Leading Ladies


[Photo Credits:  Corridor of McNally Smith College, Saint Paul, MN by Vinita Agrawal]

by Vinita Agrawal

Management mantras aren’t the same across genders. Deconstructing and reconstructing the woman manager.

Whether it be the governments or multinational corporations, the media or the academic world, the fact is that women have been able to change the who, the how, the what and why of decision making and management in the workplace.

However, women face unique challenges on the road to success. These challenges are different from the ones that men encounter to get ahead in the workplace. Women are, by nature, more nurturing and more committed to caring for elders and children. In the workplace men tend to turn this against them by using clichés such as ‘women are distracted by motherhood, aren’t sufficiently committed to their work and unable to travel or work for long hours.’

Being a successful manager is all about leading from the front. Leadership development institutes have recently formulated the Strengthening Winners in Management (SWIM) strategy. Using real life examples and case studies of women leaders, researchers have analyzed the complex interactions between leadership and gender, context and culture from a multidisciplinary perspective. Analysts attempt to arrive at an intellectually solid foundation for understanding the unique challenges of women who become leaders. They establish the need to examine gender as a cultural construct.

A double-edged glass ceiling impedes women in the corporate world. Some companies develop and promote women to the senior level but many women who squeeze through have yet to break through the second pane – they have to battle with gender prejudices at the workplace.

Here are a few tips that might prove useful to women managers to tackle the invisible but persistent resistance to their growth in their respective careers.

Learn to Be a Strategist

Clearly, to strengthen their ability to demonstrate leadership women must allow the full recognitionof their contribution to the management team. This means, that you, the woman manager, must be able to influence decisions, and become an equal partner in strategy formulation. Equip yourself with the critical skills needed to manage crisis and changes in new environments. Get well acquainted with the right approach to managing people and teams with confidence and credibility, so you will be able to take crisp decisions and to negotiate and influence the rapid strengthening of women in management.

Upgrade Yourself

Skill up gradation is vital in this context. Coupled with a concerted growth plan, it can help a woman advance her career. Skip up gradation could be in the form of learning the local language, or it could be taking a computer course to keep up with the changing times.

Know How To Negotiate

One of the most difficult aspects of business to grasp is negotiation. Survival issues are bound to arise and integrity is often heavily challenged. However true power starts with knowing that we don’t need to take advantage of anyone in order to survive. Women must have a desire to win and an ability to learn the unwritten rules of the organization. It is best to deal with people keeping a calm exterior. Aggression gets you nowhere…it is better to lead by work rather than by coercion.

Do the Leg Work

Women sometimes have to handle the workload of two people single handedly. They kill themselves by working till four in the morning to complete an important task. That is the kind of dedication required to sustain one’s credibility in this dog-eat-dog world of competition. And when such hard work goes un acknowledged by the bosses and credit is given to a male manager simply because he is a man, it pinches – at these times must speak up for themselves and have the courage of their convictions and above all not shy away from the physical hard work that may be necessary to complete a task successfully.

Get Yourself A Guru

Mentorship helps. Sometimes a woman just needs to be egged on to take her chance at success. Encouragement is the first step to taking a risk. It is also a big motivator. By helping you to learn the ropes, sharing knowledge with you and by providing opportunities, a mentor can help your career move faster. Scout around and find one – a senior manager, a professor, a programme advisor or simply one’s mother!

Remember that both vertical mentoring and horizontal networking relationships have value. The theory of developing several mentors with different backgrounds and responsibilities is also highly recommended. A strong network is a valuable asset. It takes time and effort to develop. But finding mentors and developing a network is a key to success. The subject of networking with other women at the workplace has a unanimous flavor amongst working women.

Breaking Down Barriers

Currently, women still have barriers to overcome in accessing leadership opportunities. External factors such as traditional values and norms in society as well as internal messages about ‘proper’ behavior expected from a woman affect her growth. Attributes perceived as being needed for good leadership such as being assertive, decisive, independent, comfortable with control and yes, even being aggressive occasionally, are not behaviors encouraged in women. To develop women’s leadership roles, both the internal and external barriers must be addressed.

Follow Your Dreams

Women must keep the fires of ambition burning. They must continue to keep their inner motivations alive…continue to hang on to her dreams. A positive attitude coupled with very real discipline and determination can successfully breakthrough the barriers of the glass ceiling. Senior management will be forced to take notice of and reward a woman who does her job diligently and consistently.

Keep The Psychological Advantage

Psychologists report that women think contextually more regularly as compared to men. They take a holistic view of things. They integrate more details of the world around them and nowhere is this more evident than in the office. Female executives tend to approach business issues from a broader perspective that their male counterparts.

Many women vouch that the one quality that has helped them become successful at their careers is their sixth sense – the third eye. They have never hidden their femininity to succeed. Their intuition, coupled with a deep gut instinct are the reasons why they have been able to overcome the challenges of the workplace. So keep hone these senses latent in you. Keep them sharpened!

Self-Driven Leadership

Women feel that even though they may have been born leaders, they are not born into a society that welcomes female leaders. Therefore women have to initiate leadership qualities and action in themselves.

For women, leading others begins with gathering self-motivation and self-direction needed to perform with credibility and assertiveness. Leading others requires self-understanding and rigorous stock-taking of personal attributes, motivation and development needs. It is true that a woman has to work a thousand times harder than a man. Her knowledge of the business must be A1, her performance always super extra. Having said that, women must never expect preferential treatment at their workplace. They must only fight for what is rightfully theirs.

Just like Mount Everest, the peak of the pyramid of success, is a lonely place. But the exhilaration of reaching the summit in both cases is the same. There are magnificent lessons in personal growth and self-improvement to be learnt along the way, as well as inputs that transform a person from being a good manager to a good leader.

Vinita Agrawal is part of the team The Woman Inc and is a prolific poetess.




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