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]

References

  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.

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M. S. SRINIVASAN & O. P. DANI

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

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