Rise of the Better Half in Business–M.S. Srinivasan

[Published in FDI, http://fdi.sasociety.in/cms/index.php, Sep 2009]

Invasion of the workplace by woman is an irresistible and irreversible megatrend of the future.   As more and more woman rise to leadership position, this trend can lead to a silent revolution in the workplace.

Women in Business

The futurist John Nisbet, tracing this emerging trend in society states “Right across the board women are emerging in leadership positions”.  Here are some statistics on the subject taken from a leading Indian business daily.

  • In the US, 34 percent of women work in a professional specialty or executive, administrative and managerial job, compared with 30 percent of men.
  • 40 percent of businesses in the US are women owned.
  • More than 50 percent of all management and professional positions are held by women and many of the companies headed by women are outperforming those headed by men.
  • In India, women are at the top in ICICI, HSBC, Morgan Stanley and UBS.

Further research and studies on the impact of this trend in terms of values, qualities and betters results have found that:

  • Women add value to any task assigned to them with their own special, personal, emotional and functional attributes.
  • Women are more goal-driven, more responsive to co-workers, customers and stakeholders and more capable of getting the best out of them than men who are self-centered and careerist.
  • Women consistently score over men in trustworthiness, diligence, thoroughness, studiousness, loyalty, earnestness, honesty, human relations, better judgement helped by intuition, sharper reflexes in handling issues and events, superior skills in management.

 But top management positions in the corporate world still remain predominantly bastions of male power, and prejudice. For example, less than 4 percent of top executives in Fortune 500 companies are women.  However, the situation may change in the future because the emerging corporate culture requires more the qualities of the woman leader than that of the traditional male leadership. 

The Feminine Advantage

The old management culture is based on the principles of centralized command and control, rigid hierarchies, concentration of power in a few leaders and managers, power flowing from position and authority and unilateral imposition of decisions from the top. But the new and emerging management culture is based on principles of decentralization, delegation of authority and decision-making to front-line workers, flat and flexible hierarchy, leading by co-operation, consensus and consultation. All these new corporate values have a greater affinity to the intrinsic nature and core competence of women leaders. As Angela Coyle, Professor at the Organizational Development Centre of City University, London explains:

“A decentralized organization needs a more democratic rather than heroic leader. One who believes in consensus as opposed to a direct approach, makes use of personal credibility rather than status and position and seeks advice as opposed to providing solutions to every problem.  In other words, the old models of the expert manager have given way to the model of developer-manager – an archetype that befits women managers because of their work-type and skill-sets.” (1)

Similarly, in an article in Harvard Business Review, Judy B. Rosener states that, male managers use transactional type of leadership based on reward and punishment and the authority bestowed on them through position and status in the organization.  On the other hand women managers use transformational type of leadership based on personal credibility, charisma and relationship.  In the future it is this transformational type of leadership, which will produce results, because talented and highly skilled knowledge workers who are in demand, will no longer tolerate the authoritative type of leadership. (2)

In a speech given by Subroto Bagchi, the co-founder of a software consultancy firm, Mind-tree, in the NASSCOM IT Women Leadership Summit, he talks about eight themes that define the board room of the future – multi-disciplinary view of business; capacity to understand process; understand innovation; sustainability; emotional infrastructure; governance; and environment.  In his concluding remarks, Bagchi states:

“Now let me ask you to step back and ask a fundamental question, between the two genders which one has a natural flair for these eight? Yes, indeed these eight elements are inherently feminine; they ask for a nurturing view of the future and ask us to take a long view of time.  Suddenly, as if, the corporation, the male bastion of greed is discovering its feminine side which alone could make it whole.”

The Evolutionary Significance

The last sentence in the above passage gives the psychological and evolutionary significance of the emergence of womanpower in the corporate world.  Until now or recently the corporate world was governed predominantly by the male psyche and its values like aggression, competition, greed, domination, authority, hierarchy, competition, individualism, rationality and unemotional impersonality.  It is an arid culture lacking in beauty and grace.  The emergence of women-power will restore the psychological balance by bringing the nurturing values of the feminine psyche, like harmony, cooperation, consensus, compassion, beauty and grace.  However for this to happen, women-leaders should not succumb to the temptation of following blindly the male proto-type, but retain her inherent nature and core competence.

What are the practical conclusions we can draw from the above discussion? They are simple to know but difficult to put into practice.  The first conclusion is that those organizations, which were able to harness the unique potentials of women through woman-friendly policies, will gain competitive as well as evolutionary advantage.  When our values and actions are in harmony with the intentions of Nature, we are open to the creative energies of nature which leads to not only practical benefits in the bottom-line but also accelerates our higher evolution.  But what do we mean by women-friendly policies? Externally it means to create an environment which is favourable to the personal as well as professional development of women and which helps them to integrate their professional life with their personal life.

These factors apply not only to woman but also to all members of the corporate community.  However women have some special needs and responsibilities like motherhood, childcare, family, which have to be given careful consideration for fully harnessing the feminine advantage.  Sylvia Hewlett in her book “Off ramps and Onramps” discusses the critical question of what can be done to retain talented women in the workplace.  Sylvia stresses on the need to understand that women have a different set of responsibilities in their personal lives, which percolate into their work lives. This calls for a more flexible work situation for women to accommodate their wide-ranging responsibilities like bearing child, caring for aging parents and many other household demands. (3)

Here is an example of work-life balance with a feminist touch.  The S. C. Johnson company in Racine, Wisconsin, has long been at the forefront in woman-friendly practices. Ten years ago, it opened a state-of-the-art daycare centre, which has been expanding ever since. “In addition to day care for babies, we now have a full day kindergarten, before-and-after­ school programmes, says Helen Johnson-Leipold, Vice­-president of worldwide marketing and a fifth -generation member of the company’s founding family.  But that is just the beginning. S. C. Johnson recently set up lactation rooms so new mothers can nurse their infants. Many employees work staggered hours, others telecom­mute one or more days a week. Parents are permitted to work part-time for a stint after the birth of a child. And managers are trained to be sensitive to workers’ family needs.  “We try not to schedule a meeting very early in the morning, or very late in the day,” says Johnson-Leipold.  These policies are not merely a good-hearted gesture. Johnson-­Leipold, whose youngest child, now three, is in the day-care centre, notes that the company’s turnover rate is only five percent, less than half the national average. “We have realised it makes good business sense,” she says. (4)

References:

  1. Angela Coyle, interview,http://archives.digitaltoday.in/businesstoday/22071998/cf7.html 
  1. Judy B. Rosener, ‘Ways Women Lead,’ Harvard Business Review, http://www.hbr.orf/1990/11/ways-women-lead/ar/pr
  1. Sylvia Hewlett, Off ramps and Onramps, Harvard Business School Press, 2007, p. 5

4. Helen Johnson-Leipold, http://www.biztimes.com/news/2008/2/8/helen-johnson-leipold-follows-in-fathers-footsteps

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