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Ethical Dilemmas in Cross-Cultural Management

In recent times there is a growing recognition of the need and importance of ethical values in the corporate world. However, there are differences in the ethical standards of nations and cultures which can create conflict and dilemmas for managers in multinational companies. This article examines such a conflict based on a case study in Harvard Business Review and in the light of integral management.1

The Case: Ethical Relativity of Cultures

Ronald Hudson was recently appointed as President of the Chinese subsidiary of the German firm Waldon Chemicals. There was a sense of brooding concern in his face, because he was expecting a confrontation with his marketing head with whom he was to meet in a few minutes. As Hudson was thinking how to put his case, LuChing, vice-president of marketing, entered the room. Hudson greeted his Chinese colleagues warmly. After a pleasant chat about Lu’s family and new home, Hudson braced himself for the confrontation and said: “Lu, we have to do something about the dip in our sales. We are losing our market share to our competitors.” Lu responded with a face which showed no expression: “Yes, but, Hudson, such ups and downs are part of the challenge we all have to face.”

Hudson said with a smile, “I agree. But what are we doing to face the challenge?” Lu, sighed and said:

“Let us face the facts. Our company’s strict policies on kickbacks and safety and environmental standards are preventing us from winning the Chinese customers. We must be adaptive and flexible to the conditions and culture of the nation. Kickbacks are an integral part of Chinese corporate environment. Safety and environmental standards are not as high in China as in Germany. We are not cost-effective because we are spending lavishly on recycling waste, treating hazardous chemicals and elaborate safety equipment, which Chinese chemical companies don’t make; you have to persuade our top bosses to be flexible.”

Hudson looked straight at his colleague and said firmly:

“Lu, there can be no compromise on values. I will not compromise on kickback and safety and environmental standards. It is not only a matter of ethics but also an issue of Law. Our German laws do not permit kickbacks for gaining order. And we follow the German and European standards on environment and safety.”

Hudson paused and waited for the response from Lu. Lu simply stared ahead. Hudson said in a conciliatory voice: “But Lu, don’t you think China’s corporate environment is changing. Chinese environment is very conscious and concerned about the environment. And when this change happens we will have the competitive edge.” Lu replied: “That may be. But until then you should not complain if we lose market share.”

“I concede to your point” said Hudson, “But can we do something to arrest the declining market share.” Lu said, “I will think about it. You must also talk to production people.” Hudson looked at his watch and said, “Lu, I have another meeting we will discuss the matter further some other time.” Lu asked hesitantly, “Can you spare a few more minutes.” Hudson simply nodded his head in assent: “Are kickbacks non-negotiable part of our company’s values” asked Lu. Hudson muttered impatiently, “What are you driving at?” “We need not give money” said Lu, “But how about small fringe benefits like a trip to Munich, membership of golf clubs, overseas visits?” Hudson replied stubbornly, “It’s all the same thing Lu. Business bribery.”

Is Hudson right in his uncompromising position on values or as Lu thinks, too rigid and inflexible?

The Commentary: Integral View

All ethical or value-laden decisions have to consider two dimensions of ethics: universal and the relative. In terms of corporate decision-making the universal dimension of ethics may be viewed in its two aspects: First are the values related to ‘Truth’, such as integrity, honesty and transparency; second are the values related to ‘Goodness’ or ‘Wellbeing’, which include economic, social, ecological and human wellbeing. In general, a company which believes in ethics and values should not compromise on these two universal values. So Ronald Hudson is right in his uncompromising stance on values. Bribing not only violates integrity but also harmful to the economic wellbeing of the nation. Similarly, relaxing environmental and safety standards compromises on ecological and human wellbeing.

Furthermore, there is at present a growing understanding in the corporate mind that ethical, ecological and social responsibilities are not merely a matter of idealism but in the long term lead to positive results in the bottom line. Here are two examples which illustrate how a firm and persistent ethical stance ultimately triumphs against forces of corruption.

