A bulk of the celebratory Women’s Day posts all over social media often gloss over real-life issues like pay parity, the glass ceiling or safety at the workplace. But being the unicorn we are, at Emeritus, we strive to lead by example. So, this Women’s History Month, we have made a conscious effort to stay away from such tokenism. What we bring to the milieu instead are conversations with inspirational female leaders in our organization. Emeritus presents: the female C-Suite leaders who are making waves with their work and impacting lives through education.
Meet Ashley Chiampo, Chief Learning Officer, Emeritus
In over six years at Emeritus, Chiampo has been passionate about creating learning environs to enable people to upgrade and improve their professional lives. One of the most inspirational female leaders, she has worked tirelessly to bring Ivy League academic experiences to a global audience and won’t stop until she makes the online learning experience as customized and close to real-life learning environments as possible!
Having been to Brown and MIT, she in no way takes her privilege of access to education lightly. “I have been super blessed with amazing educational experiences, and because of the opportunities that I’ve had, I am who I am today. I could have been a very different person if I didn’t have that first opportunity, which was at Brown University. Once I got there, I had a brand name and the rest became easier.” But her choices weren’t always that easy, and her thinking is not conventional by a stretch.
“Leadership is about taking control of your own life and making courageous decisions, as much as it is leading a team of people.”
Stepping away from the conventional approach to leadership, Chiampo says there were many leadership moments in her life, well before she was managing a team. But how does one lead without someone to follow? One of Emeritus’ finest, Chiampo responded with an anecdote from her days at MIT.
Having completed her undergraduate degree in History, Chiampo found she was really excited by the concept of product design. It led to her wanting to study mechanical engineering, which was an unusual choice for women then. She walked away from conversations with people disappointed, knowing her choice wouldn’t be popular. However, she applied and got through anyway! And studied at MIT to get her master’s degree in mechanical engineering going on to become one the most inspirational female leaders at Emeritus. Moral of the story? Leadership comes from leading the way on a less trodden path. People will follow your lead, you just haven’t met them yet!
“Learning is a two-way process; your peers or even your juniors can be mentors.”
One of the many things you should do as a (woman) leader is to nurture new talent or mentor someone. Typically, your mentor would be senior, with a longer career trajectory than yours. But Chiampo believes you can learn from anyone! It could be your peers at work or your women friends. And sometimes even those junior to her have helped with some reverse mentoring! If you keep an open mind to learning, you will find mentors all around you.
“Not all women face the glass ceiling. But some do, and it’s unfortunate.”
Ah, the proverbial glass ceiling – we always assume women leaders have broken this and want to know how. But Chiampo says, “Not all women face the glass ceiling.” That includes her experience at Emeritus. Was she lucky? Perhaps. But she does admit to hearing horror stories from or about other women who have. Her advice is to share experiences because awareness is the key to starting the conversation, and breaking the bias in any field.
The glass ceiling is a product of societal attitudes but the culture of your organization also has a big part to play. Find an organization that values you as a professional without taking your gender into account. For many across the world, this would be luxury. But working at one such organization, we assure you that it’s not an impossible feat.
“The women vs. women dynamic is a thing of the past. It made sense only when there were very few women in the workforce.”
How often have we heard that women are their own worst enemies? This applies to the workplace too, obviously. Chiampo believes there is a grain of truth to this, but this animosity is a thing of the past and here’s why. Even a decade back, the percentage of women in the workforce wasn’t as high as it is now. So when you were a lone woman who had to earn her place in a male-dominated workplace, the insecurity and animosity was understandable.
“Now, there are so many women across all roles and departments, that there is no longer a need to get possessive about your space. Everyone has a space they’ve earned. So support and encourage the women around you,” says Chiampo. When one succeeds, she opens up doors for others too. The more women leaders we have, this myth of women bringing down women will disappear too.
“The concept of work-life balance changes with geographies.”
We couldn’t wrap up our discussion with her without picking her brain about something that concerns us all, irrespective of gender: work-life balance. As you might have figured by now, Ashley’s response was as novel as she is! And she did answer with an anecdote again.
Ashley and husband moved their family with two young children to India 14 years back. They did not have any roots (or jobs for that matter) in India but were driven simply by a burning desire for adventure that came with working in a developing economy. Some of the things that struck her were the long hours and the six-day work week, which can be very hard on parents of young children.
This prompted her to actually start her own company so that she might find her work-life balance! As an inspirational female leader, she believes that balance has to come from within and not externally. So you must pick organizations and work cultures that resonate with your personal definition of work-life balance and have family-friendly policies, if that’s your priority.
Watch this space for more conversations with inspirational female leaders like Ashley Chiampo!
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By Anwesha Barari