Quarterly Journal on Management
From the publishers of THE HINDU BUSINESS LINE
Vol. 2 :: Iss. 4 :: November 1999
The mirror has two faces
What do women want? This had been puzzling men for a long time, and by the looks of it, will puzzle future generations as well. The more pertinent question for the issue at hand, "Women in Management" is, "What do women do?" What makes women managers tick?
Almost all questions regarding gender differences have answers that start off with " you know, it was a patriarchal society in the beginning...", or "from the earliest stages of human development, power has concentrated in the hands of the man...", or "women have been conditioned to be submissive by the environment...", or, even "women are weaker physically, and therefore...".
And most proponents of more women in management start by talking about the qualities women bring to the workplace that makes them better managers: Imagination, Intuition, Inventive-ness, Innovation, and Involve-ment. The immediate response from any rational manager, whether man or woman, is: those are qualities that any manager would have to possess to succeed. Any manager would have to possess these qualities to be a good manager, and to succeed. Where is the difference then?
The difference lies in the fact that women bring in a freshness of thought to the workplace. This is the kind of freshness of thought that a new and talented recruit would bring in to a creative organisation. The edge that women have in their original approach is brought about by the very reason why they were referred to as the "weaker sex" till recently. Kiran Mazumdar- Shaw, CEO, Biocon, insists that this freshness of thought is the quality that makes her prefer women candidates for any vacant position in her company.
There is no other way to manage work in the home other than by exhibiting the very qualities that are touted as the difference they bring in to the workplace.Genera-tions of managing the extremely complex operations at home within a given budget, and in an extremely emotionally charged environment have paid off in terms of their being able to make a difference at business.
Given that the edge that women usher in a new way of looking at problems and solutions at the workplace, why is it that we still don't see too many women at the workplace? Why is it that too many HR managers turn down women because they are women? Why is it that women managers and women CEOs sometimes wash their hands off women candidates?
Readers will find a lot of references to "double bind" in many articles in this issue of Praxis, and the answer to the earlier questions raised above is also a sort of double bind. The same environment that provides women the edge at the workplace - the family - also proves to be the undoing of many of them as good managers. Mazumdar-Shaw is one CEO who complains that women recruits are a difficult lot in the workplace: the company spends a lot of time, effort, and money on training and other facilities for women, and quite a few of them leave as soon as they get married or after they have a child. By exhibiting this "unreliable" behaviour, a lot of women make it difficult for others to get into management, and develop into good professionals.
Apart from skills for the workplace, women also bring with them a special quality to the negotiating table. Sangita Singh, Head - Sales, E-commerce solutions division, Wipro, says that the fact that she is a woman is an advantage in itself. For instance, she is able to get a meeting with a prospective client when a male colleague cannot wangle one. Also, she says that clients are more polite to her, and are, at the least, willing to listen to her. This is again very peculiar in our society because the reason why a woman is "the weaker sex" is also the reason why she is powerful at the negotiating table.
Now, back to the original question: What do women want? First, women, especially married women, want support from their family. Both Mazumdar-Shaw and Singh hold to it that family support matters a lot. Mazumdar-Shaw's husband quit his job so that he could help his wife with her venture. Second, women have to be encouraged by their managers in the workplace, and more women need to be given a chance to shape themselves up as professionals. Third, working women need to be shown more understanding by society, and this is already happening.
What of the future? The imbalance that exists today, the inequality that both men and women perceive is already fast disappearing. More women opting for and performing well in higher education and in professional courses should help. The shift from the industrialised age to the knowledge age will further bring down differences. For instance, a woman need not quit her job because she has a baby; she can continue to work, from home. With the internet allowing new businesses to come up virtually everyday, where it is one's ideas that matter and not presence, women will no longer have to worry about their traditional role impeding their career.
We can only hope that the future brings us all equal opportunities to compete and excel at our chosen fields. Excellence is purely a matter of merit and talent: there are no short-cuts here. In the new forces that we see shaping our world, we also see recognition of excellence as the main driver of performance, and that should definitely place all managers on an even keel.