is a compassionate and curious individual with an opinion. She is a zealous and philanthropic individual with a passion for equality, literacy, liberty, justice and peace. She strives to be a part of a community that is dedicated to bringing kindness and change in the world. With experience in advocacy and leadership, she wants to be a part of conversation about the discrimination and injustices in the world. She has been a part of Youth Organizations that work to promote development and create a dialogue in their communities. As someone with a profound craving for knowledge, Aishwarya has a craving to learn new things. She is an avid reader and does not shy away from dramatic fiction. She is an enthusiastic writer. Writing is a form of advocacy for her. She uses her words to connect to the audience and voice her beliefs and try to analyze the social issues in the world.

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