Saturday, November 10, 2007

Women in Leadership : Do They Make a Difference ?

Newsweek has in recent weeks been dealing with the subject of women in leadership roles and asking the question in various ways - what does it mean for a woman to be a leader? In what way, do they do things differently than men for instance?The coverage has been through feature stories as well as profiles of women leaders as well as interviews of women leaders. One of those featured in an interview is Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a politician from Liberia.

Ellen has this to say :

I believe women in leadership can be a little more sensitive to human needs, show more respect for life and dignity. In the past, I've been considered as one with a strong will, as a firm disciplinarian. But now, I'm most concerned with being a mother to Liberia. I want to heal the deep wounds of this nation, particularly among our youth. One must show loving care to them. One must be motherly to them, and make them feel wanted.”

These are noble and kind words and if indeed women are bringing more sensitivity to human needs and show more respect for human life and all that, then we ought to be having more and more women in leadership. But somehow, surveying the horizon, it does not look that way. Sure there are competent women leaders and they are raising by the day and that is good, but that does mean that because of such women leaders, society is more humane?

Shortly after I switched on the television to hear that ICICI Bank had been fined a whopping 50 Lakhs by a consumer court for trying to recover a vehicle using recovery agents who used metal bars to injure a supposedly defaulting customer, except that they didn’t even get the correct person. The fact that this has made to even overseas magazines like Forbes can’t be helping the bank's image much especially at a time when it is trying to expand overseas significantly.

ICICI Bank's CEO, K.V.Kamath was recently awarded the Business Leader of the Year award by the Economic Times at a function in which the finance minister presided. Kamath has undoubtedly nurtured a giant banking behemoth, no doubt about that. He is also known for his efforts in empowering women. According to CNN –Money:

Kamath has consistently chosen women rather than men to realize his vision for ICICI, where women account for 30% of the staff. But he denies he has given them preference for top jobs. "It's clearly a result of merit and of not distinguishing between a man or a woman," he says. His criteria have been to pick "leaders with ability, intellect, and the entrepreneurial ability to lead teams" - and he values women's "ability to think in a much more detached manner than men."

I am sure that Kamath has done all that and that his leadership has been quite extraordinary. In fact, the rest of the article goes on to say how many of the women employees are competent and efficient and could have earned a lot more elsewhere but stayed on with ICICI Bank because of the environment that was provided to them in which they were nurtured and grew.

But looking at all the home grown women leaders that ICICI Bank has provided and the news I get to hear about the bank’s business practices – whether it be done directly by them or a recovery agent hired by them, the comments of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf come back to mind… all those high sounding words about life, dignity, human needs and all that. I am left with the question that remains unanswered – women in leadership roles is a good thing from a gender perspective surely, but in terms of the values, practices and priorities that they bring to the table – are they any different as Ellen Johnson would have us believe ?

No comments: