21st Century Women in Corporate World


Ms. Sraboni Ganguly
Faculty - Human Resource Management
International School of Business
Salt Lake, Sector V, Kolkata-700091


During the past decade, the environment for multinational corporations has been quite volatile, with numerous challenges for the firms operating in this arena. However, throughout this period there have emerged a number of executive leaders who have been recognized for their contributions to organizational excellence and leadership despite the environmental fluctuations. But invariably even few years back women power was not so welcome to hold & glorify the top positions of different corporate houses. Several myths were there & so women employees used to face barriers while climbing up the corporate ladder. But time and again women power have proved them, succeeded over those imposed barriers & made major contribution towards organizational excellence.

Excellence is a word associated with such things as being first-class, distinctive, the best obtainable, and superior, above par, top-notch, perfect, exceptional, uncommon, unique, and even transcendent. Attempts at becoming an excellent organization have spawned terms such as best practice, best-in-class, and world class manufacturing and are usually associated with a holistic approach to competitive advantage. Here are some typical components which are necessary for an organizational excellence:

* Great people
* Great place to work
* Solidly and consistently profitable
* Trusted by customers
* Recognized innovator
* Best products and services
* Most efficient

The present study deals with those barriers which a woman faces while climbing up the corporate ladder. The perceived notion is women are ruld by heart and not head, they personal life gats priority over professional life. These restrict the species called "women" from being accepted whole heartedly in any organization and from gettin due recognition for her contribution towards organizational success. Can the qualification of being male & not a female employee of an organization ensures organizational excellence? If the answer is "no", then why the corporate world is putting barriers only for its women employee? Now –a –days organizations in the way of achieving excellence are working towards removing any sort of discrimination from their work procedure, they believe in the women competence for achieving organizational excellence.

21st Century Women in Corporate World

When I started working on women's history about thirty years ago, the field did not exist. People didn't think that women had a history worth knowing.
                                                                                        —Gerda Lerner, Women and History (1986; 1993)

The role of women worldwide is undergoing a dramatic change. Women today share the podium with men in almost all fields, be it kitchen or in defense. Working women are no longer a rarity and are now accepted as an integral part of the working force. Indian organization has experienced a steady increase in the number of women employees and this pattern is bound to continue in the future as well. Women recently began to join the ranks of managers in large numbers. But women at the top management positions are still a rare species. Globally, they comprise only 10 percent of senior managers in Fortune 500 companies, less than 4% are in the uppermost ranks of CEO, president, executive vice-president and COO and less than 3% of them are top corporate earners. In India too, it is no different. May be the situation is worse.

Though statistics elude, if we look around, we will not find even a handful of companies headed by women or women at the helm of strategic departments. Major road blocks for women who aspire to achieve and succeed in organizations are the presence of social and role of constraints imposed upon them by society, the family and women themselves. These constraints are referred as myths fostered and sustained with preconceived ideas and unsupported evidence, which generate guilt in women.

Myths applied to women in business:

* Women switch jobs more frequently than men.
* Women would not work if economic reasons did not force them into the labor market.
* Women fall apart in a crisis.
* Women are too concerned with the social aspects of their jobs and cannot be trusted with important matters.
* Women are more concerned than men about working conditions.
* Women are not willing to travel extensively for the organization.
* Women put their heart above their head, so at time they become over emotional.

Although the number of women in the workforce has increased and will continue to increase in the fields of governmental service and education, the advancement of women into management has not kept pace with increase of working women. The reasons are:

* Society has its own stereotypes & biases against women in executive positions. Women are viewed as fragile & lacking in the qualities that are considered beneficial to be effective managers. Traditional masculine traits have higher perceived value than feminine traits in management world.
* The position which the individual hold within the organization shapes the traits and the behavior they develop or posses. Women often secure positions that have titles with little real power or supervisory authority.
* Mentoring plays an important role in the advancement of women into management positions. However, mentoring is often limited for women, which in turn results in a lack of access and training that aids in advancement within the organization.
* Women managers had to face the glass ceiling. Majority of women because of glass ceiling are unable to advance their career.
* To complicate matter worse, women often have to deal with the complexities of the dual role as working women and mother. Women stereotypically take away from the time, which the women can spend on the job subsequently, which slow down their careers. Women managers with children are often looked on less favorable than those without children and they are viewed as being less committed.
* Lastly, women managers also have their own inner battles, which need to be fought and overcome. Women need to develop the confidence and appropriate skills and attitudes which are needed to succeed in business. Women manager needs to establish their career goals and acquire determination to overcome the obstacles that exist to keep women from accomplishing their goals.

Nevertheless, women who are at the top are determined to stay there and more are aspiring to reach there, glass ceiling or no glass ceiling. The term glass ceiling refers to situations where the advancement of a person within the hierarchy of an organization is limited. This limitation is normally based upon some form of discrimination, most commonly being gender and race. This situation is referred to as a "ceiling" as there is a limitation blocking upward advancement, and "glass" (transparent) because the limitation is not immediately apparent and is normally an unwritten and unofficial policy. The "glass ceiling" is distinguished from formal barriers to advancement, such as education or experience requirements. The term is often credited as having been originally coined by Carol Hymowitz and Timothy Schellhardt in the March 24, 1986 edition of the Wall Street Journal. However, the term was used prior to that; for instance, it was utilized in a March 1984 Adweek article by Gay Bryant.

In large organizations where women have managed to reach high – level managerial positions, they are often resitricted to areas less central or strategic to the organization, such as human resources & administration. It is still very difficult for women to move laterally into strategic areas such as product development or finance, and then upwards through the central pathways to key executive positions in the pyramidal structures that is characteristic of large organizations. Sometimes these barriers are called "Glass Walls".

Apart from Glass Ceiling there is another term known as Glass Elevator (or glass escalator). This means the rapid promotion of men over women, especially into management, in female-dominated fields such as nursing.

However, in order to overcome such insumountable obstacle, women need to seek support. Success today requires organizations to best utilize the talent available to them irrespective of the gender. To do these, barriers to upward mobility for women needs to be removed. Organizations need to redefine & restructure the organization systems to respond to the dillemas faced faced by women managers. Organization has recognized that female executives offer a wealth of talent. Often women become 'super women' to respond to being equal.

The striking part of women managers is that they are very good at juggling around tasks. One of the strongest skills is their ability at multi-tasking. Also women managers bring with them a different style & different skills. Research also confirms that women managers see things laterally, intuitively and differently. They can handle more contradictions, can tolerate more and deliver much more than men.

The belief that women managers are uncertain of them, look for constant reassurance and tend to be aggressive are stereotyped responses which feed and multiply on themselves. The reality is that women in general and women managers in particular have a different value system, which they bring to the organization.

Management studies on the gender initiatives taken by the corporate world show that companies have followed three approaches: there are some companies that like their women employees to be a part of the 'boys', adopt masculine styles of functioning, play golf, take on tough assignments in factories or overseas and be assertive leaders just like the men.

Other companies recognise that women do the same work but they have different needs that require be addressing and accommodating at the workplace. Hence, they offer their women employees not only the statutory maternity leave, but other conveniences as well. So, inbuilt in their system are flexible working hours, working from home, allowing women transfers easily (when the husbands move) or even being amenable to women choosing alternate career tracks within the organisation itself.

The third set of companies goes the whole hog. They not only accommodate women employees, but recognise that women bring with them a difference in approach and attitude to the workplace. Hence, they also palce them appropriately, so that their skills and interactive style of leadership brings gains to the organization.

However, management studies on gender equity also recoognise that all the three approaches have their limitations. That being part of the boys' golf game or making use of flexi hours or even being praised for bringing in the 'feminine' approach to running an organisation do not change the essential gender inequity inherent in the system.that would require a larger social change and more so, a drastic shift in perspective.

Therefore women in corporate India are aware of the constraints they work under and obviously try to make the best of the bargain. They typically bear a disproportionate amount of responsibility for home and family and thus have more demands on their time outside the office. And when they do reach the managerial level, they bring with them both silver lining and dark clouds. But they flower, if they are allowed to flower, despite all the obstacles, which are mainly societal and perceptual.


1. Amarnath, Nischinta; Ghosh, Debashish; (2005), The Voyage to Excellence: The Ascent of 21 Women Leaders of India Inc., Pustak Mahal

2. Robbins, P. Stephens; (1999), Organizational Behavior – Concepts, Controversies, Applications, Prentice Hall of India Private Limited, 8th Edition.

3. Sekharan, Uma; (2004), Organisational Behavior – Text and Cases, Tata McGraw-Hill Publishing Company Limited, New Delhi, 2nd Edition.

Ms. Sraboni Ganguly
Faculty - Human Resource Management
International School of Business
Salt Lake, Sector V, Kolkata-700091

Source: E-mail July 3, 2008


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