The first example is from the housing division of a Chennai-based firm, well known for its value-based policies. The company was not able to hand over newly constructed flats (apartments) to the customers on the promised date because of prolonged delays in getting sanctions for electrical works from the electricity board. The company was determined not to take the easy and customary path of greasing the government officials. The company wrote letters to the authorities of the electricity board and also explained their principled position to the customer. A small group of understanding and sympathetic customers wrote letters to the highest political and government authorities, demanding immediate action. And finally the ethical force behind the company’s decision triumphed. The company got the sanction for the electrical works without compromising on its principles. Similarly, Xu Shuibo, former CEO a Chinese Company TNT Hoau gives another example in a response to a case study in Harvard Business Review:

“In regard to ethics, we accept that we may lose some clients because of our refusal to give kickbacks. But we also know that ethics can be good for business. In fact, one of our clients asked our Shenzhen branch for a 10% kickback. The branch general manager declined, saying, ‘We are now wholly owned by TNT, a Fortune 500 company. We will never offer bribes.’ The client excitedly responded, ‘At last I’ve found a company that refuses.’ He then placed an order worth millions of yuan.”2

Hudson displayed foresight when he said that China’s corporate landscape is changing and if Waldon stands firmly on its higher environmental and safety standards it will gain competitive advantage in the future. In fact this is already happening. Currently, greening or environmental presentation is one of the top priorities of Chinese government.

However, there is also an element of truth in Lu’s view that the company must display flexibility in adopting itself to the local or national environment in which it operates. Here comes the importance of the relativistic elements in culture and ethics. This is now quite recognized in the corporate world and studied extensively as a part of international management. The following example illustrates the importance of cultural norms in cross-cultural management. A Japanese venture in Philippines found that employees are listening to music while working, which is allowed in the Pilipino corporate culture. But the management of the Japanese company found the practice objectionable and stopped it. As a result, productivity declined rapidly. The Japanese company realized its mistake and restored the practice.

There is a similar gray area in ethics where what is ethical depends on what we consider as right or wrong. There are companies which are very strict regarding use of company resources by employees. In a well-known Indian software company if an employee uses the company phone for personal conversation he will be fired. But there are other organizations which are more lenient. For example, a NGO in South India allows its members and employees to use its stationary, phones and Internet for personal purpose which includes downloading of films and songs. The management of this NGO regards it as a part of the fringe benefits it offers to its employees. In this sphere of relativism certain amount of flexibility or concessions to accommodate cultural factors cannot be considered as unethical.

The Western corporate culture is predominantly impersonal, individualistic and work-oriented. On the other hand, Chinese culture lays a greater emphasis on personal relations, which includes the family, and the professional life of the individual blends harmoniously with his or her personal and family life and relationships are established by knowing one another’s families. So if a foreign company spends some of its resources for establishing a personal and trusting mutual relationship with the Chinese client in a Chinese way there was fundamentally nothing unethical in it. However, this is a slippery area where serious ethical violations can be justified in the name of change, flexibility, culture, relativity or competitive pressure. A young IT graduate with a strong ethical orientation joined as a trainee in a big well known IT firm highly respected for its values. In a training session, he was shocked to hear a senior executive of the firm justifying bribing as unavoidable in a fiercely competitive environment.

A company which wants to build its culture on the foundation of higher values has to formulate clear norms, principles and guidelines on the two dimensions of its ethics and values – the fundamentals which should not be diluted or compromised under any circumstances and the domain of relatives where there can be adopting to a change, culture and environment without compromising on the fundamentals.


  1. Katherine Xin and Wang Haijie. “Culture Clash in the Board Room.” Harvard Business Review, September 2011, pp. 107–110.
  2. Ibid.

M. S. Srinivasan & O. P. Dani

(Published in Charted Secretary, Journal of the Institute of Company Secretaries of India)


Building Communities of Higher Aspiration

(A higher aspiration beyond the mundane and the material, individual or collective, can be a great power for evolution and transformation. This article examines briefly this possibility and its implications for the higher evolution of humanity.)

We are able reach the Moon, explore Mars, and send rockets to Plato and Jupiter. But we are not able to create even a small community based on true love, which is a greater achievement, with much more positive consequences for humanity and our planet, than walking on the Moon.

