Re-assertion of Women Pride-India Inc. leads the way


N.R. Aravamudhan
Senior Faculty
Suverna International Institute of Management Studies

The Corporate landscape has witnessed a tectonic shift in the last decade. And how? Corporate India is no longer the sole preserve of men alone. Women are increasingly joining the work force and giving their male counterparts a run for their money. With the battle of sexes shooting up, the testosterone is under tremendous pressure by the looming threat of estrogen. But the path traversed by women on their way to the top is awashed with the travails of worst kind.  In a patriarchal society such as India, women were relegated to the status of second - class citizen. Exploitation, illiteracy, privation and low-life expectancy among women were rampant. The women of yore were shackled by domestic responsibilities and had little control over their life and destiny.

The Government of India, through its policy intervention, sought to change the conditions of women at the grass root level. One such path- breaking measure was Panchayat Raj Movement where women were baptized in to the realm of governance. According to United Nations population report, Panchayat Raj movement provided the women a rarefied opportunity to excel at their job and bring about qualitative and tangible improvements on the ground.

India's burgeoning middle-class, estimated at 300million realized the virtues of education and used it as a vehicle for their career advancement. Slowly but surely, societal renaissance took place in India. The momentum surged in the post- globalization context. The character of the work place also witnessed a paradigm shift. Opportunities for women swelled in the job market. Though one must admit that the changes were little too late to have happened in India. Indian economy, growing at a scorching pace has only helped women in joining the job market fray like never before. The women have become an active participant in our economy's exciting growth trajectory. They have also emerged as GDP earners.

Today, India Inc is replete with the examples of women, who have made it to the higher rungs of the organization with panache and Élan! .At one end of the Corporate Spectrum, we have seen women like Ms .Anu Kga, Ms. Sulaja Firodia Motwani, Ms. Mallika Srinivasan of TAFE, Ms. Meher Padamjee Chairperson of Thermax, Ms. Shobhana Bhatia Vice – Chairman and Editorial director of Hindustan Times having inherited a great legacy and taking over the reins from the old guards.

One might still argue that they had the privilege of pedigree, but there is no getting away from the fact that they have palm-piloted their company to the dizzying success with clinical exactitude. On the other end., we have witnessed professionals like Ms .Kiran Mazumdar Shah (India's mother of Invention), Ms Indra Nooyi ( Most powerful women, according to forbes magazine), Ms Ekta Kapoor (soap queen of India), Ms Ranjana Kumar, Chairman of NABARD ( Turn around Queen), Ms Renuka Ramnath ,CEO of ICICI Venture   zooming in to the pinnacle of corporate ladder.

Whichever way you slice the situation, the fact of the matter is the women have stormed their way into the testosterone –fuelled male bastion. According to latest finding of Grand Thormton International Business Report, 14% of the Indian women have made it to the top corporate rungs. Though the figures are low, there is no denying the fact that the numbers are steadily climbing up. And still counting. About 56% of the businesses in India have women at senior level as against the global average of 55%. ICICI, known to promote  female talents, boast of 30% of the work force comprising of women alone. 3 out of 5 members of Board and 13 out of 40 of its Managers comprises of women. Once Slammed as a "petticoat brigade" by the Banking fraternity, ICICI today has transformed itself from a staid, "also ran" institution in to an aggressive, nimble- footed, financial power house The female brigade of the Bank, Ms Lalita Gupta, Ms Kalpana Moraparia, Ms Chandra Kochar played a tremendous role in scripting its success story. At Bharathi Airtel, 18% of the company workforce comprises women as against a national average of 4% as is revealed by the estimates of Confederation of India Industry. According to experts, companies, which have women employees out perform financially the performance of other companies that don't have women on their rolls.

Against these back ground, it becomes relevant to analyze as to what's causing these profound changes in the corporate milieu? Though the corporate ladder in India for women and men are equal, the ladder for women to climb up is not straight and is paved with difficulties. The condition is not India-Specific. World over; the status of women is none the better. According to the latest Grant Thornton International Business Report, 40% of the businesses world- wide has no women in the senior management. But the Asian women have a slighter edge. Thanks to globalization, enhanced access to quality education, and swelling job opportunities, the work place is on the cusp of major transformation. This development may propel the women to join the work force and take her rightful place in the corporate firmament. The nub of the issue is "what makes the women employee tick? What sets them apart from their male colleagues in the adrenaline- induced, fiercely competitive corporate terra-firma?  Is it her ability to be aggressive and focused on the job? Is it her ability to take on the stratospheric level of challenges and make a success of it? Or is it her passion, sincerity and commitment to the job? May be it is her flexibility to adjust to varied responsibility. The reasons as to why women make it in the corporate circus are multi- dimensional.

