Bhavna Shah

The author is Regional Head -India and Sri Lanka, Malaysian Palm Oil Council

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Why Women Make Great Leaders In Corporate

Women do not need favours, they just need equal opportunity. And it makes good business sense

Corporates have been addressing the issue of gender equality for quite some time now but, the fact that we are still discussing this subject is tantamount to an admission that not much headway has been made. The extent of achieving the goal of complete gender equality may differ from country to country depending upon social norms or compulsions but by and large it just remains a slogan in our country.

Giving a few examples of the success achieved in few corporates or even political parties cannot take away from the conclusion that it is still perceived as something that is granted as a nominal token. Most glaring are examples in the political field where women leaders, barring a few at the top, are often deemed to be proxies.

To acknowledge these differences between women and men is being practical. However, one cannot but take umbrage with the erroneous belief that they are fundamentally different. That they are less capable or would react differently from their male counterparts in a given situation. Yes, they will respond differently but only because no two humans are the same. Even amongst men, different men act differently but then that is perceived as creativity. Not so always in the case of women. As long as the woman is seen through a different lens whilst assessing her suitability for a job, this bias will fester.           

One should not run away from acknowledging that there are differences between women and men. These differences should not be used to make scape goats to keep women in their place. Rather, an effort should be made to understand them and see how best to make use of the capabilities springing from them. There is enough scientific data to demonstrate that these differences are only superfluous and do not really affect performance in a corporate setup. The differences that manifest themselves at work are not necessarily a manifestation of gender differences. They could stem from the environment at the workplace itself and could vary from corporate to corporate depending on their individual organisational structure. These differences are more just popular myths which are being dispelled slowly but steadily by scientific research as well as performance of women whenever they are given an opportunity.

It has been proven beyond doubt that women promote teamwork due to the traits easily associated with women such as empathy, willingness to collaborate, emotional strength. These traits are now well recognized as being essential leadership qualities. A combination of task-oriented and people-oriented qualities is essential for a successful leader, a combination very often found more in women than in men.

The concept of glass ceiling is familiar to most of us. A lesser known concept of glass cliff has been put forward by some analysts to describe the situation that women face in corporates today. It is a slow climb, not much help is received on the way up, one is constantly in the public eye, any hiccup in progress is immediately ascribed to female fallibility but when the cliff is scaled, the whole world claps, as if they have all contributed to the success. That’s how women are perceived in the corporate world. They start off with a disadvantage, are not helped along the way and credit is taken by others for their success when achieved.  Therefore, a woman has to work twice as much to receive the same recognition. Also, especially in traditional male bastions, women don’t have any role models to look up to, she’s a trailblazer, that opens up endless opportunities. And space for innovative approach. 

We have to acknowledge and accept that an Indian woman is a multi-faceted personality. Whatever she does, however much she succeeds at work, she is still expected to fulfil the role of a home-maker. However much she may be tired upon returning home from work, she has to look after the family welfare, cook, cleanup, look after the development of the children. A helping hand from the husband, mostly lacking, could pave the way for her to excel much more at work. The awareness is definitely creeping in but, sad to say, even amongst educated Indian households, we are still a long way to go.  

This involvement with family affairs gives the Indian woman the strength of character to do well in her corporate role. It ingrains in her various traits necessary to do well in a corporate environment. It inculcates in her traits such as being collaborative, a willingness to consider different opinions, an ability to cope with adversity in diversity, to put herself in others’ shoes whilst addressing any issue…all traits honed whilst dealing with issues arising at home. All these traits then make her more adaptable and capable of handling issues that are bound to arise in any corporate environment.

Women who have been successful can appreciate the challenges that other women at the bottom of the ladder are facing. They are then more likely to actively take interest in their development and act as inspiration to new comers.

Corporates have to realise that women form half the human race. To ignore women would deprive the corporate world of a great resource. With education, women have excelled as well as their male counterparts. There is no reason to believe that given the same opportunity, they would not do as well as anybody else. Gender diversity is a great tool for the corporate world to tap for their own success. Ignoring women is no longer a luxury the corporate world can afford. We talk of level playing fields in almost every sphere of life, so why not in gender equality?

Women do not need favours, they just need equal opportunity. And it makes good business sense.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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