We are part of a world linked together and governed by the laws of unity and interdependence. Whatever realizations or achievements that we are able to accomplish in our inner being or outer life tend to reproduce itself in other centers of human life. If we are able to create a community, even a small one, made of ten or twelve people who are bound together inwardly by true love, kindness, understanding, acceptance, we are making a great contribution to the higher evolution of humanity, because, as we have indicated earlier, such inner realizations tend to multiply itself in many human centers. These communities of higher aspiration need not necessarily be separate institutions. They can be a small group within a larger organization—pursuing some material or economic aims, for example, a business organization—practicing this higher aspiration, meeting human goals regularly and sharing their experiences.

This kind of inner realization in a collectivity, even in a small one, may be difficult to achieve. But if a community is making a sincere, persistent and progressive effort towards these higher ideals, it is doing a great service to humanity because the vibrations sent out by this effort and aspiration has positive terrestrial consequences. Such communities of eminent aspirations organized around higher ideals like love, truth, beauty, harmony, unity, selfless service or the source of all these values, the Divine, can unleash a subtle and powerful transforming impact on human life. As Mother of Sri Aurobindo Ashram explains:

“It is impossible for any change towards perfection, even in one element, one point in earth’s consciousness not to make the whole earth participate in it. Everything is knit together. And a vibration somewhere has terrestrial consequences. There isn’t one effort towards the Better, not one aspiration towards the True, that doesn’t have terrestrial consequences.”1

Such communities are usually formed by voluntary association of like-minded people with no support or help from the larger society or the government. But when they are actively supported and encouraged by an enlightened society and government awakened to these higher ideals and deeper truths of life, it will be a great and decisive movement in the higher evolution of our human society towards its spiritual destiny. In their present condition, most of our communities and governments are at a low level of inner awakening, governed primarily by individual and collective self-interest and driven by economic and political motives. It is less difficult to build an awakened society than to create an enlightened government, because the consciousness of political establishment is not only low but also dark with falsehood. On the other hand, the social organism, what is now called in modern thought as the ‘civil society’, contains a large number of higher aspirations working for a higher social, moral or spiritual cause, such as NGOs and individuals who work for noble causes. And there is that great power of the civil society: education. If we can build a new system of education which can create this inner awakening and aspiration among people and spread it widely among the masses, then we need not bother much about the condition of politics and government, because it creates an enlightened civil society with a large number of individuals and communities of higher aspiration, spearheading human evolution towards its higher destiny.


1. The Mother, Mother’s Agenda, Institute of Evolutionary Research, Vol. 4, p. 317.

M. S. Srinivasan


Ecology, Ethics and Economics: The Emerging Convergence

A very important development in the corporate world is the growing convergence of what we may call the ‘3Es’: Ecology, Ethics and Economics. This convergence has crucial significance for the higher evolution of the corporate world and humanity as a whole. This article examines this convergence in the light of a deeper and a more integral vision of life.

The Economics of Ecology

Until recently and for a long time, it was believed that progress in ecological sustainability involves a certain amount of loss in economic performance. But currently there is a growing consensus, based on the facts and experience, that this trade-off is not inevitable and in fact sustainability ensures economic viability in the long term.

In an interesting article in Harvard Business Review (HBR), titled ‘The Sustainable Economy’, Von Choinad with co-authors Fick Ridge and sustainability consultant Jib Elison provide the big picture emerging in the landscape of sustainability. They talk about three major trends: What has the potential to make ‘the lowest priced T-shirt, causing the least damage to the planet’? The first trend is the attempt to quantify in monetary terms the value of the ecosystem services such as the forests, water, pollution caused from residuals, etc. Second is the growing environmental sensitivity of investor community. The third is the evolution of standard indices and ratings for the companies and consumers for making the right eco-friendly decision. Let us briefly examine these trends as described in more detail by Choinad et al. in their article in HBR.1

Is it right to put monetary value on ‘priceless’ natural resources such as rain forests? This is a major objection raised by idealistic minds. But from a corporate perspective the problem with this attitude is that these natural resources are regarded as ‘free’ and the negative impact of using, consuming or destroying these natural wealth are not incorporated in the accounting system, which means the cost of the product do not reflect its true impact on the environment. A product which causes maximum damage to the environment may be cheaper than the one which inflicts minimum damage. At present there are many initiatives and programmes all over the world for assessing the true value of natural resources and some companies are making the attempt to internalize them into their account books. For example, Gund Institute of Ecological Economics, with funding from US National Science Foundation, has developed a web-based tool which can help users in assessing the value of ecosystem services on multiple scales. Puma, a sports footwear and apparel company, announced in April 2011 that it would begin issuing an environment profit-and-loss account that will account for the full economic impact of the brand on the ecosystem and commissioned PricewaterhouseCoopers to help develop their economic statement.

