Saturday, July 8, 2000
M A I N   F E A T U R E


Women’s leadership style differs from the traditional command-and-control style. Theirs is a naturally interactive brand of leadership. Positive interaction with subordinates, colleagues, seniors and business associates comes spontaneously to them. More specifically, women encourage participation and this can only lead to a win-win situation which is good for the employees and the organisation, writes Taru Bahl.

DO men and women think differently? Does the fact that only women can bear babies make their analytical and active physical responses different from those of men? Are men and women, by virtue of belonging to different genders, justified in holding different vocations?

Studies have revealed that men and women do think differently and excel in different tasks. For a similar task, they use different parts of their brains. It seems as if these differences are determined at birth. The bestseller, Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus pointed out that men and women belong to two different planets which is why their way of thinking and response mechanisms are poles apart.

Medical research has shown that men and women have nearly identical patterns of brain activity, except in the portion of the brain that controls emotional responses. Men’s brains were found to be more active in the temporal limbic system, which is a primitive structure stressing physical action. Women were more active in the cingulated gyrus, a section that governs gestures and communication. Logically, this implies that men are more biologically inclined to instrumental means of expression such as physical aggression. Women are more biologically inclined to refined, symbolic means of emotional expression. However, most findings are unanimous in that men and women tend to use their brains differently. While men rely on one hemisphere, women use both hemispheres at the same time, underlying sex differences in thought and speech.

In tests of spatial ability, men are thought to perform better than women since they can picture objects, shapes and positions more accurately in the mind’s eye. Girls usually learn to speak in sentences earlier than boys. Boys outnumber girls in remedial reading. Maybe that is why men are better at subjects like math and map-reading. Women’s intuition could be the result of their using both hemispheres of the brain. Being better at languages, women have fine motor coordination which makes them good seamstresses and brain surgeons.

Women have also been found to be more adaptable and productive when undertaking verbal and/or ‘female’ tasks when they are ovulating since their estrogen levels are at a peak. During this time they record better performance in what are termed ‘male tasks’ or those involving spatial and quantitative thinking. This, however does not imply that women must steer clear of science or men must remain out of bounds of psychiatry. Scientists concede that hormonal levels can be influenced by nutrition, environment, occupation and stress. The brain is affected by conditioning, which produces physical changes in the blood flow, energy use and the way cells behave.

Male and female values are, therefore, qualities to which both sexes have access. Through physical make-up, orientation and social conditioning, women are grounded in the female pole and men in the male pole. As managers, women draw on a distinct base of values which sets them apart from men. Individual development involves balancing the capabilities of one’s grounding with appropriate aspects of the other perspective. This offers a more flexible array of abilities than does either set of values by itself.

  In recent years we have been hearing of things like ‘women shattering the glass ceiling’, ‘women being lonely at the top’, ‘ women storming male bastions’ and ‘women wearing the pants in the business’. Looking at the present-day working woman, it is apparent that the myth of women preferring softer options has been shattered by a higher percentage competing for executive positions, hitherto considered strict male territory. Hard work and the desire to prove themselves in male-dominated fields have catapulted several women to positions of authority and responsibility in the public and the private sector. They have coped with the dual pressures of career and home to succeed in areas like finance, information technology, manufacturing, marketing and sales management. Women traditionally did not

enter these areas because it was assumed that men were more comfortable with subjects like engineering, math and finance. Women have overcome these prejudices in

the last decade as can be seen by the swelling numbers qualifying for seats in prestigious management institutes, and engineering and computer courses.

Not only are plenty of young girls selecting ‘male’ professions, they are also defying social expectations. Even if it means working late hours, travelling, transfers et al, they are working till the last days of their pregnancy. Women,nowadays,are completely at ease when 60-70 men report to them. They can confidently deal with wholesalers and retailers, men who have very clear and fixed ideas on where women should be — which is usually home. They are comfortable working as late and as hard as their male colleagues, entertaining and being entertained in the late evenings, wearing what can be conventionally termed as "globally correct clothing", which translates into no-fuss, less ornamental attire.

Does this very hunky-dory picture translate into women making their presence felt in the top echelons of the corporate hierarchy? Statistics, not just within the Indian subcontinent but in the management of companies spread across the USA and Europe too point to a very small concentration of women in top positions. They abound in entry and middle-level slots, they even head departments which have been female preserves like hospitality, public and guest relations, HRD, fashion, beauty, design, entertain-ment and event management but are conspicuous by their near absence in hard-core business areas like finance, marketing, sales, manufac-turing and production.

Even in India if we do see a woman who is running the show it is often in a family-run business where she has been groomed for a particular role or has been given complete charge almost on a platter or as one bitter professional puts it "who has the solid backing of a male or a godfather". This is not to say that women who have had the good fortune of being born in business families have sashayed down a cakewalk. Women like Sucheta Jain, daughter of SP Oswal, at barely 30 is the Executive Director of Vardhman Spinning & General Mills; Shobhana Bhartiya, Vice Group Chairman of The Hindustan Times; Preetha Reddy, MD, Apollo Hospitals; Mallika Srinivasan, MD, Tractor & Farm Equipment; Anu Aga, Chairperson, Thermax; and Geeta Talwar, MD, Ultimate Automobiles; are hard-nosed businesswomen who take tough decisions and run their empires as well as any man in their position would. They may have been a shade luckier, in that their positions of authority are rarely questioned being as they are in the proprietorial mode but they have to struggle as much and as hard as their other women contemporaries when it comes to being taken seriously in what is still very much a male-influenced work arena.