Multi- tasking: Women's cup of tea

Women have the tenacity and uncanny ability to perform varied responsibilities. And boy! Does she perform it with such aplomb? Women have the perseverance to juggle and manage their professional as well as personal life. They have far too many responsibilities –to be a daughter, mother, wife and a hard –nosed professional. They adjust to all these responsibilities. Their sensible, intelligent and flexible approach helps them to adopt themselves to handle people and deal with complex situations. In a globalised environment, their multi tasking ability would help them perform better.

Guts and Gumption – Embedded in her DNA Architecture

Today few doubt that the woman is able to execute her professional mandates with guts and gumption. A case in point is Ms. Anu Ega of Thermex, who took over the ailing company in the wake of her husband's untimely demise. The baton fell on her. She roped in Boston Consultancy group to come out with a turn around plan, much against the wishes of key members. Unfazed by the criticism, she went by her gut-feel and gave the green signal to the expert view. In no time, Thermax achieved a smart turn around. Women will also have to deal with the barrage of frivolities flung at them by their carping critics, colleagues and competitors alike. When Ms. Chandra Kocher of ICICI Bank took over the Retail Banking division, she had no in inkling of the dynamics of the retail Market. The move had created a flutter within and outside the bank. Unperturbed, she sunk her teeth into the job and left an indelible stamp in the Retail Banking space. Today, ICICI Bank account for the third of the total Retail market in India. Women have the knack to grow confidently in the saddle and let the work speaks for themselves.

Women lead by the example.

When it comes to leadership, the women have proved to be one upon their male Counterparts. Basically, women are transformational leaders. The study by the International women forum reveals that the women follow transformational approach. They encourage people to dovetail self-interest with that of the group. The study also points out that women base their power on charisma and interpersonal skills, whereas men use structural powers based on authority. Women also encourage participation, share information and energize the whole team.

Women make better HR Managers:

Women are able to make their present felt in all the spheres of endeavor. But one area where she easily excels in is Human Resource Development. The reasons are not far to seek.  Women are sensitive, and able to empathize with people.  Unlike a testosterone –fuelled corporate culture, where politicking and shrewdness are the norm, women are able to bring their sensitivity, razor-sharp intelligence and unswerving ministrations to their jobs.  Besides being articulate, they also have tremendous control over their mental stability and score high on emotional quotient. They are also good sounding boards and have better listening skills. 

To top it all, it is her inner strength to excel and passion to succeed which tips the scale in their favour.

Dancing salsa on the glass ceiling

Notwithstanding the hoopla surrounding super –success story of women in corporate India, the instances of discrimination against women are rife and too glaring to be swept under the carpet.  Men still have a problem dealing with female colleagues and not warm to the idea of women encroaching upon the corporate turf and demolishing the vestige of perceived male superiority. Be it a promotion, greater strategic responsibilities   unequal pay packages and an adrenaline- filled challenging assignments , they are still eluding the major chunk of women.

Another problem women face is the issue of marriage as a priority. Like it or lump it , women see marriage as a key priority  in their life.

First few year of marriage can be quite a frustrating experience. At   this stage, they are too confused as to be a full time career women or homemaker. Unless she has a strong support system, which among other things includes, an appreciative family, hired domestic help and employee- friendly work environment, the going   gets tough for the women.

Today, women are fully alive to the harsh realities confronting them. They do realize that it takes quite a lot of doing before they can smash the well – entrenched glass ceiling and leap frog their cynical male counterparts. They have to work twice as hard as men to be taken as half as good as them. Infact, quite a lot of them are doing just that. The shining example is Ms Indria Nooyi, the poster girl of 18- hours- work –a- day and endless toil- work ethos of U.S.A, whose ascendancy to the post of CEO  of  Pepsi. is widely being seen as Indian Corporate women having arrived finally on both National and International scene.

The situation will only get better as more women enter the Corporate Jungle. She knows and understands that if she can deliver, and let her work do all the talking, gender issue will lose its potency. With an increasing number of sharp, smart, intelligent and committed women entering the workforce, the dynamics within the job market might witness a radical change. The power equation may also assume distinctive pro-women slant. Women may re-write and set new rules of the game and prove conclusively that she is more than, "just a pretty face". India's moment of reckoning may truly happen if more number of women are able to storm her way into the global business space.

That will be truly defining moment in the annals of Indian History.  Let us then sing "hallelujah", to the women power. Men can take their past legacy and testosterone to another planet.

N.R. Aravamudhan
Senior Faculty
Suverna International Institute of Management Studies

Source: E-mail March 21, 2007


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