The second trend is what is now called as ‘Socially Responsible Investment’ (SRI). Investor community is awakening to the long-term implications of sustainability. In general, investor community tends to rate companies on the basis of short-term financial measures. Investors are beginning to realize that companies that falter in the domain of ecological sustainability cannot prosper in the financial front in the long run, though they may show good returns in the short term.

A positive outcome of this awakening is that a growing number of progressive investors look for the environmental and social performance of a firm on many fronts, such as water use, carbon emission, stance towards labour, supply chain management practices, etc.

The third trend is the emergence of comprehensive indices and ratings for companies and consumers to make the right choices, for example Value Chain Index (VCI), which provides valuable data for companies to make comparison of products based on their impact in every stage of the value chain, from raw material to the finished product on a range of environmental and social indices such as land use, water, energy, carbon, toxics and social welfare. The VCI is a great help to companies for making nuanced comparison among products or vendors and arrive at the most environmentally and socially benign choice. A similar uniform and comprehensive rating for guiding consumer choice has not yet emerged, but may come up in the future. There are some examples in some specific areas, such as Energy Star rating in appliances which are very popular among consumers. Similarly, the electrical goods industry in US has created a much more comprehensive rating format which accounts for more than 50 environmental factors.

When all these three trends converge, grow and become reasonably well established in the corporate environment, and as a result funds and consumer choice gravitate more and more towards the environmentally and socially beneficial companies and products, then sustainability gets aligned with profit and market forces.

There is one more trend, which can further reinforce this alignment making ecology entirely compatible with economics. Many companies are finding that ecological practices have immediate economic benefit. This is now quite well known in corporate circles. Practices like recycling waste or reducing the consumption of energy or water saves money, but some progressive companies are going beyond such ad hoc practices and making sustainability into a profitable enterprise.

In another article in HBR, ‘Making Sustainability Profitable’, Krut Haanes and co-authors give many examples of companies in the emerging markets in Latin America, Africa, Middle East Asia, South Pacific and other parts of the world which are able to build a profitable business around sustainable products and practices.2,3

For example, in Egypt, Ibrahim Aboulesh founded Sekiem, Egypt’s first organic farm for producing organic cotton, which was more elastic than its conventionally grown counterpart. Ibrahim has evolved a business model which is at once sustainable and profitable and has generated healthy revenues. Sekiem is now one of the Egypt’s largest organic food producers with an annual growth of 14%.

Benefits of Goodness

More or less similar developments are happening in ‘Business Ethics’. After so many corporate scams and scandals, ethics and ‘integrity’ are now considered by many business leaders as important as or even more than the bottom-line and an indispensable part of corporate governance. For example, Pramod Bhasin, former president and CEO of GenPack, India, states “For an enterprise to be successful in the long term it has to be founded on a strong platform of integrity and values” and when asked how do leaders face up to scenarios where there could be a clash between values and pragmatism, especially in the face of competitive pressures, Bhasin answers simply: “The choice is easy if you really understand that integrity is not negotiable.”3 Some business leaders with deeper moral sense know intuitively that ethics pays in the long run. V. V. Raghavan, a former senior partners Ernst & Young, states: “If you are able to run any enterprise without selfish motive and with selfless service, then I believe that success will follow.” He goes on to further say: “What I mean is that my effort and involvement in doing something is not determined by return, and I know by my own experience this works.”4 But is there any empirical support for these beliefs and assertions? Interestingly, a recent research on leadership has found a correlation between ethical character and financial performance, which means ethics and economics!

