“To be a Leader takes a lot more than education and experience ”


Born in the city of Calcutta to British parents, Jillian Haslam faced a bruising childhood of extreme poverty, malnutrition & disease. She lived through the deaths of four siblings from starvation and found success against impossible odds. Her story is in the process of being turned into a Hollywood film. Today, Jillian Haslam is a corporate and motivational trainer conducting Personal Growth Workshops with a motto of Helping ordinary people to do extra-ordinary. She works tirelessly for The Remedia Trust  of which she is a Trustee which helps Children, Youths, the Aged, the Disabled, and Women in Need, through raising funds and interacting with social and government organizations, doctors and volunteers.

Why are there so few women in corporate leadership?

To be a Leader takes a lot more than education and experience (in a given industry), it takes self-confidence and at some level “an iron will” to be able to lead successfully. Many men today call themselves Leaders but very few really are. If you have attended the training or watched the video put out by the Harvard University “Why should anyone be lead by you”, you will know exactly what I mean. In my career of more than 20 years in the banking/corporate sector, I came across many with big titles, huge salaries, corner offices and who loved the idea of being called Leaders but they really didn’t possess the ability or the leadership skills in order to truly lead and to be respected or looked upon as “Leaders”. They were Managers or Bosses but not Leaders. Many are sent for leadership trainings and are given leadership positions but that does not necessarily turn a person into a True Leader. I have worked with high powered women who were true leaders in every sense of the word and they came complete with education, ethics, values, empathy and all leadership qualities intact. So while many may be in high powered jobs, they are not necessarily Leaders. The question should be – why are there more men in high powered positions or high earning positions than women. That again is down to several factors (1) self-confidence & the ability to make difficult decisions without caring about the next person. While many women have this quality, majority lack the same and will most often look to be considerate, kind, thoughtful and far from brutal when it comes to business (2) Women have a role in life as a mother too and hence most women focus on work and home and family while men only need to focus on their careers, obviously we get more of what we focus on and hence they are able to donate much more time to their work, to commit to their careers and get ahead while women have very many life-style decisions to consider, some get in the way of their marriages too and that leads to them abandoning a promotion in order to focus on family needs instead (3) Men have an overwhelming need to compete with the similar sex. So, from an ego perspective, this is vital to a man and hence he will do almost anything in order to progress. Whereas, for a woman, having a good job and maintaining family life is equally important. The modern generation is slowly changing though with women becoming more ambitious, with more & more men now staying home and opting to take over family responsibilities while women go out and use their education and their skills without having to worry about the family.  It’s slowly becoming more of a partnership of love and understanding rather than I’m better than you and because you are a woman, there is no way you can earn more than me or because I am a man, there is no way, I can stay home while you go out to work. I think everything boils down to peace of mind and once a woman can come to work knowing that her family is safe and sound and a man can stay home with complete trust in his partner, it’s here that equality takes over. She can then be the best that she ever was and again, it’s when this kind of equality comes into the workplace that men will slowly notice that if it isn’t a stigma for men to stay home and be domesticated, it shouldn’t be a stigma to be a woman’s equal in the workplace either.

Women are perceived as being more emotional and family-oriented .Is the stereotyping of women as not being shrewd or aggressive enough a detriment to their career growth?
There are very many factors that need to be considered. Sometimes a woman is tied down by society, by family, by her own needs as a woman and in a corporate environment promotions are most often given to those who are constantly around, those who are not afraid to be aggressive or brutal in business, sometimes it even boils down to those who can socialise late, wine and dine clients, travel extensively and speak the same language i.e. man-to-man. Many women today can do just that and can sometimes do it better than men but in general, this just does not happen to a majority. Women are emotional, less aggressive, they need to start families, take care of their offspring, they are unable to stay out late on a regular basis or to travel extensively without being looked down upon by others or without worrying about their loved ones. Many women till this day have the desire to be mothers and with that comes a certain empathy, not to mention their focus being totally shifted or divided and hence the reason why men get to the top faster. They are able to do a lot more than women in the workplace (in general) similar to the amount that women are able to do at home by way of multi-tasking etc. I have worked with many high powered women and most of them were paid the same as men, I worked with man whose husband’s stayed home that gave them the ability to pursue their careers but that is because there is equality, an understanding that the best person with the best chances to earn more, must be the one to go out and become the bread earner. While it is very hard for a woman to survive at that level, it is equally hard for a man to have to convince himself that he needs to do what has to be done for his family. This is strength, this is equality and this is what the world is slowly coming to.

Many reports have revealed women do not feel they have the opportunity in their current role to sufficiently promote themselves and communicate their ambitions, compared to men. Does this surprise you?
Not at all. In my career, I have always seen women rise to the top, women who think differently and women who are true leaders, who are well respected by one and all. However, I have seen instances when there is an issue or a disagreement at work, a woman may sometimes resort to the fact that she is a woman and hence being discriminated upon and Bosses find it increasingly difficult to (a) deal with the matter and (b) to approach such a sensitive situation. So, men usually take the easiest way out and that is to go with the person who makes the least amount of trouble and most often that is the man. He makes life easy and in an already stressful environment, people want to lessen their loads and not add to it so, sometimes decisions are made and the woman feels hard done by.

Having said that men tend to favour men, their friends, their mates, their drinking buddy’s and in an organisation there are only so many whom you can promote, you can pay for to attend executive/management trainings etc and most often they want the ones closest to them to get the best so that (a) they will remain with them and (b) they will deliver. So, after going through an objective setting session and taking time to list ones needs and career goals etc., it is a bit hard to understand why a few are selected and given the best while others aren’t. I know many men who feel this way too and not just women but women are always looked upon as being weaker sometimes or someone who will take the training and then go away for a year on maternity leave or in some cases cannot meet all of the requirements that a man can, so, when it comes down to a decision combined with a scarcity of resources, it boils down to the one who deliver or the one who is liked or the one who is a pillar in whatever way that may be. I remember being just an Executive secretary at one point in time and an Office Manager for four floors of employees in a bank but I was paid more than the top Sales person in the organisation and that was not because I was a woman or a man, it was only because it boiled down to me being able to provide the most value on a day-to-day basis. There are other instances too but that varies on a person-to-person basis and that is something than no one can really and truly change. it boils down to several factors, human relationships, human behaviour and the ability to rise to a level where you leave them no option but to give you what you want in order to make you stay.

Have you encountered any gender specific challenges or obstacles in your career?
Never and I have only ever worked for multi-national banks but there is evidence that these issues do exist.

Do you have any advice for female professionals who are in, or are looking to work in, a management or leadership role?

Understand the learnings behind the Harvard study “Why should anyone be led by you”. I think there is a general mindset that once you reach a certain level and you have people reporting into you, you automatically become a leader. This isn’t the case at all. Leadership qualities can be learned and some of the best leaders that the world has ever produced have been those who have stood out with exceptionally qualities and not just by their education, experience or titles. Respect is what comes to mind when you think of some of the greatest leaders of our time. In my experience, working hard is one thing but getting people to respect you is another. However, once they do, nothing can change that and you then become a “Leader for Life”. There are dozens of CEO’s who are not even recognised by their staff, leave alone being respected and yet there are middle or senior managers who can resign and take an entire department with them when they leave. This breathes trust, respect and loyalty (the three keys to becoming top management material and a person who can be admired and called a True Leader in every sense of the word and feel it too!!