A senior bureaucrat in the Punjab Government, on the condition of anonymity, says: ‘’There is always a price to pay for our success. If it is not the family who accuses us of being too ambitious, career-minded and selfish, it is the vicious, forever scheming and gossipy male colleague who like the crab is waiting sadistically for us to falter and make a mistake so he can pull us down and ‘put us in our place’. Unfortunately, serious-minded women who have devoted the best of their lives to their professions are getting increasingly isolated as somewhere along the line their marriages break up, they choose to remain single, their children turn resentful or into problem kids, confirming the theory that it is indeed lonely at the top."

Corporate employers remain slightly sceptical of hiring women, not because they doubt their ability to contribute to the bottomline as much as their male colleagues but only because they are bound by societal and biological pressures which limit the prospects of their growth. Stereotypes about women preferring the 9 to 5 routine, which is safer and does not require travelling, transfers and late hours on account of family responsibilities, child and elder care are more the rule rather than an exception. Companies continue to grill female applicants on these ‘issues’ before handing over appointment letters.

It is not out of place to find women being called upon to do typically "female" things in the office like helping with lighting a lamp at a conference, ushering in guests at an official banquet, accompanying foreign visitors on shopping and sightseeing expeditions, dialling and fixing appointments for their senior male colleagues, being expected to make tea or coffee in a meeting . where other men of similar rank are also present.

As the career graph goes up, women professionals across different levels have begun to question their role at the workplace. Since most of them are convinced that their ‘’female" characteristics would not conform to modern norms of good management, they keep making a studied attempt to play down their "femaleness" and replace it with male models of behaviour. This creates an unmistakable conflict between their work and personal self-image. Social scientists who have been mapping their capability-growth chart as against their attitudinal changes advice that women must realise that they don’t have to don a "male look" to succeed and impact the workplace.

Success shows that a non-traditional leadership style is more suited to the conditions of some work environments and can increase an organisation’s chance of surviving in an uncertain world. It supports the belief that there is strength in a diversity of leadership styles.

Men are more likely than women to describe themselves in ways that characterise what some management experts call "transactional"leadership. Men tend to view their job performance as a series of transactions with subordinates to transform their own self-interest into the interest of the group through concerns for a broader goal. They also ascribe their power to personal characteristics like charisma, interpersonal skills, hard work and personal contacts rather than to mere organisational stature.

Women’s leadership style differs from the traditional command and control style. Theirs is a naturally interactive brand of leadership.Positive interaction with subordinates, colleagues, seniors and business associates comes spontaneously to them. More specifically, women encourage participation, share power and information, enhance others’ self-worth. All these things reflect their belief that allowing employees to contribute and to feel powerful and important can only lead to a win-win situation which is good for the employees and the organisation.

According to a city-based industrialist, women make natural Human Resource Development (HRD) experts. They are at their spontaneous and intuitive best when it comes to resolving conflicts, clearing misunderstandings, bridging gaps between different levels of management and non-management sections, sensitive to hurts and disappointments which may be lurking in employees’ minds and creating a friendlier, more compatible work environment.

The people-oriented management style, which comes so easily to women, finds greater favour as compared to the competitive, independent, and achievement- oriented brash model, which women seem intent upon putting across. What is needed is an interactive, harmonious blend of the two. Women encourage participation. They encourage others to have a say in almost every aspect of work, from setting performance goals to determining strategies. They create mechanisms that encourage people to participate and they use a conversational style that sends signals inviting people to get involved. They create "bridge clubs". Here "bridge" means the ability to bring two warring factions together, to resolve conflicts and tensions. "Club" refers to a relaxed, informal atmosphere, which calls for the best maternal qualities. Women readily share information and power their ability to solicit input from others suggests a flow of information from employees to the boss. Since they know that territories shift, they are not too preoccupied with the notion of turf the way men are. This sharing creates loyalty by signalling to co-workers and subordinates that they are trusted and their ideas respected. They don’t covet formal authority and know how to lead without it. They enhance the self-worth of others, giving them credit and recognition. They are sensitive to the isolation or hurt of a team-mate who is left out. They work to bolster the morale of co-workers energising colleagues and the working environment.

The ideal interactive mix combines what are considered typically "feminine" traits such as being excitable, gentle, emotional, submissive, sentimental, understanding, compassionate, sensitive and dependent with typically "masculine" traits like those of being aggressive, dominant, tough, assertive, autocratic, analytical, competitive and independent. This ideal mix gives rise to what is termed as the "gender neutral" state, which means being adaptive, tactful, sincere, conscientious, conventional, reliable, predictable, systematic and efficient.

Research has shown that women who are gender neutral report a higher level of fellowship even among their female subordinates than those who are typically "feminine" or "masculine".

Some women in managerial positions in the region

l Madhulika Tripathi, Vice President (North), NIIT

l Manosi Lahiri, CEO, ML Infomap Pvt Ltd

l Lalita Gupte, Jt MD & COO, ICICI Ltd

l Manushi Roy, Dy Director General, CII

l Neena Singh, Vice President, Regional Business Manager (North), Times Bank

l Anuja Gupta, Creative Director, Pugmarks

lAmar Deepika, General Manager, HR, Punjab Tractors Ltd

lGuneeta Hazuria, Dy Personnel Manager, Ranbaxy