KRW International, a Minneapolis-based leadership consultancy firm, conducted a study to determine the impact of character on performance, especially on financial performance measured in terms of four moral values: Integrity, Responsibility, Forgiveness and Compassion. Reporting on the study in HBR, Fred Kiev of KRW International states: “The researchers found that CEOs whose employees gave them high marks for character had an average return on assets of 9.35% over a two-year period. That’s nearly five times as much as those with low character ratings had: their RON averaged only 1.93%.”5

At the organizational level also there are now many studies which indicate that companies which are governed by some higher values at the social or moral level financially outperform those which are focused exclusively on the bottom line. For example, in their book Firms of Endearment: How World-Class Companies Profit from Passion and Purpose, Raj Sisodia talks about companies with humanistic profiles, which are loved by their employees, customers, communities and suppliers and invests a lot of money and effort in fulfilling their social and environmental responsibilities. When the financial performance of these companies are analysed, these companies not only did all the good things but also delivered extraordinary returns to their investors, outperforming the market by a nine to one ratio for ten years. Similarly, since 2007 an organization called Ethisphere has produced an annual list of the world’s most ethical companies. Collectively, the selected companies have outperformed the SP500 every year since the inception of the program in 2007 by an average of 7.3% annually.6

A good example of such corporate goodness in the environmental and social sphere with astounding financial performance is the Brazilian company Natura. The company works in close collaboration with suppliers, rural communities, local government and NGOs to develop ways to sustainably extract raw materials, create jobs and to build jobs in the communities. Natura trains managers to identify social and environmental challenges in the community, which they work upon, operate and turn into business opportunities, granting bonuses to managers on the basis of their social and environmental performances.7 From 2002 to 2011, Natura’s revenues grew by 463% and its net income by 3722%.

The Integral View

Let us now briefly examine the deeper significance of these trends in the light of a more integral vision. This convergence between ecology, ethics and economics is in sync with one of the central motifs of the ancient Indian epic, Mahabharata: Dharma is the foundation of Artha. In the popular conception it means morality or righteousness, Dharma, is the foundation of wealth, Artha. However, this motto of Mahabharata is based on a deeper and broader vision of Dharma. In Indian thought, Dharma is a pregnant and profound term with a multidimensional significance at various levels – physical, social, moral, and psychological.

In general, Dharma means the laws or laws of Nature that hold together all creation and in terms of ethics. Dharma is all the values, principles and standards of conduct which are derived from these laws. At the physical level, the discoveries of modern ecology are part of the Dharma of our material universe or in other words the material and biological dimensions of Mother Nature. In the Indian thought, Nature is not only physical but also psychological and spiritual. The physical, psychological and spiritual energies within our individual human being and in the universe are derived from and are part of the corresponding energies of universal Nature.

Just like there are laws or ecology which governs the physical or biological Nature, there is an inner ecology which governs the moral, psychological, spiritual dimensions of Nature. The ethical and spiritual values, ideals, principles and the disciplines discovered by great sages, saints and seers of the world are part of this inner ecology of consciousness. The Indian science of Yoga is the most comprehensive, scientific and systemic discipline for attuning our inner being with the higher moral and spiritual dimensions of universal Nature and its higher laws, which govern the inner worlds of consciousness. Based on this vision of Dharma, the ancient Indian epical wisdom taught that when our human life – individual and collective, inner and outer – is governed by the moral and spiritual values derived from the deeper, inner and higher laws of consciousness of universal Nature or Dharma, it leads to inner growth as well as outer prosperity and wellbeing.

Thus, in the Indian thought, Nature is not an inanimate energy but a conscious force with a physical, psychological and spiritual dimension. And we human beings are part of Nature not only physically but also in our consciousness. This idea holds the key to the next step in the evolution of environmentalism and also humanity as whole. The present convergence between ecology, ethics and economics, when it gets fully established, will lead to a decisive upward shift in the evolution of the corporate world and in the collective consciousness of the society from the mind-set of the industrial revolution which regarded Nature as a free reservoir of resources which can be exploited, polluted, robbed or ‘mastered’ as one desires and that old, traditional management paradigm of ‘get things done’ without any regard for ethics and values, to a more benign attunement with Nature with an emphasis on ethics and values in management.

