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.