Skip to content

Women in Leadership

April 3, 2009

I had answered on LinkedIn, quite a few weeks ago, a question about Women in the workplace. Thought Iwould share it here.

The Question

Girls, girls, girls

The Superwoman (along with Batwoman and Superl...
Image via Wikipedia

Since time immemorial there’s been a debate about why women are not in leadership positions. I just answered a question but thought I’d like to throw this into the debate. It’d be great not to add why you don’t think it doesn’t happen because that just keeps the status quo the way it is. Rather, let’s change things. If you a woman and want to get into leadership then what are you going to do about it? Take charge and blame no one. And if you’re in business, how are you going to get quality, brilliant women into your workplace at senior levels so that the ratio is equal to men?

My response to a question about women and leadership.

From my experience it’s got nothing to do with management models. Its women themselves. Many lack the courage to do what th

ey really want to and they believe the rhetoric they hear. That’s sad. And then worst of all then this all gets regurgitated and men are blamed. We girls have to stand up and be counted and know that we can do it, that it is hard work and not whinge (even a little bit) because we are the only ones who can change things. And MOST of all we have to stop blaming other things for the percentage of women being in leadership positions.

My Answer:

I have dealt with this issue both, in India and abroad, about women having equal positions in key leadership roles and here’s my take.

Several times, I have seen organizations do the math, and figure out that they have x% women in frontlines, sub-x% in management ranks and way below x% in the leadership team, and then wonder why this is so.

I think the issues are a little larger than just numbers.

I am largely going to speak about the Indian context because that’s where I have practiced the most, however, some of it may apply to other contexts as well.

Most Leadership team members are about 40+ years of age, which means they would have passed out of college about 20 years ago. 20 years ago, the %age of women who graduated out of MBA colleges and engineering colleges, in India, was miniscule. So the pool of women from which one can draw, for leadership positions is itself very small.

The large number of wom

ST. PAUL, MN - SEPTEMBER 03:  Carly Fiorina, a...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

en in frontline positions in India is a recent (decade old) phenomenon and we should see some impact of this, in terms of higher numbers of women in leadership positions in about 5-10 years’ time.

2 of India’s banks have the largest number of women in senior leadership positions. Not surprising, since banking was a career that most women were encouraged to take up back in the 70s and 80s. So was teaching and hence no surprises that a lot of principals and heads of department are women.

So first off, I believe we must recognize, the importance of the input factor in terms of numbers.

Second, even in organizations where there is a stated intent for a ge

superwoman...and her magical violin
Image by Yves. via Flickr
Indra Nooyi - World Economic Forum Annual Meet...
Image by World Economic Forum via Flickr

nder balanced workforce, there are unconscious filters at play. The old boy network, selection of people who’re like me, gender biases, are all at play

. I have yet to come across an organization where the promotion committee has a defined process to “watch-out” for these blocks, in order to ensure ge

nder balance.

Next, women have to stop behaving like victims,but at the same time, not get into either persecutor mode or I’ll match you mode. The whole argument for diversity gets defeated, when women start playing the game the way men do, and start adopting the same rules.

I have several times come across strong women, who have grown up the hierarchy, only to realize that they have acquired the traits of men. I am extremely saddened when I see this (and I see it quite often).

It is indicative of a failure of the

Benazir Bhutto, the Prime Minister of Pakistan...
Image via Wikipedia

system. A system which espouses the cause of women but continues to reward masculine behaviours, as a result leaving little choice for women, but to adopt those behaviours, if they are to succeed. This leading to a complete negation to the unique flavour that women bring to the workplace, and thereby nullifying the advantages of that diversity.

Somewhere,there have to be collective dialogs between men and women about how the workplace can be gender balanced, not in terms of numbers (which seems to be the current focus) but in terms of systems, processes, reward mechanisms, facilitative mechanisms for women and men, in terms of organization culture.

I appreciate what you say about women will have to stop whining and stand up to the challenge, and I see a lot of that happening, however they cannot win this journey alone. Men have to be included in it, and change decisions and journeys have to be taken together.Kristin Wells

As long as macho workplaces continue, women will have no choice but to toughen up and become pseudo-men. That serves nobody. And women who comply get labelled as bitches (pardon the french) and the ones who don’t get labeled as wimps and cry-babies.