But, for a decisive march into the future, we have to proceed further and take the next step towards psychological and spiritual sustainability. We have already indicated the key to this higher evolution. First step is to regard Nature as a conscious force which can respond to our aspirations. The second step is Yoga. What is ecology to physical Nature, Yoga is to the moral, psychological and spiritual Nature, within us and also in the universe. Yoga is the science for understanding and exploring our inner ecology of consciousness and attuning our inner being and outer life with the ecology of the inner universal and divine dimensions of Nature.


  1. Von Choinard, Jib Elison and Rick Ridgeway, ‘The Sustainable Economy’, The Harvard Business Review, October 2011, pp. 40–50.
  2. Knut Haanaes, David Micheal, Jeremy Jurgeons and Subramaniam Rangan, ‘Making Sustainability Profitable’, The Harvard Business Review, May 2013, pp. 110–113
  3. Pramod Bhasin, ‘The Power of Principles in a Leader’s Repository’, ISBInsight, Indian School of Business Magazine, 2004, pp. 19–20
  4. Peter Pruzan and Kristen Pruzan, Leading with Wisdom, Response, New Delhi, 2007, p. 20.
  5. Fred Kiel, ‘Measuring the Return on Character’, The Harvard Business Review, April 2014, pp. 14–15.
  6. John Mackey and Raj Sisodia, Conscious Capitalism, Harvard Business Press, Boston, 2013, pp. 277–278.
  7. Robert G. Eceles and George Serafieim, ‘The Performance Frontier: Innovating for a Sustainable Strategy’, The Harvard Business Review, May 2012, pp. 36–46.

By O. P. Dani & M. S. Srinivasan

(Published in a Golden Jubilee Souvenir of the Institute of Company Secretaries of India)


The Emerging Feminine Millenium and Building the Woman-Empowered Workplace

“Women are, in principle, the executive power.” —The Mother of Sri Aurobindo Ashram

“Executive, thy name is woman.” —The Economist

A former head of United Nations said in a conference of woman entrepreneurs: “The Future belongs to woman.” This may appear as a formal assertion of a cliché in an appropriate occasion. But at present, there are many well-researched studies and books which argue with facts and figures that millennial domination of men is coming to an end, and the other half is not only rising but beginning to dominate the world. This article is a brief review of this emerging trend and its strategic implications for the corporate world.

The Feminine Thrust

In a well-written article in Harvard Business Review, Alison Beard, reviewing books like The Athena Doctrine: How Women (and the Men Who Think Like Them) Will Rule the World talks about “an argument that’s been gaining stream for more than a decade” and elaborates further on this new idea or thesis.

“It started with Susam Falude’s 1999 book Stifled and continued with dozens of similarly titled books, from Lisa Mundy’s The Richer Sex and Hanna Rosins The End of Men, both release this year; to Helen Smith’s forthcoming Men on Strike. The message is simple and provocative. The feminist movement has been so effective in advancing women over the past several decades that the ability of men to thrive – indeed their fundamental role in society – is now in peril.” [1]

Are we in the midst of a shift in leadership from Men to Women in the World as a whole? This may be more of a future scenario or a possibility than the present actually. In the present scenario, men still dominate the world but their position is getting increasingly threatened or weakened by what Alison Beard calls as “growing sisterhood of leaders who are women”. The corporate world is still in the grip of men. According to a recent McKinsey study, men hold nearly 85% of corporate board and executive committee seats in the US and 90% of the world billionaires are men. But this situation is likely to change because as management consultants John Gersena and writer Michaek D’Antonia argue that feminine traits such as connectivity, humility, candor, patience and empathy are the new key to success. In other sectors such as education, media and marketing there is a decisive shift towards woman. For example in US woman outnumber men in education, and in many US universities there are more woman in higher education than men, which will change the leadership demography in the future.

Towards Inner Balance

However, “The End of Men” or swing towards the other extreme of domination of woman over men is not perhaps the evolutionary destiny of men or women. Some form of feminine domination for a few decades or even a few millenniums may be a temporary necessity for neutralizing the subconscious impressions of male domination for many millenniums. But we can feel intuitively that the ideal has to be a balance or harmony between the two poles of human species. For nearly three millenniums, man dominated the world and woman. Let woman dominate the world and men for few millenniums so that justice is done and both learn the shortcoming of a one-sided domination and feel the need for the balance. Such lesson learnt from a long experience of life is much more concrete and effective than the preaching of philosophy ad idealism.

