S/he leads change


For the past few weeks, I have been actively reading articles and updates on LinkedIn (not that I never did earlier, but maybe I wasn’t so observant). While it’s an interesting space for working and aspiring professionals to share, interact and learn (and I have gained some wonderful insights) I have also made some “not-so-wonderful” observations. I have seen, quite a few instances, where women and men while writing, attribute a “he” to leadership – “as a leader, he should….”, “his leadership qualities…”, and so on.

I have been thinking whether including an “s/” before “he” takes up a lot of time, is deliberately missed, or it doesn’t occur as an option, to the members. Whatever be the reason, all of them, hurt. Why is it so difficult to visualize women as leaders? Why does it pinch to accept women authority, not just for men, but for women too? How long will it take before the word “leader” evokes only positive and inspirational attributes, rather than a gender? Will the word ever truly become gender-neutral?

Also, if you search for quotes on leadership, you would mostly find, if it includes a gender, it is a “he”. One of my teammates once complimented me with a leadership quote (the one you see in the picture), that day I realized even more, how skewed the word is. In earlier days, it was difficult to imagine women in leadership roles. We were synonymous with being submissive, subservient, vulnerable and dependent. We were considered only followers and in textbooks, many noteworthy “women leaders” (unfortunately I am also having to use the gender to establish my point) were forgotten. Awkward as it may seem, such archaic beliefs still exist even today.

It is interesting to see, that despite the growing number of women in CXO positions and boardrooms, and efforts undertaken by corporations to create “Gender and Diversity” teams, the general mindset of many people still remains the same. I often attribute this failure, not just to the attitude of the top management but also the middle and junior levels. Often formulating gender inclusive policies aren’t sufficient, putting them into practice at each and every level and every step (including the loose talks and informal discussions) makes the real difference. When gender diversity becomes a company philosophy, a core value rather than just a mandate, only then will things truly change.

Someone once asked me, my views on the reservation of women in company boards. There are both pros and cons to this. If this mandate is not enforced, if it’s not made a compulsion, women will mostly not be chosen, they aren’t a priority. They mostly weren’t, until the mandate came in. Having more women in boards will ensure diversity and more gender sensitive policies. However, the flip side of this is, like the Parliament, powerless proxy women representatives are sometimes elected who are merely puppets in the hands of their male relatives. This further solidifies people’s notion that women get positions because of their gender and not because of their abilities (although, we are mostly at a disadvantage). This further defeats the bigger purpose of empowerment and greater participation of women in leadership roles.

However much I want a world where such reservations are not required, my present answer is affirmative, in favor of reservation for a few years at least. We as a country, still need to evolve, we need this positive discrimination, we need to think beyond procreating and nurturing as women’s life goals before we can do away with such reservations. Along with that, we need more supporting structures within organizations like flexi-timings, crèches, paid maternity and paternity leaves; to ensure more women stick around in their mid-careers and ensure a healthy pipeline for senior management positions.

I envision a world where one’s abilities, knowledge and hard work and not gender, determine one’s career path.  I aspire to have an inclusive, objective, compassionate and diverse work environment. I am reminded of what Drew Gilpin Faust, President, Harvard University once said – “I’m not the woman president of Harvard, I’m the president of Harvard.” I envision a world where there are just leaders – competent, knowledgeable and inspirational. Is that too much to ask for?