Blog: The likes of Smriti Irani

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The likes of Smriti Irani

I feel a little sympathetic towards Smriti Irani today.
The likes of Smriti Irani

Not because of what happened during the cabinet reshuffling or the fact that she was in a way explicitly demoted, but because she spoke what she felt and she paid a price for it. And the entire nation is talking about it. Even Ravi Shankar Prasad lost telecom – no one made a big deal about that!

Does anyone wonder, why she has been suddenly thrown in the negative limelight? This could have been treated as just another case of portfolio allocation or management. But it has been blown out of proportion. Maybe because the person in question is a woman, who dared to get into spats with others on what she felt and delivered on the expectations, well, only to a little extent. 

I am not making this an issue of women representation or misrepresentation, or trying to understand why and on what political pretexts was this decision taken, but in organizations, I have seen explicitly that women making ‘noise’ do not share a sturdy ground with men – they are usually shown their place. Whether the reasons attributed to Smriti Irani’s demotion are true or not, is best left to her to answer, but building this point in the organizational context, I personally feel that you can find the likes of Smriti Irani almost in every organization – women leaders who have been targeted. Sometimes, the reasons are a lack of autonomy, lack of coordination or the straight factor or ‘being a woman’.  

But why are we so hard on women leaders? 

Whether it is Marissa Myers or Hillary Clinton, scrutiny and nit-picking seems to be an everyday affair. An HBR article, mentions that researchers state that “Assertive women are punished for being unfeminine; & women who conform to stereotypes are deemed too meek for top jobs.” Victoria Brescoll, a social psychologist at Yale School of Management who studies gender stereotypes states that “people find it easier to accept a poor decision when it’s made by a leader in gender-appropriate role. His areas of expertise are not interchangeable with hers, and leaders are more severely judged when they make mistakes in the other gender’s territory.” 

Is it really the difference in the brainpower? Do we really scrutinize women in power to that extent?

In case of Smriti Irani, I haven’t been able to gauge whether it was her personality that triggered the decision or was it a competency issue or a political one? It could even be a case of Leadership Hubris - mishandling, arrogance, misuse of power.

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Topics: Watercooler, Diversity

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