In general, the higher ideal appears in the mind of a few awakened thinkers and then percolates slowly to the masses through the process of history. However, in the old world this percolation is slow, because it is mostly through speech and thought transmitted personally from the teacher to the disciple who in turn transmits the idea to their students and followers. But in our contemporary world we have the powerful medium of mass communication which can accelerate the process of diffusion by spreading the idea fast and wide through the masses.

In our present topic we are discussing, the ideal is to balance equality and harmony between the two poles of humanity. This doesn’t require a philosopher or a great mind but anyone with a minimum level of mental development who can perceive it intuitively. A still deeper intuition may tell us that it has to be an inner balance between masculine and feminine qualities. This higher intuition of humanity found that there is a man in every woman and a woman in every man, which means feminine and masculine qualities are present in every individual, through those who have feminine or masculine bodies may have an inborn and natural inclination for corresponding qualities or faculties.

This brings us to the question as to what are these masculine or feminine values qualities or faculties. When we examine human history since the dawn of human civilization (except perhaps in a few civilizations or epochs in history), the male psyche with its hard masculine values of power, aggression, authority, control, subjugation, rationalism, individualism, hierarchy, and self-assertion had more or less dominated the life of humanity. The time has come to restore the balance through an increasing manifestation of the “soft” or feminine values such as beauty, harmony, equity participative and inclusive organization or leadership. In terms of competencies, emotional intelligence, social sensitivity, pragmatic intuition, executive competence, caring for people, nurturing community, collaborative leadership are some feminine qualities and faculties natural to woman. On the other hand, conceptual intelligence, logical and analytical thinking, envisioning the long-term future, perceiving the big picture, philosophical and metaphysical speculations are some of the masculine competencies natural to men. There has to be a balanced development of feminine and masculine competencies in the workforce.

However, many recent studies and research on leadership effectiveness are converging on the idea or conclusion that in the future key to success lies in feminine qualities and competencies which we have discussed earlier. This means woman who have retained their inborn and natural qualities have an edge over men. But as we have indicated earlier, these qualities are not the exclusive preserve of woman. They are there also present in men and there are many men who manifest these qualities in their character. They can also be developed. Each individual, man or woman, has to attain a certain balance between these two sets of faculties but with a predominant stress on the powers of their inborn nature. And this happens quite often and more or less unconsciously in woman. For example, woman can also think like men but it tends less towards broad conceptual generalizations and more towards swift intuitive understanding of things, and practical application rather than abstract theories. Similarly, some recent studies indicate that while male leaders use more of their power, position and authority to get things done, woman leaders use more of their charisma, personal relationship and persuasion.

And this inner balance must express itself outwardly in terms of all parameters of gender balance and equity. There are some progressive companies in India and abroad, which are making this effort toward gender equality. IBM India has placed an executive, a Diversity Manger, to take care of gender and diversity issues. Mahindra and Mahindra has set the target of 50% woman in its workforce and has a recruitment policy stating that if all factors other than gender are the same, it will prefer to hire woman. At Infosys, Narayana Murthy has set up Infosys Woman Inclusive Network (IWIN) in 2003, with the following objectives:

  • Create a gender sensitive and inclusive work environment and thereby make Infosys the employer of choice for woman.
  • Help woman in their career lifecycles through support groups and policies and thereby enhance retention.
  • Develop women for managerial and leadership roles and thereby maintain gender ratios at all the levels of the organization.[2]

We need many such initiatives to make the workplace fairer to woman.

Building a Women-Friendly Culture

These corporate initiatives give an indication of what needs to be done. We have to create a workplace that is safe, fair and sensitive to woman, which means an environment that is free from all forms of harassment – sexual or social; free from every form of sexual discrimination; and sensitive to the unique and special needs of women like motherhood, caring for family member and elders, etc.

The most important part of this woman-friendly culture is the help it provides to women to achieve the right balance between work, career and parenting. The traditionalists argue that motherhood or bringing up the child is the most important responsibility of a woman and therefore she must confine herself to home and parenting. The first part of this argument, regarding motherhood, may be true but the second part and the conclusion derived from it is not true. There are women who have to work in order to support and sustain themselves and their families. And there are also millions of educated, talented, creative and enterprising women who can contribute effectively to economy and society and if they don’t enter into the workplace it is also a great loss to human life. For example, more than 40% of the American economy is powered by women entrepreneurs. Had these enterprising women confined themselves to home, it would have been a substantial loss to American economy.

We cannot dictate to woman what she should or should not do according to our conceptions, ideals or dogmas. Let her choose what she wants to do or be in complete freedom and manage the consequences of her choice. This freedom of choice is an integral part of empowerment. For example, when a high-performing woman executive becomes a mother, and leaves her job saying, “To me to be a good mother and bring up my child with right values is the most important duty of a woman. I want to focus all my attention and energies on this task”, it is her choice. If another woman executive after becoming a mother says, “I can manage both however difficult it may be” and takes up the challenge then it is her choice. If she gets sufficient help and support from her husband/partner, family and the organization she works for, a woman can do it. If she is able to do it effectively, it helps in her own evolution and development bringing forward her higher potentialities.

The task or the challenge before corporate managements is to provide whatever help they can to the working woman – with innovation, compassion and understanding – to achieve the right balance between her responsibilities as a homemaker, mother, corporate worker and above all as a human being who has to discover and manifest her highest potentialities.

Flexitime, telecommuting, day-care centres for children are some of the well-known practices adopted by progressive organizations for creating a woman-friendly workplace. However, these practices are only external aids. For a deeper and a more holistic engagement of women, work–life balance and responding to woman’s needs have to become part of the internal attitudes, values and culture of the organization as a whole and at all the levels of the corporate hierarchy. If a corporate management says to its woman employees, “We have provided all the facilities you need like flexitime and day-care centres. Don’t talk any more about work–life balance or bring your womanly problems to the work-place,” then it is not sensitive to woman. In a truly woman-friendly culture, work–life balance is not merely a matter of flexitime or day-care centres but a conscious, continuous and collective effort between the bosses, subordinates and peers, sustained through careful, considerate and sympathetic listening, dialogue, mentoring, counselling and mutual adjustment. For example, when a woman employee has a work–life problem or any problem or issue related to her needs, then she, her boss, her helpful peers and subordinates, and if required an officer from HR department, sit together and arrive at a mutually satisfactory solution. In other words, the workplace becomes an extended family/support base of the employee. Interestingly, this is what Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo, said about her company. She said in one of her interviews that PepsiCo was for her like an extended family. If every employee of PepsiCo feels like Indra Nooyi, then it is a great compliment to this Fortune 500 firm.

The other aspect of sensitivity is to be responsive to the unique potentialities of woman. As we have discussed earlier, the feminine nature has some unique competencies such as emotional intelligence, pragmatic intuition, sense of the community, collaborative leadership, empathy or “social intelligence”. The woman executive or the employee has to be given sufficient freedom, opportunities and encouragement to express her natural competencies in her work and should not be compelled or induced to imitate the male model of behaviour or attitudes. This will lead to greater creativity in the workplace because it will complement the male values, attitudes and competencies which dominate the present corporate life.

The Feminine Advantage

This brings us to an important and promising factor or trend which has the potential to end discrimination against woman – it is the recognition of the feminine advantage. There is a growing recognition among corporate executives that more women in the workplace, apart from its moral and social significance, will ultimately have a beneficial impact on the performance of the organization as a whole. Rajeev Dubey, President Group HR and Member of the Group Management Board of Mahindra and Mahindra, states, “We believe it is an advantage to have more women. We have observed that innovation is better. Often woman bring with them points of view not expressed by men.” [3]


  1. Alison Beard, ‘The Silent Sex’, Harvard Business Review, March 2013, pp. 126–127.
  2. Soumya Bhattacharya and Pooja Mehra, ‘In Good Company’, Business Today, 17 December, 2010, pp. 33–38.
  3. Ibid.



[Published in Chartered Secretary, Journal of the Institute of Chartered Secretaries of India]