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

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

Women Power

Surekha Kothari

The old adage,"The consumer is not a moron; she is your wife" has to be rephrased: "The consumer is not a moron; she is your BOSS." How did this development take place ? The single most significant reason for this development has been the dawn of the consumer era. Today, it is neither the industry nor the government sector that drives the economy. The expenditure and savings of the household sector have become the driving force of the urban industrial economy. The growing economic power and autonomy of the woman is giving her greater power in the boardrooms also. This is because she is the consumer and understands both the needs of the household as well as another woman better than men do. Men have controlled the corporate world till date but are now being forced to reckon with the fact that women can now contribute to corporate profits as well as - if not better than - men can.

The role of women has evolved drastically since their hesitant advent into the corporate world through "soft" jobs, more in keeping with their roles at home - stereotypes like "caring" jobs such as labour welfare, cosmetic jobs like Public Relations and Receptionists, creative jobs like advertising and subordinate/subservient jobs like secretarial/clerical jobs.

Today, however, women have integrated themselves into every field of activity and every kind of industry smoothly and skillfully. Whether travelling twenty days of the month or accepting transfers, they are as performance-oriented, sincere, competent and persevering as their male counterparts, if not more. Their presence in the corporate world is now more a rule than an exception such that a feminist agenda and, in fact, any special reference to women in business seems obsolete. The conventional misgivings with regard to their capabilities to handle the conflict between the demands of the home, family and profession are redundant and irrelevant in the present context.

The fact is that, at present, there is a much greater demand of women executives than there is a supply. Their consumer expertise in a consumer-oriented economy places them in an enviable position where they are given priority at Management Institutes as well as in recruitment for managerial positions. Companies are competing tooth and nail to hire the best female executives with "women-friendly" personnel policies. Even banks are looking positively at consumer loans and often giving them priority.

Ask any serious investor which industries are worth investing in today and the answer is;the sunrise industries such as software, health-care, pharmaceuticals, Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG), and consumer banking. All these require more female executives at the helm of affairs than available. In pharmaceuticals, the Over The Counter (OTC) segment is being run by women executives. The ethicals (Prescription Drugs) will soon follow, because once talent and capability have been proven in a corporate environment, companies will work towards retaining and nurturing talent, irrespective of gender.

In fact, a time may come when, if there is a discrimination on the basis of sex, it will be the turn of the men to complain! The personnel policies of some of the most successful companies in the "growth" sector, say Hindustan Lever, have become so "women friendly" that the male executives may well face some discomfiture.

In the light of these observations, what are the current critical issues that need to be addressed? What measures will the corporate sector take to harness the skills of more and more educated and talented women for executive jobs? Of what magnitude and quality will the incentives given to them be, in order to attract their interest, and thereafter, ensure their continued loyalty? Will these incentives be attractive enough for self- employed professionals such as those in medicine, law, politics and finance to forego their freedom to join the world of business? How will the companies minimise the role conflict for women executives so that neither their performance nor their loyalty are affected? How can the corporate roles of women managers be effectively performed while addressing their needs of self-esteem and upward mobility? Where merit and performance dictate success and upward mobility, companies must necessarily adopt "women friendly" policies while addressing all these issues.

The reality today is that women managers are an integral part of any organisation. Therefore, the complementary male and female aspects of creation as conceptualised in the "Ardhanareeshwara" or the "yin" and "yang" must be interpreted as the two aspects of the "self", both of which are essentially to be balanced for objective decision-making and management and each aspect to be used consciously and deliberately as and when required in the process of administration.

The other interpretation of this concept - that man and woman are complementary "halves" of a "whole" - would seem to bear little relevance within the corporate sector environment. In fact, in the boardroom, the so-called "complementary half" often becomes an adversary. The corporate ladder has been known to hang the skeletons of several "beautiful" relationships while the real adversary is actually the "ego" which should ideally have no place in a proactive environment.

As history has borne evidence, while the male ego might still feel a little insecure and uncomfortable with the idea of accepting a female colleague at the same or superior level, time and habit will take care of this, for finally, it is economics that defines culture. Egos have an amazing ability of adjusting to economic realities. Then, maybe, the old saying,"Behind every successful man, there is a woman" will have to be rewritten as"Behind every successful woman, there is a man". Equality, mutual respect and support and interdependence may be the demands and the needs of these times, as also the only ideology for a proactive and peaceful co-existence.

The success of women managers has to be measured by a far more comprehensive yardstick than the one the corporate world has so far been using... sustained productivity. Traditionally defined as "value added" to an "asset base", this definition limited itself merely to the measurable aspects of productivity which failed to take cognisance of the human factor, thus resulting in the collapse of several high productivity societies like Japan. The resultant emotional and cultural sterility had to be reversed by redefining productivity not by excluding material values but by including cultural and emotional values. "Assets", therefore, include human assets, and women managers have become an invaluable asset to an organisation owing to their technical skills as well as their personal qualities of integrity, diligence, sincerity and result-orientation mixed with the right degree of professionalism.

The glorious chapters of history bear testimony to such women of substance, from luminaries of the calibre of Rani of Jhansi, Indira Gandhi, Helen Keller, Madame Curie, Golda Meir, to those currently making history, be it Carly Fiorina's journey from a shipping secretary to the CEO of Hewlett-Packard, one of the largest US Corporations and Commander Eileen Collins leading a group of astronauts into space, or Benazir Bhutto, Begum Sheikh Hasina, Chandrika Kumaratunga or Kiran Bedi.

To conclude, women, traditionally home-makers, and intrinsically concerned with the wholeness of human life, inevitably carry to their work environment a similar concern rather than merely that of production per Rupee and/or per minute. As such, their workplaces have to be redesigned to be places of culture, health maintenance, empathetic interpersonal relationships and a positive and proactive environment. This "Utopia" of yesteryears is the reality we are moving towards today and is happening in companies with a vision, and, it is paying rich dividends.

Women in Management are custodians of "quality" which automatically makes "quantities" more meaningful. In the words of Clare Boothe Luce,"Woman knows what man has long forgotten; that the ultimate economic and spiritual unit of any civilisation is still the family."

The author is a Chennai-based entrepreneur.


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