I have met a number of women, who don’t hire women into their teams because women will get pregnant, because they’re too emotional and can’t handle stress/pressure. And that’s another issue!

The last time I had a dialog with an organization, we realized that women face different challenges from men. And we identified 2 clear inflection points in a woman’s life (which might be more socially relevant to India) which lead to a drop-out from work/career.

1. When they get married (especially if they’re living in a joint-family), the pressure on the woman to manage home, the expectations of the in-laws, husband and work, make it extremely difficult. Nothing changes for the man. But for the woman, she suddenly has to do that much more in the same 24 hours day. Can we set up counselling for the woman and he husband to be, so that this can be discussed, and ways found for both of them, to help the woman manage more easily, this transition, and for the husband to share the load?

2.Motherhood. Similar to above, the woman’s world changes when she becomes a mother. And it’s more than just time. The emotional bond to the child and the internal conflict about giving time to the child while at the same time having to focus on her career.Once again,counselling at this stage would be very valuable and would help a woman deal with it much better.

It is in such directions that we must apply ourselves. Affirmative action, reservations, mandatory enforcement of gender balance. Will only lead to enforced compliance and not a change in attitude, spirit and culture.

So what are your thoughts? I would love to know.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]
18 Comments leave one →
  1. April 1, 2010 5:37 pm

    I think that women have equal rights with men in terms of being a leader. They should get the same rights, many in the debate on this issue, both in social matters and in matters of religion (Islam) and myself agree with the statement that women have the right to become a leader

    • gurprrietsiingh permalink*
      April 8, 2010 2:48 pm

      Right aside, I personally believe that women bring far higher levels of competency of Leadership skills when it comes to certain contexts.
      And we must appreciate that and ensure we leverage it!

  2. April 9, 2009 9:01 pm

    Many great points in here. I’ll summarise my thoughts
    a) I wonder if we’re constraining the context of leadership? From these posts it looks like we’re referring to organisations. I can see a very different view if I look locally and internationally and the leaderhip role many women have in leading large scale change efforts. Maybe women can use their natural talents to leverage leadership in ways beyond the regular hierarchical structures of organisations.

    b) Maybe it is not about the women but about the culture in organisations. I keep thinking about the banking problems and the various discussions about the problems arising from “testosterone-fuelled” activities. Maybe it is about what organisations value – those that want and value co-operativeness may find they have more female senior leaders

    c) I work with healthcvare and interesting there are loads of women leaders and CEOs. So to some extent I don’t see the problem. These are major posts with big money and huge responsibilities

    d) I am a fan of collaborative leadership and maybe this is because it is something that fits my brain rather than the individualistic charasmatic type frameworks which seem a bit over the top for me.

    Finally – why did I leave a senior mgt / leadership position in a multi-national company? By my late 30’s I really couldn’t be bothered with the bureacracy and internal politics. I wanted to do more with my life, even if it was on 25% of my salary. I wonder if that is a theme?

  3. April 6, 2009 8:42 pm

    Thanks for initiating this discussion Gurprriet, brings out valuable insights from various people.

    My take on this is more related to ‘personal beliefs, behaviors’ first as what we are as a person reflects much on the professional front. I admire my mother a lot because of her strength and conviction, but at times I’ve seen her making statements like ‘I can’t do this and it’s not easy for women and you won’t understand that’. This makes me wonder why wouldn’t I be able to understand myself being a woman!! Is funny as well!! This is where she stops and doesn’t even take the first step to BE THE CHANGE.

    Yes we women can owe it to our social conditioning and parenting at times but we HAVE TO TAKE THE STEPS even if those are very simple ones like initiating open communication [and suggestions] with our family members or even with our peers and managers at work. We’ve to begin. No doubt, it is not easy as communication is two way and what you’re trying to share/suggest may not hit the right chord with the other person as his external influences will also come in to being there and this is where the broader decisions and discussions on systems, policies, processes can really help.

