With the case for a greater diversity becoming compelling, a significant amount of advanced study has indicated correlations between highly diverse organizations and the competitive advantage they offer. There is an increased focus on gender diversity that emphasizes the need for representing women at all levels. Many of the studies indicating the advantageous leadership qualities that women bring to the table such as being great crisis managers, turnaround experts, culturally sensitive, etc. This advantage has, strategically, been converted into a need for the future growth of organizations and has subsequently, trickled down from the institutional to the grassroots levels. This is apparent through the awareness that most young women display through the choices they assert during their career development process.
As we browse some success stories of experienced career women as well as inspiring stories of some younger graduates, we come across a significant number who have increasingly started citing the need for greater diversity in underrepresented industries such as technology or pure sciences. One might notice an almost forceful justification tone offered at many instances as an inspirational element in almost all these stories. There is an underlying justification that states- “there are so many female users in the market and we need to have women workers across industries to cater to that user base”.
From my perspective, this becomes a critical departure point, in what I would term as a potential “Identity Crisis” that we women face at multiple points of our career development- right from making the choice of career to major turning points along the course.
I try to look back at my journey of being an architect and having worked in the industry for over 10 years and draw some notes from the varied experiences & ideals that I encountered & nurtured as a part of growing up within the community. I discovered my passion toward the built form during my formative years in high school. Growing up within the architectural community, we often tend to choose role models. When I was an architecture student, I was instinctively drawn towards Dame Zaha Hadid as my role model. Needless to say, I still continue to be inspired by her work and the legacy she has left.
One of the most memorable moments for me was my visit to the Guggenheim museum, in New York City, back in 2006. The museum was showcasing all of Zaha’s work- right from her early days AvantGarde paintings to her highly acclaimed Deconstructivism design conceptual sketches, right to the very end of the museum spiral with her unique sculptural product design prototypes, exuding that trophy-like attitude, as we closed in on our museum walk. That one captivating walk, through the
famous spiral ramp of Guggenheim, highlighted her inspiring journey, from being dismissed as a Paper Tiger to emerging into a space and a state where she then went on to get commissioned for million dollar projects across the globe. She was the first woman architect to win the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2004 and ultimately went on to earn the title and honour of Dame (officially Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire).
Her journey was undeniably filled with many challenges- that of being a woman, of Arab descent, in a fiercely male dominated industry, possessing radical design ideas made even more difficult by the inevitable inherent challenges of the design and construction industry. Yes, she did fight many battles, overcame a multitude of challenges, but with a high degree of conviction- that of being
She was able to become “Zaha” because she chose to be herself. Imagine, how limiting it would have been if she had chosen to embrace a more commercially beaten down path or had chosen to justify her existence in the field by wanting to design only for women or for what people would otherwise expect a woman to end up designing??! Today her work is admired and studied all over by millions.
Most importantly, this tangible magic as I would like to call it, is being seen, felt, touched and even used by millions, as we speak.
Although Zaha is no more with us, she has left behind a legacy of work that continues to inspire many. Just like the many obscure perspective points of her Avant-Garde paintings that burst out into sweeping bold forms and colours; so did the “The Queen of the Curve”, who chose conviction over convention. Her journey is truly inspirational and all-consuming in a sense because it transcends the borders- of gender & age, of culture & geographies, of technological advances & limitations, of conventional failures & successes.
If only we can draw a leaf out of this incredible journey and make a note to ourselves that we need to start looking inwards to seek our true identity. The efforts to seek justifications for finding an
identity within the society should cease! The endeavour should be that of finding an identity within the self. An identity that is not limiting to the world of making a career or breaking the glass ceiling, but something that touches the other realms of our being.
Yes, we all have to fight. Some of us have to fight many battles, some have to compromise, while some have to face challenges and some have to overcome mountains! But nothing can stop us from being an inspiration to someone, just through the ability to influence positive outcomes, in whatever capacity; be it- as a leader, as a sister, as a manager, as a mother, as a friend, as a mentor…..
My mind wanders to a space that is free from the shackles of justifications and nurtures earnest attempts of finding a true self and is filled with the reverberations of this beautiful quote by Nobel Laureate, Bob Dylan, “…..what else can you do for anyone but inspire them?”
Let’s just embrace this!!
Namita Muzumdar is an Architect with expertise in Design & Real estat @Mumbai