• Is leadership really gender neutral?

    Across the world, there are only about 3-4 per cent women at CEO positions. Apart from the inadequate representation, there has also been an observed jostle for authority in decision making between the two sexes. At a recent talk held at the Times Mumbai LitFest, HSBC Head Naina Lal Kidwai and one of the Directors at the Tata Group, R Gopalakrishnan spoke about the actual nature of Gender at leadership positions.

    “Success is Gender agnostic. In order to be successful, man or woman, boy or girl, one needs to deliver,” asserted Naina Lal Kidwai. On the struggle for power, she said that once you are at a leadership position, a lot is expected from you and you don’t want to risk that by depending on anyone else, either male or female. So you have to claim your authority otherwise if anything else goes wrong, you are the one to blame.

    On the other hand, Gopalakrishnan from the Tata Group drew a three point parallel between men and women at leadership positions, breaking a few of the popular myths.

    1. Men are more decisive and women are more sensitive, hence their roles in the corporate sectors should be determined accordingly. But, according to Mr. Gopalakrishnan’s report, it’s the women and men’s opinion of them that makes women think about their abilities.
    2. There are certain differences in traits between men and women, but they do not account for too much in deciding whether a person will be successful or not.
    3. There are certain domains, in the business world in particular, certain industries like hospital management, retail chains and banks where women seemed to work better. On the other hand, there aren’t too many women in software, energy, sports.

    Then the discussion moved to work life balance. There is also a guilt attached with women in leadership positions who are also mothers, Kidwai pointed out. She also spoke about HSBC’s new initiative, where they have a ‘mother-in-law’ day. On this day, mothers-in-law visit the office with the women and get to observe the work that they do. The findings of the pilot project have shown that women (in this case the mom in laws) realize the kind of effort that goes in and become more supportive in sharing domestic responsibilities. Kidwai also went on to say that being ambitious is not bad and women should not be viewed in bad light for being ambitious. Her advice to all young women was, “Choose your partner wisely, it’s a career choice.” Naina also advised women to be courageous, as ‘a great deal was lost from the world for want of a little courage.’ She also stated that the best performing companies in the country are run by women.

    “Which lens are you looking at a particular situation from, affects how you perceive any particular situation. Life, success and gender have no reality”, said Gopalakrishnan. Kidwai also said that corporate boards needs to look at work through a gender- agnostic lens, i.e. perceive men and women’s work through a lens that looks at them beyond their gender.