Indra Nooyi, the Pepsi CEO's interview in The Atlantic http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/07/why-pepsico-ceo-indra-k-nooyi-cant-have-it-all/373750/ on why women cant have it all has created waves. It always helps to have a role model, make full admission of the fact that there are severe challenges, guilt trips and the need to have a huge support system to build a strong career. Women across the world are overjoyed. It resonates - and we feel like we no longer need to feel apologetic about our trials and tribulations.
What resonated the most with was her description of the corporate clock and the biological clock and how they just do not synchronise.
But guess what, men can't have it all either. In my work on Women leadership in Asia, I work with the male leaders as well, because they usually the people who are the managers to the women leaders we are trying to groom. And, I see such an amazing trend when I talk to these senior executives. Most of them have spent over 25 years in the workforce and have had stellar careers.
- they are inevitably regretful of how much they have given to their careers and how little time they have spent with their families - either their children's development , spouses careers or in elder care.
- they wonder if "leaning out" is ever an option - because of the immense pressure of being the sole bread winner
- they believe that they've lived an uni-dimensional world, and now that the years have passed them by they wonder if they can have another life outside of work
- and finally they internally crave for similar "flexibility, holistic life and purpose" as their women counterparts
So, corporations please rise! Rise to the fact that the structured linear career progression is soon going to be a thing of the past. Families , work- life and motivations are rapidly changing - lets also listen to the men and if they want something different.
The obstacles to gender equity in India seem to be less about a “glass ceiling” and more about a “sticky floor”
(published in People Matters March 2014)
SEBI, India's market regulator, announced on February 13 that all listed companies in the country would have to appoint at least one women director to their Board. This symbolic decision is guaranteed to open up a thicket of questions: What stands in the way of corporates in India filling their pipelines with higher numbers of women leaders?
Indian women fare the worst among the Asian countries in terms of career progression. Starting with a low of 42 per cent university graduates, of whom 29 per cent join the ranks of first-time professionals, the numbers hit a dismal 9 per cent at the mid-to-senior management level (McKinsey & Company, Women Matter Asia, 2012).
Let us then zoom out to consider whether the economic, educational, and healthcare opportunities afforded Indian women is equitable. According to a World Economic Forum report, which quantifies the magnitude of gender-based disparities, India’s overall ranking is 105 among 135 countries and shows scant progress since the measure was created in 2006 (The Global Gender Gap Report 2012, p. 211).
Why should corporates care? There are grave implications to the country losing half its workforce and leadership talent. Economic progress and societal stability call for our urgent attention to gender inclusivity in our organizations. To be globally competitive, this gender gap must be closed.
To be fair, Indian companies are introducing a slew of measures such as on-site childcare, flexible scheduling and work arrangements, family leave, and extended childcare leave with re-employment. In keeping with global trends, Indian companies are also on a quest for role models for upwardly mobile women, and are embarking on programs of professional development, mentoring, sponsorship, and in-house forums led by women.
But we believe that women’s career advancement is a “wicked” problem. Coined by Horst Rittel, a design theorist and university professor, “wicked” means that the factors compounding the issue are inter-connected, there are a large number of people with conflicting opinions, and there is no template to follow to tackle and improve the situation. In addition, the nature of the gender inequities is almost always uniquely determined by local context and so there are no universal solutions.
This is why we undertook an in-depth study of gender equity in Indian business organizations. Our initial exploration has been fruitful and we are learning a great deal. For example, women today want to be women. The 80’s and 90’s saw women succeed because they became “men”. Now women do not feel the need to be men but to be themselves. Their feminine strengths of nurturing, empathy and connectedness can combine with masculine strengths of assertiveness, hard-headed negotiation and goal-oriented drive to deliver results.
Another obvious but not widely admitted “truth” is coming to light: Both men and women are equivalently ambitious about achieving impact and success in the workplace and desiring lives in which their emotional commitments to the family are honored. Our sense is that these deep and basic human needs cannot be quarantined or segregated by gender.
The obstacles to gender equity in India seem to be less about a “glass ceiling” and more about a “sticky floor”. A promising sign is that senior women who have been in the workforce for 15 or more years have figured out how to make their way through the career labyrinth and are more likely to opt to go up, not out. The more pressing issue is to provide stronger guidance and support to women during their critical junior-to-middle and middle-to-senior career transitions.
Our current situation in Indian business organizations calls for urgent attention and remediation. We believe that the need of the hour is to build holistic organizations by having conversations that resolve gender issues more systemically. In this way, the country can weave together sustainable business growth and socio-economic equity, which is the fabric of modern societies.
About the authors: Meena Surie Wilson is Senior Enterprise Associate at the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL®) and Kalpana Sinha is the CEO and co-founder of Cosmode Consultants.
When one starts having similar conversations at different meetings, its time to draw a theme, sit back and reflect as to what may really be going on.
I've had a few recent conversations with individuals (all men) looking to staff their boards with a woman director. They often want a recommendation. As we progress through the conversation, we usually hit a point where I hear -" you know we would really like someone with "pedigree"". When I probe deeper into what they mean by pedigree , its often about someone with a "brand name", someone visible, seen in public and can makes heads turn (yes, pun intended). I always want to ask , so are the men on the board all pedigree? But hold myself back.
