November 26, 2014 — At a recent women’s leadership conference in Mumbai, Shrila Sarkar, who consults for Catalyst India WRC, had the opportunity to meet some incredible activists and role models who are making bold moves that forge meaningful change for women and men in the workplace—and the world! Shrila introduces you to one such person below, as part of Catalyst’s new #DisruptTheDefault campaign. Each and every one of us has the power to #DisruptTheDefault and change the way we think and act, and to challenge others to do the same.
“Women are treated differently. “It is strange how this one statement is expressed and experienced by women and men over and over again, generation after generation. It is time to move forward from simply saying, “Women are treated differently,” to asking, “How can we change this?”
Great leaders are those who will motivate us to take action, to #DisruptTheDefault. Recently at the VMware Leading Women Conference 2014, in Mumbai, India, I met such a person: Dr. Kiran Bedi, an Indian social activist and a retired Indian Police Service (IPS) officer. At the event, Dr. Bedi spoke about the various barriers she faced in her life and career and how she fought through every one of them with courage and determination.
Here are three lessons we can learn from her:
Break the unconscious gender divide
Kiran Bedi was compassionate about uplifting society starting from her younger days. She decided to realize her dream by joining the Indian Police Force. Her role models are her parents, who made sacrifices at every stage so that she could make a place for herself in a male-dominated society. Working in the police force is one of the most challenging careers that one can have. It includes passing an extremely difficult selection process and undergoing extensive training. Although India did not have any laws restricting women from entering the police force, there weren’t any enrolled, probably because no one thought it possible. Kiran Bedi disrupted the status quo by becoming the first woman in the Indian Police Service in 1972. What drove her to her goal were three factors: self-respect, self-esteem, and a strong support system.
Be innovative in your approach
One of the career stories she shared with us took place when she was posted in the Traffic Police Department during the early years of her service. She was given the responsibility of organizing and planning for daily traffic arrangements during the 9th Asian Games in India’s capital, New Delhi. As she was new to the city, she faced the major challenge of not knowing how to navigate the serpentine roads of the capital. In addition, she had a limited police force available to manage the Asian Games traffic. So she went on daily traffic rounds in her car, using a microphone to give traffic instructions and insisting that the vehicles on the road observe traffic rules! She deployed a large number of cranes to pick up illegally parked vehicles. In the process of managing the traffic perfectly, “Crane Bedi,” as she was nicknamed, did not even spare the Indian Prime Minister’s car, which she had towed when it was parked in a no-parking zone!
Get rid of unwritten rules
Stand up for what is rightfully yours. In 1975, Kiran Bedi was working as the Assistant Superintendent of Police. In India, it is a given that officers in this post would lead their contingent during the Republic Day parade. However, her superiors assumed that she would not be able to do this since it required rigorous and intense training. Not one to be kept down, she approached them and insisted that she could do it, which she proved on the day of the parade. This not only brought pride to the nation, but also showed that a woman can rise to any occasion if she puts her mind to it.
These are the kinds of feats that inspired each one of us in the audience that day. While we witness prejudice in word or action, only a few of us do anything about it. Let us take inspiration from people such as Kiran Bedi who have overcome gender barriers and disrupted the default.