Monthly Archives: September 2018

Changing the ratio – Women Leadership

Is there something about sports that sets Women up for Leadership roles? An Ernst & Young survey of 821 high-level executives and found that 90% of women sampled played sports. Among women currently holding a C-level position, this number rose to 96%. Leaders who stand up and hold their heads high every time they fall, leaders who push, cheer and string their teams to success, unbroken spirits that have clear goals and victories in sight. Girls who knew they could win. Girls who would not give up.

I recently was at my son’s state level basket ball tournaments and had the pleasure of seeing some determined young boys and girls playing ball like their life depended on it. The tournament comprised of teams from various towns and districts of Karnataka, spanning the length and breadth of the state.

The most intriguing of the lot was a girl’s team, from an interior town of Karnataka. Every single girl on the team had short cropped hair and an iron will to make every move count and every ball through the hoop. Their resilience and grit showed on their faces and passions ran high. One girl suddenly had an Asthma attack and had to be carried off the field. Despite her condition, she tried her best to stay on the field insisting that she will be okay very soon. And rightly so, within 7 precious minutes of the ticking field clock, she was back to her ball handling position and ran the court like she had the wind beneath her feet, adding more fuel to the passions of her team mate. I could see in their young 13 year old faces, capable and strong leaders of tomorrow.

Meg Whitman, CEO of Hewlett-Packard, was the captain of the swim team and also played university lacrosse, tennis and basketball. She is quoted as saying that she often uses her on field game strategies to run her company.

PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi played cricket in college. Sunoco CEO Lynn Elsenhans played on Rice University’s first women’s basketball team.

Many women leaders who have played competitive sport agree that sports has been fundamental to their success as business leaders. Research has found many reasons why playing sports can boost the odds of success in either business or in the corporate world.

Sports builds character and fitness:
Playing competitive sports keeps one mentally and physically fit. Players get used to strenuous and regimental schedules, exercise and play sessions which create positive associations with hard work and results. Sports promotes integrity and teaches one early on that hard work , sincerity and steadfastness form the basic tenets of a winner.

Sports promotes resilience:
Everyday day on the sports ground is a lesson in failures. Children in sports learn from a young age that when you fall the ONLY thing to do is get up, brush yourself off and play again. Failure and success is part of an everyday routine. This lesson takes them a long way in life. They learn resilience and that no failure is big enough to give up.

Its okay to want to win:
This by far is the biggest reason why girls need to be exposed to competitive sports early in life – because playing sports makes it okay to Want to win, okay to be competitive, okay to not compromise, okay to beat the odds, okay to defy the naysayers and plough on to success. Women leaders of today acknowledge that without this basic mindset, women succumb to societal expectations of compromising and feel uncomfortable being competitive.

Leaders of tomorrow are born on today’s play grounds and sports must be encouraged and boosted at the school level to empower our women to be significant and prominent contributors to tomorrows workforce.

Stereotyping of women in leadership

Women in leadership positions face several types of stereotyping. As a 21st century workforce striving for equality between the sexes, we must begin with awareness and sensitization to workplace mindsets, biases and dynamics that affect women in ways that are unseen and often unnoticed.

In an article, Jill Abramson, the first woman executive editor of the New York Times, was described by her staffers as “impossible to work with,” and “not approachable” This was just a few days after the paper won four Pulitzer prizes, the third highest number of Pulitzers ever received by the newspaper.

No eyebrows were raised. This is a commonplace stereotyping of women leaders. High achieving women are easily branded as “too aggressive”, just one of the many different types of stereotyping women are faced with… Although over the recent years women have scaled many rungs of the corporate and political ladder and continue to hold key leadership positions as heads of state and billion dollar companies, they are never too far away from careless and hackneyed stereo typing based on their gender that subverts their status and abilities. Most women leader have risen to their positions of power despite the stereotyping.

Gender and career experts have examined the dangerous notions about female success and how they seep into the collective subconscious.

Too Aggressive or Too Weak : While women often do well in collaborative leadership, when it comes to taking an authoritative position, women leaders are quickly labelled as too tough, too aggressive and Egoistic. Just being assertive or knowing her mind and speaking it has women leaders being perceived as to aggressive.

As a flip side to this same coin, since women leaders tend to be more compassionate and understand that getting results are a collaborative effort, they tend to strive at inclusion, and research has shown that they get easily branded as “Too Weak”. A label that affects their opportunities at moving upwards towards higher positions with the organization that may require tougher decisions.

Heartless Power Mongers: In the movie “The Devil Wear Prada”the protagonist is painted as an unsympathetic and ruthless slave driver. This character was loosely based on Vogue Magazines Editor in Chief Anna Wintrow, who is one on the most powerful personalities of the fashion world and whose personality has been exaggerated by the media (and the above film) as ruthless and power hungry. She however, does not consider herself as intimidating or powerful. In an interview, she says that she “Just keeps her head down and does her work to the best of her ability”.

Masculine: It is now well known that Margaret Thatcher made a transformation of her image, particularly in the way she dressed and her voice, in order to be heard and perceived as a distinct voice of power in a “man’s world of politics” she was groomed to make appearances only in sober monotone suits and abandon all “frills, dresses and jewelry”She only got to keep the string of pearls because she absolutely insisted on it. She was made to drink warm water with lemon so that her voice would be less strained and acquire a lower pitch when she makes her speeches so that she does not sound like a “shrill, high pitched and excited woman”.

In more recent times we can see this form of “masculine” dressing in Indira Nooyi, Head of Pepsi, where the only hint of femininity comes from single pearl drop earrings. Even powerful and smart women leaders are often forced to conform to male biases that being too feminine is a deterrent to be being perceived as strong leader.