    Does action stem for ignorance or lack of awareness? No! So lets involve more of men and women in such discussions, spreading more awareness amongst both the genders, beginning right from our own homes. Be hopeful that the transition will happen.

    Now that makes me ponder – How to handle the denial of existence of biasing behaviors, policies, impacts of systems and procedures in place in organizations? Gives me some home work tonight!

  4. Shaliya permalink
    April 6, 2009 11:53 am

    While I agree that years of social conditioning somehow inhibit Eastern men to contribute substantially on domestic front, but that seem to be changing. I have observed that our men have evolved to be more sensitive as human beings, and have begun to accept the changing social scenarios. But again, what is the percentage? Minuscule really.
    At the same time, I couldn’t agree more with Anne. Women by nature are more complex beings, and the complexity is actually because of the constant internal push-and-pull between ‘who should she be’ and ‘who she is’. It’s not the expectations from others that kill women, but it’s her expectations from self. Once she accepts that the core social dynamics based on evolution or early men days is irrelevant now, she is perhaps closer to freeing herself from the ‘who should she be’ pull.
    And it’s important that men, organizations, and society overall evolve and adjust in parallel. The lack of attunement to each other’s evolution is bound to bring unhealthy equations. Leadership is basically a human quality, and is independent of one’s sex. Simone de Beauvoir said, “Man is defined as a human being and a woman as a female – whenever she behaves as a human being she is said to imitate the male”. We should perhaps stop counting why less women leaders, stop encouraging women quotas, and just let women be humans. We all know that women started late, so we are not going to see them ruling overnight. Yes, it will take time but you will see more of them 10 years down the lane. Nothing emerges without any gestation period after all.

    • gurprrietsiingh permalink*
      April 7, 2009 10:37 am

      Thanks Shaliya, that was enlightening. Especially “It’s not the expectations from others that kill women, but it’s her expectations from self.”

    • Rachna permalink
      June 2, 2009 12:08 pm

      Its all about BEING YOURSELF & be human beings. If we stop being manipulative & pretentious and start expressing our natural traits in its true form, we definitely become close to what we are discussing here. Every individual’s characteristics are well defined & pre-designed in their GENES itself, environment & training plays a formative role in making these traits express through behaviours. If we as human beings, male or female, be true to ourselves and use our knowledge & skills to the best of our ability and keep pushing our limits, excelling in whatever we do best, can easily naturally show our ability as a leader and the leadership quality we have inculcated. Till now, we were talking about behaviours which should have been ideally & naturally should be but SOCIETY didn’t grew this way and thus the picture now is very very complex, there are various known and unknown & controlled and uncontrolled forces which cultivates today’s human behavours. And yes, it will take years to rectify and resurrect proper social structure and system where male and female will be just gender names, like vital statistics. Then gender based topics such as “Women in Leadership’ will be obsolete. Lets pray & promise to be most natural of oursleves and express ourselves fully. Thanks!

      • gurprrietsiingh permalink*
        June 2, 2009 12:39 pm

        Well said Rachna!

  5. April 5, 2009 10:12 pm

    I completely agree that very few women are in senior leadership positions today because the number of women who entered the workforce two to three decades ago, and who lasted these many years, is relatively less. Hopefully, with more and more women taking up jobs, this will change in the years to come.

    Yes, organizations do need to change their perspective on hiring women or promoting women somewhat, and women themselves need to start thinking of themselves as equal to men as well. But as I’ve said earlier, and I’ll no doubt say it again, there is also the fact that unless women have a support system outside of the organization, be it in terms of family, friends, or whatever, which allows them to work as earnestly and dedicatedly as men can, they will not be able to give their jobs 100%. And that remains the biggest challenge a lot of women I know still face.

    • gurprrietsiingh permalink*
      April 7, 2009 10:39 am

      I think the primary support system is the spouse or significant partner. And unless that kicks in, things won’t change much. Women will be under tremendous strain to manage EQUALLY, both their roles, as home-makers and as working professionals.