Here is what I actually say
1. There are typically three types of women leaders you will often see in the public limelight. Women who have built billion dollar empires (Zhang Xin in China), either on their own or family run. Second, CEO's of organisations who are given the mandate of being the media spokesperson ( Chanda Kocchar in India) and third, someone who has written a best seller ( Sheryl Sandberg in the US). So are you looking for reflected glory , or something else?
2. While having a woman on the board is a decision I totally support, I would like you to look a step further and look deeper at what the board really needs. The board is a team of people who bring in different skills to achieve a certain objective. Does this person bring in an unique skill to the table that is needed by the organisation? Example: Cybersecurity, Sustainability, Mergers and Aquisitions or Social Media.
3. It is also about chemistry. Bringing in someone who is in the headline news every other day may not be someone who "fits" with your company culture, purpose and values. You need someone for the long haul, who will support and help the organisation grow.
Now do you still need pedigree?
ped·i·gree noun \ˈpe-də-ˌgrē\: Webster
the history of the family members in a person's or animal's past especially when it is good or impressive
the origin and history of something especially when it is good or impressive
Daniel Pink in his book “A Whole New Mind” has talked about how MBA’s will need to develop a more creator, artistic, empathetic, pattern recogniser and meaning maker mindset. His argument is that we are moving from an Information Age to a Conceptual Age, where creativity and empathy will be rewarded in addition to analytical skills. And so, the way we teach the MBA program needs to change.
What Daniel Pink is saying is at the heart of a larger issue we are faced with in today’s professional working world, especially in India - that is the need to have more Women Leaders. Developments in the field of Neuroscience have helped us understand that women have a higher capacity of “web thinking”- weaving together connections to get different perspectives, work through ambiguity and that men have a higher capacity for “step thinking” – more focused compartmentalized thinking. Traditionally MBA programs have focused on male dominated thinking which is not a surprise because the process by which students are admitted into the top MBA schools in the country is heavily biased towards engineering graduates who are close to 80% male. As a result, we have now built an environment in organisations that predominantly prefer the “step” thinking and have lower tolerance for “web thinking”.
The 80’s and 90’s saw women be successful in corporations because they became “men” – they figured the only way to be accepted and succeed was to behave no differently from their male counterparts in an organisation. Today, I have conversations with women when they say that they do not feel the need to be “men”, but to be ‘themselves”. They find that they are not comfortable with mastering the male code and they want to establish a female code that plays up their strengths of being their authentic selves - nurturing, not being emotionless and bringing themselves to work. I have also spoken to several women and men managers who manage teams and they feel that it’s the strengths of nurture, empathy and connectedness is what helps women be great managers. In fact one woman who has college graduates come work in her team said to me “I find that I do better with these kids with my egalitarian and highly interactive style that I have ever in my 10 years done with other sets of teams.”
So, as we grow to have 40% of our workforce occupied by Gen Y, the women managers with the women’s code will turn out to be a huge advantage in keeping and growing the talent for tomorrow.
The question then becomes How? How to we attract, develop and retain women employees so that they are able to bring their strengths to the workplace and feel appreciated and rewarded for what they do?
We have to learn to have the whole brained conversation:
You know how I talked about women being web thinkers and men being step thinkers. I have a lot of women come to me to say I cannot have a conversation with my male manager on my issues and concerns. And even if I do, the next time I’m up for an assignment, he will not give it to me. We really need to help our managers learn to have crucial conversations in not just a data driven way, but in a more sensitive way. Typically, as a society in India we are not brought up to be with both genders side by side. In most parts there is educational and social segregation as we grow up. As a result there are socially inept behaviours that we need to overcome at the workplace, where both genders are made to work in equal partnership.
A new hire at a large technology company said to me once “You know I hear wonderful things about how this organisation promotes and supports women – and I see a lot of senior management walking the talk, but let me share something with you. When I was being interviewed one of the things my hiring manager said to me was - I really need you to accept this job, I need you to help me meet my diversity quota!”
As an HR Leader I have personally been in performance review sessions where data from a unrelated event shows up causing much havoc in the process – a lady manager at a leadership seminar had spoken about her challenges with her job and work life balance in her group, a manager who was at this seminar then brought this up at a performance review meeting, quoted her, and said that he didn’t think she was capable of doing the current job or being promoted!
So, in order to have the whole brained conversation, we need to build greater awareness and sensitivity to what is being said and what impact that may have. Managers need to push all employees to understand socially inept behavior, what damage it may cause and the long term consequences it may have on reputation and careers.
We need encourage more “web thinking” - the ability to go two levels down and delayer the data to come up with what it means to be able to understand a problem holistically and then solve it. This perspective will not just to tap the women consumer decision maker, attract the Gen Y to come to work but will help build an organisation culture that appreciates that we need to balance the “right” and the “left” to create sustainable, thriving, fun -to -work places.
Kalpana Sinha is a Leadership and Organisation Professional. Her blog has reflections from her work experiences of over 20 years.