In 10 years of being a journalist, this is a question that has puzzled me. Having interviewed hundreds of intellectuals, powerful and ambitious corporate women at all levels, I have observed that âsheâ has always meant business. In the past decade, when the growth rates marched up, many of Indiaâs top women leaders touched the nadir of their careers. Even though I am not big on power lists, I think they were looked upon as a legitimate antidote to the billionaire boys on magazine covers. But having achieved all that success, one wonders what exactly do women have to give up to be on top of their game. Is the idea of leadership in India essentially a masculine notion?
This isnât another gender debate, but a reflection on how workplaces promoting women are inherently expecting them to be Rambo.
Those are not my words. Anjali Singhal (name changed on request) quit her high-paying, suited-booted HR job with a $20 billion business house just six months ago. She hasnât been happier and says that she âfeels like a womanâ again. Nudge her, and she admits growing in a male-dominated management makes you âa bit of a manâ.
âIf you bring any emotional intelligence to the corporate table, you will be looked at as weak. But if a man is using sentiment to get work done, speak to employees, he will be hailed and rewarded for putting his emotional quotient to use, â says Singhal.
Are women CEOs pushed to project themselves as âkingsâ? Is paurushÂ about potential while prakritiÂ is the reflection of woman? The glass ceiling may be gone, but do successful women who have broken new ground face prejudices? Is she, by default, a testosterone wrapped in a sari?
Tata Sons veteran R Gopalakrishnan has some experience of such workplace dilemmas. The Indian mind is rooted to believe that men lead more often than women. Also, it tends to think that itâs not enough to intellectually accept the idea of women leaders, but culturally own it and ensure pragmatic execution of such notions in society. Having just finished his third book on management and leadership What the CEO Really Wants from You, Gopalakrishnan blames both men and women for allowing stereotypes. âBoth men and women have the difficulties in culturally accepting the idea of women being on top. There are as though codes written in the minds of both.â As a society, we may <believe> in the idea of a woman trailblazer, but do we really culturally own it? Do we propagate it?
Even women seem to be in doubt. Radhika Bhangu (name changed) is an investment banker and admits that she feels the need to be among the boys, be like them, talk their language and even play their sport to stay âin the gameâ.
It makes me wonder if our behaviour and attitude is strongly influenced by our perceptions of what is expected of us. âThere is a pressure to be like your male colleagues, clearly, and, of course, few succumb to it,â says Bhangu.