Vol 02 Iss 04
Praxis Logo
Quarterly Journal on Management
From the publishers of THE HINDU BUSINESS LINE

Vol. 2 :: Iss. 4 :: November 1999

The New World

Sangeeta Mansur

WOMEN IN MANAGEMENT is a tale of two worlds - one Western and the other Eastern. Two worlds that have different cultural contexts and yet share common experience and also share an agenda for an evolution in Management now. Corporations were created by men, for men; and to start with, women had 'no business' to be in business.

But since World War II, the Western world has thrown more doors open to women in the labour market in all professions. This included management as well, since the management model shifted from the Military model to one focusing on 'leadership'.

In the West, primarily led by the US, and closely followed by Northern Europe, statistics show how women have increasingly flooded the job market and have now reached a critical mass in the range of 30 to 50 per cent in almost every white collar profession, including business, especially in the 'cutting edge industries of the future'.

A generation of women that entered management in the Seventies and the Eighties is now ready to break the 'glass ceiling' to the top (some of them have already done it) in the new millennium. And those who were fed up with the barrier started successful businesses on their own - at an entrepreneurship rate which is twice as fast as that of men.

These are not merely trends but indicators of an evolution, which by the early part of the next millennium should have completely integrated women into the mainstream - management included.

Women in the other world, Asia, have relatively a long way to go before they reach such magnificent numbers, thanks to the age-old baggage of conditioning given by Manu in India and Confucius in the majority of the rest of Asia. Hence, the first stage of the evolution - of that of defying the conditioning to explore the potential- was more difficult and delayed here but accomplished, nevertheless.

A combination of facilitating factors in the form of education, opportunity and gender-neutral technology helped this real but quiet revolution to raise a generation of upwardly mobile, career-conscious and ambitious women managers. The results are visible in Asia in trends of more women on indicators of workplace participation, managerial positions in service sector, information technology, high finance, and trading. Statistics are very impressive on women's entrepreneurship rate in Asia too, thanks to 'the glass ceiling effect' again. Though critical mass here is not a 'fait accompli' yet, these seem to be very 'real' trends towards reaching the significant numbers.

If defying the baggage of conditioning and the gender apartheid mark the first stage, the second stage of the evolution is a sheer numbers game. Of critical mass. Of being added to the 'mainstream' as it is defined. Focus on the quantum is to be the immediate agenda in the East and 'Power Literacy' is the need of the hour for its women managers. It's time for them to shed power aversion and learn not just to acquire power but also learn to pool it, distribute it and share it across networks of aspirant women in the name of strategic sisterhood.

Not that critical mass is the end of the story. The real task is to transcend the critical numbers and broaden the agenda. Which is why the countries where the numbers are achieved should set new goals for the next stage. Because one cannot stop at a number game. Because when you 'add' women you are not adding numbers alone but you are actually adding 'half of human experience'.

And that comes with it's own capabilities, a unique way of 'seeing'. A unique wisdom with its own world view that needs new spaces. A world view that resists the idea of merely 'fitting' into a model for which the parameters are given by the patriarchal mode of thought- which is only one of the modes of thought but has been 'universalised'. The assumptions and premises of this 'universal' worldview would then come under the scrutiny of an alternative mode of thought and the prevalent constructs of knowledge would be questioned.

That may lead to developing new concepts ( eg. Concepts of 'work', definitions of 'ends' and 'means', parameters of 'success', hierarchy, leadership style, work culture etc.) and also new theories rooted in women's experience and perspectives which may perhaps lead to an enriched philosophy of management and to a more 'evolved' model of management.

As management thinkers today realise the limitations of borrowing concepts and theories from the West and hence feel the need to draw from knowledge and experience within the cultural history and context of countries, the same spirit of experimentation and innovation will have to be applied to draw from women's experiences and perspectives to reshape the paradigm.

And this does not have to be done by women managers alone. Men and women would be partners at facing this task - both learning, unlearning and relearning, experimenting and innovating in order to arrive at a new model. When this happens, women would then have really 'arrived' in management. And management would then have a much more enriched and holistic model than with just more 'number' of women.

The author is a Research Student at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.


The Hindu | Business Line