Women in leadership roles

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Ashvini Chopra
Much has been written about the differences between men and women in leadership roles with experts taking different views on whether females and males exhibit different traits or similar traits and whether sex makes a difference or not. It is claimed that neurologically there is no difference between men and women. Other studies have shown and claimed that women are more transformational and participative leaders, while men are, in general, transactional and authoritative.

It is important to also note that anthropologists generally make a distinction between sex and gender. While the former is a biological condition the latter is a social construct and refers to the difference in behavior caused due to cultural and social norms that cast a set of expectations on each of the sexes.

Thus, if we combine the claims that neurologically there is no difference between the male and female and that biology is incidental, the difference in behavior pattern seems to be exclusively caused by the cultural and social norms. It has also been propounded that this doesn’t imply that an individual can’t generate their own reality and break from the societal norms.

This last also implies that it is the personality and the belief system of the individual concerned can vary from the average (usage of the word normal seems to inhibit and pre-suppose that what the average person feels is normal and thereby casting abnormality on outliers).

Given the above, it is surprising that most of the studies on females as leaders have revolved around the differences in female leadership qualities in Western world with very little literature available for more family oriented countries like India even though the role of women in societies and what is expected of them differs widely even within Western countries e.g. the difference in role of women in UK and France. It has also been acknowledged by Anthropologists and Socialists that the colonialist domination caused an upheaval in women rights since the colonial powers applied their own ethos and values of dealing primarily with men with respect to property rights that weighed the leadership in public domain decisively in favor of men and that precolonial India is held as an example of this subjugation of public leadership role of women.

If one examines the Indian context, and Hindu Laws one gets clear examples of this in the existence of concepts like Stridhan and the intestate devolution of a Hindu woman. Today one can classify that Indian women are in one of the following three roles:
1)    Invisible Heir – women who traditionally have succession and maintenance rights but are largely silent consumers of wealth and choosing to focus on home and family.
2)    Anchor – strong women with voices but who exercise their opinions through the male agency.
3)    Professionals and achievers – an increasing no. of women who are driven by personal achievement and who exercise independence.

Most studies on leadership styles seem to have focused on the 3rd category. In this category, the leadership style of women has been shown to be more weighed towards (though there is an existence of outliers):
•    People orientation
•    Empathy
•    Transformational
•    Participative.
Various studies have also shown that there are two effects operating here:
1)    The Gender roles and expected behavior patterns that the Professional Achievers themselves exhibit.
2)    The Gender roles and expected behavior patterns that are expected of Professional Achievers by their superiors, peers and subordinates.
In recent years, some authors have started focusing on the other two categories and their behavior patterns when Invisible Heirs or Anchors are forced into Leadership roles. Consequently, there is very little research on how the leadership styles of such women evolve as different from that of Professional Achievers. Some recent examples from Indian business houses are interesting to note in this context.
1)    Anu Aga of Thermax – an anchor, who was largely invisible before she was thrust into the Professional role due to her husband’s sudden demise.
2)    Harshbeena Zaveri of NRB Bearings – an invisible heir who got pushed into assuming business leadership.
3)    Rohini Kalyani of Kalyani Forge – an invisible heir who got pushed to take centerstage due to the ill-health of her husband.
4)    Nita Ambani of Reliance Industries – perhaps the most interesting case where an invisible heir came out of her cocoon and blossomed on her own without an event thrusting the responsibility on her.

Each of them was either an Anchor or an Invisible Heir but had to step into the role of a Professional Achiever due to external circumstances. I am sure many more examples can be found in a detailed study. These provide an interesting insight into how women can transcend and imprint their own personalities on the businesses that they run and be successful at the same.

Source: The Sangai Express

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