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Of soft power and tough love...

It’s an even playing field. But, if experts are to be believed, administration is safer and better in the hands of women. The Sunday HT team meets a new powerclub. Read about the women on top.

india Updated: Dec 09, 2007 04:52 IST

Turns out, girls can do it better. A recent study by McKinsey & Company has the writing on the wall: workplaces with more women in senior management posts perform better financially than firms with fewer women. The study, done on Europe’s top companies, showed that the performance of woman bosses vis-à-vis male counterparts had achieved greater capital growth, stronger underlying earnings and bigger increase in share price. But what’s the picture close to home?

Tough Love

Workers prefer tough love. But what if that tough boss is female? Male managers who are thought to be unkind, insensitive and unaware of others’ feelings are not considered to be any worse as a result. But heaven save a female manager who displays the same behaviour. Female managers who can’t read unspoken emotions, such as facial expressions, posture, and tone of voice, are seen as less caring and thus receive lower ratings of satisfaction from their staff. The findings, published earlier this month in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, was based on a study of 44 part-time students who were employed in a position with supervisory responsibilities as part of their MBA course, and 78 managers from four companies in the hospitality industry, to see how good they were at spotting emotions.

It’s roses nearly all the way. Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, biotech entrepreneur and managing director of Biocon India and Chanda Kochhar, joint managing director of ICICI Bank, might be the faces you see on magazine covers, but there’s a growing tribe that’s spearheading entertainment, HR, sports, advertisement, admin despite having to straddle home and the world.

Secrets of her success
At 26, Monisha Advani floated her own company. Eleven years later, the new managing director-designate of Ranstad India says being a woman has clearly worked. The ability to empathise with a growing segment of the workforce other women has played a big part in her success. Her innovative strategies that tested managerial ability by “selling sandwiches for a profit and getting donations from corporates for a cause, all in a couple of hours,” has become an industry standard.

In Tania Gooptu’s line of work (she’s the only woman partner of the three-member board of Aventus), where business is cultivated through relationships, she finds women are less averse to mining a contact. <b1>

“I’ve seen male co-workers who feel they will be one up or one down if they get business from their their drinking partner or a friend who is a CEO of a company,” says Indu Menon, a bank manager. Many women bosses note that men tend to complicate such transactions. Women use their business cards more efficiently, they say.

The oft-levelled ‘attack’ on women’s intelligence is unfair, says neuroscientist Vijaylakshmi Ravindranath, also the lady boss at the National Brain Research Centre, Manesar. “Male brains are about 11-12 per cent larger than female brains. When the size of the brain is compared to the body weight, there’s no difference between the two sexes. Moreover, the sheer size of the brain isn’t a measure of intelligence,” she says.

Women are intutive and are good at picking up non-verbal cues. “In today’s market of multiple offers or more-than-a-lakh offer, gut feel has paid off and how. A woman notices small slips in a telecon and can act on it,” says Gooptu. Poulomee Malik, manager, organisational learning and training, with Manpower, says interpersonal skills now are an add-on on a CV in these days of high employee attrition levels. “As a woman I can read people better. It helps me align their business goals with their personal ones.”

Lady of the House <b2>
Women are good team players and female bosses often make very democratic leaders. While men are driven by a sense of power and aggression to build success, women are driven by the need to excel, says Mazumdar-Shaw. “Organisations with women in senior management have HR policies that are far more inclusive than those that don’t,” she says. “A woman is empowered and empowering at the same time,” adds Kiran Bedi, India’s first woman IPS officer. Mamta Kharab, captain, Indian women’s hockey team, also says her work is made easier “with support from other senior players in the team.”

So long a marginal in power hierarchies, women leaders are thus more prone to look out for the power-less. Recently, while launching Ujjawala, a scheme for the prevention of trafficking of women and children, minister of women and child development, Renuka Chowdhury, spoke of the power of ‘feel’ and ‘push’ to drive reformative laws to make women’s life safe and dignified. Dr. Sudeshna Chatterjee, architect and urban planner’s work is similarly oriented. <b3>

“In my recent work, the urban design of the new capital city of Chhattisgarh, I’ve really pushed for a green city, focussing on the everyday life of communities with a special focus on women, children and the differently abled,” she says. “I feel the historically masculine dreams and expressions of power through architecture and city design leave very little room for everyday needs of minority groups.”

Being able to manage costs better, an ability that comes with firefighting with various incomes and dreams together at home and at work is also a plus. “Men go overboard with costs,” says a law firm head. “A woman will not be stingy with the bonus, but it can only be a man’s idea to give the staff a gold coin during Diwali. What do you do with a gold coin? I gave everybody the pen I use. A gift is personal. It builds solidarity.”

War of the Worlds
Workplace equations are often not conducive for a woman to get to the top. As a lady boss says: “You have to work doubly hard to prove you are not a floozy whiling away time. And you are burning candle on the both ends with a second and third work shift at <b4>home.” Juniors and colleagues are also more allowing of male seniors’ toughness (see box). There maybe dangers of generalisation here, but a lady boss says: “If a woman and man are colleagues on the same function, and the woman is average, there is no rivalry, because the woman will make the man look good. But if she is better, the man can’t take it, as she will make the man look bad.”

Projection of an image at work is also a trick that most women perforce pick up to be able to wield power, on par with men.“Unlike traditional avenues available to women as teachers and doctors, today’s corporate or corporatised world is one of hierarchy,” says sociologist Mary John.“When you talk in terms of vice-president or an assistant manager, you have to adopt behaviour to be up and running and be who you are in that space.” The bottonline is man or woman it’s all about performance. But right now, the news is: it’s woman on top.
(Inputs by Uthra Ganesan)