  6. April 4, 2009 6:24 pm

    2009 April 4
    chhavi permalink

    Your addenda are important. I shan’t comment on the line “they have acquired the traits of men. I am extremely saddened when I see this.”
    I will, however, grant that there are basic differences in they way we have to function based on biology. What men AND women in the heirarchy can do is understand that a sort of affirmative action is necessary. Give a woman enough trust with a little boost, and she will repay the company with more.
    Work in flex-hours, allow people to work from home, offer good benefits, start shared creches for offices in one building or block, offer *men* paid paternity leave so they can take the burden off the all-in-one woman. There’s so much that needs to be done to right the imbalance. But your post is a vcry, very good start 🙂 Understanding the problem is the first step, yes?

    • gurprrietsiingh permalink*
      April 6, 2009 10:16 am

      My take is,even if a man is given paternity leave (especially in India) are indian men equipped to share the load equally? Like a lot of men in the West do.

      Our men are so steeped in tradition, that they have strong assumptions about what is a man’s role in the home versus what is a woman’s. At the same time, while they have adjusted to women being equal in the workplace, a similar adjustment, viz. men and women are equal at home, has yet to happen. The primary role models of a wife, which men have, is their mothers, who’ve been extremely unequal, and men expect the same from their wives today.

      This is part of the reason there is a higher divorce rate in urban families today.

      Thanks for the comment Chhavi!

  7. April 3, 2009 7:42 pm

    You mention something significant when you talk about a ‘system which espouses the cause of women but continues to reward masculine behaviours, as a result leaving little choice for women, but to adopt those behaviours, if they are to succeed’.

    The hierarchical nature of organizations, as opposed to the networked nature of communities, has encouraged this.

    On a psychological level, the animus and anima that each human possesses, whether male or female, operate entirely differently and with marked differences between them in terms of tempo. As a businesswoman, my observation is the pace of business is often simply not conducive to the slow change that the anima and the feminine is more attuned to, hence the rise of the alpha female archteype – the alpha female creates competency but is not entirely comfortable to live with.

    The adjustment that one must make as a female in business transitioning back into the role of homemaker at the end of the day puts challenges into the equation that men simply do not tend to face. It’s an adjustment that takes time and isn’t an instant switch.

    Men don’t switch the focus of their love throughout life and are pair-bonded with women throughout whilst women, by comparison, transition from an initial female bond as the primary love bond to the male bond as they mature. There is more complexity within the female psyche around bonding and connectivity. Making the transition between the male domains of work and the female domain of the home is an also an exclusively female challenge and a dimension on the challenges of women in leadership that’s worth considering.

    The female psyche, as protective and nurturing in essence, is attuned to consensual management in business and corporate sensitivity. This can create vulnerability and perceptions of weakness at a leadership level.

    The good news is that communities that are effectively self-organizing require quite different leadership constructs compared to the conventional leadership models we’ve been used to. This shift takes leadership from being a linear, and line management, pursuit to much more of a scalar activity.

    Social networking and social influence marketing is encouraging leadership from within, across all elements of a community and organization. This is something that plays more readily to the feminine archetypal behaviours that one could argue traditional businesses frameworks have tended to discriminate against.

    • gurprrietsiingh permalink*
      April 3, 2009 11:36 pm


      I held my breath as I read some of your statements. Thank you for reading through, a slightly long post, and then adding so much value!

      You opened up something new for me today, the challenge faced by women as they transition from the male dominion of work to the female dominion of home. Being a man, this is something I have not been privy to and is the first time I have heard it discussed. This is significant. I will reflect on this and in my work with organizations, find a way to weave this thought in, so we can find ways to address it.

      Also, I think the way the world in general and management (although much slower) is moving toward a more consensual, collaborative process, women have a unique advantage to be able to lead in such scenarios.

      I owe you for this one. Serious!

  8. April 3, 2009 2:49 pm

    thought i saw something very similar posted by you on Linkedin Q&A 🙂

    • gurprrietsiingh permalink*
      April 3, 2009 2:55 pm

      Yup. Cut and pasted it here for a larger audience. I think I mentioned that on the first line, let me check!

      • April 7, 2009 8:38 am

        interesting comments – I agree that organizations and men continue to perpetuate stereotypes to a large extent… However change will come – and progressive organizations that are by nature more collaborative, networked and less hierarchical will see women leaders in large numbers in the future…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: