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Abha Maryada Banerjee: Mental tools for women empowerment in workplace

Sebastian Partogi

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Mon, July 10, 2017  /  03:23 pm
Abha Maryada Banerjee: Mental tools for women empowerment in workplace

Abha Maryada Banerjee is a Jakarta-based business, leadership and personal development consultant who has spent the last 19 years in the field with a company she founded, called SUCCESS INDIA, which operates in India, Indonesia and Singapore. (JP/Arief Suhardiman)

In the past few years, there have been a number of business self-development books intended for women, providing advice on, among other things, how to break through the glass ceiling or have a work-life balance.

Two of the most well-known business books for women are Facebook chief operating officer (COO) Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead ( 2013 ) and — although met with cynicism and skepticism —Ivanka Trump’s Women Who Work: Rewriting the Rules for Success ( 2017 ).

It is interesting to note that both books, having received mixed reviews, are written by American women. Recently, a similar business book targeting women written by a rising Indian author and a businesswoman — seeking to provide an Asian context to the discussion — was published. The good news is that it has just been translated into Indonesian. 

The book is by Abha Maryada Banerjee, called Nucleus: Wanita Sukses yang Memimpin dari Hati (Nucleus: Successful Women Who Lead From the Core), published by PT Gramedia Pustaka Utama. Originally published in 2012, the book is now available in the Indonesian language, in addition to having been translated into Japanese, Spanish and Hindi.

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The book was translated into Indonesian by Dwi Ayu Ningrum and Ining Isaiyas, and edited by Mahardika. It has generated a positive response from Indonesian executives, including Pan Indonesia Bank deputy president Roosniati Salihin, who wrote an endorsement for the book, particularly referring to its practical exercises: “By combining self-development with important foundations of leadership […] her methodology will be very useful to empower and boost the talents of women around the world.”

The 50-year-old Abha herself is a Jakarta-based business, leadership and personal development consultant who has spent the last 19 years in the field with a company she founded, called SUCCESS INDIA, which operates in India, Indonesia and Singapore. Most of her clients are multinational companies, particularly technology companies and consumer goods producers.

Abha studied at the University of Delhi, India, with a specialization in commerce and law. She also obtained a certificate of coaching in human behavior change from the International Coaching Institute in the United States. She is currently working on her doctorate degree, also from the University of Delhi, India, on human development. 

Abha, the proud mother of her two children, moved to Indonesia in 2001.

Prior to switching to the people development field, she worked as a lawyer for 10 years.

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“The book attempts to motivate women to put themselves out there more and give them a push to contribute, not just to business but also to society. We try to devise a system where women can contribute in the best possible way by maximizing potential,” Banerjee told The Jakarta Post in a recent interview in her North Jakarta residence.

She said that the book also attempted to take into account the characteristics of Asian society, with its emphasis on community living, which could also make women hesitant to stand out from the crowd.

According to Banerjee, a woman’s right to maximize and live up to her best potential is severely limited by the sexist mental programming created by our gender-biased society, telling women that in order to be accepted, they have to behave in a certain way. 

This mental programming creates a double-edged sword; women tend to lack self-confidence in terms of their capacity in the workplace, preventing them to gain opportunities or promotions. But when they are perceived to act in an “unfeminine” manner by being “too aggressive” in pursuing their careers, they will also be negatively judged by others.

This mental programming is exactly what the book strives to break. It offers a number of tips on how to ignore people’s judgments and create our own rules; that we do not have to be friends with everybody. The book also aims to help women rationally overcome their desire for perfection, as the image of the “perfect woman” created by a patriarchal society is just fiction. It also encourages women to continuously up their ante in the professional world, to push their limits as high as possible.

Read also: Indonesian CEOs seek balanced life for family, careers

Abha said she had formulated the tips and tricks she presented in the book based on her more than two decades of professional experience and hearing stories from a lot of people.

“In April 2016, I was invited to speak at a seminar involving the Society of Women Engineers in India. All participants came from big companies, but they always came up with the same questions about not feeling confident or strong enough in the workplace. I was wondering, ‘they were already working at the best places, why were they still not confident?’” she said.

Apparently, gender-biased mental programming is the main reason why women are underplaying their competence and contribution in the workplace.

The issue seems to hit close to home for Abha. When she wrote the book in 2011, aside from being inspired by other female executives’ experiences, she also had one painful personal experience in mind. 

It happened when she was 16. During a school break, she was scolded by her teacher for being too boisterous for a girl and had her prefect badge taken away. The badge was eventually returned to her, but the incident had already left a mark.

“From there, it has always been my mission to help people reach their best potential, regardless of gender,” she said.

To help readers readjust their mindset and break away from society’s sexist programming, the book gives a number of exercises, including one that helps readers challenge prevailing stereotypes or myths about gender.

Pursuing your career, however, does not mean that you have to lose friends or earn enemies. Abha also gives a number of tips for maintaining a balance between professional achievements and social harmony.

“Speak in terms of knowledge and value that we bring to the table. Make it respectful. Treat people the way you want to be treated. Also, be good and be fair. If you don’t give people their fair share of credit or appreciation, they will be upset,” she said.