Blog: Bridging the gender divide - Lessons from Ardhanaareeshwara

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Bridging the gender divide - Lessons from Ardhanaareeshwara

Learning from Hindu mythology, there is a need to appreciate diversity and leverage the power of balance among genders
Bridging the gender divide - Lessons from Ardhanaareeshwara

Women embark their career in business or other professions with the same level of intelligence, education, and commitment as men. Yet, comparatively, only a few reach the top echelons. This gap matters, not only because the very well-known glass ceiling is unfair, but also because the world needs many more leaders with potential, desire, and the perseverance to lead, to prove themselves and leave a footprint, irrespective of whether they are men or women.

An extensive research has been triggered by the paucity of women at the top. The questions explored beyond ‘why’ were; Are there any gender specific leadership styles? If we compared male and female middle managers in a business organization, would there be a systematic pattern or tendency for them to proceed differently? An important difference found between men and women managers was that women tended to adopt a more participative or democratic style, compared to the more directive autocratic style of men. Although not generalizing, many women do have leadership styles that have been described as 'empowering leadership' or 'consensual leadership', where they build leadership structures to share responsibilities according to the 'best fit', and in doing so, often create new types of leadership. Since women also tend to discuss problems more openly and utilize 'group-thinking' to seek solutions, such solutions are often more acceptable. Now, this could also be due to the fact that women learn that people are prejudiced against women who are tough in a sense and use the autocratic style.

Like I said before, women are expected to combine Leadership with Compassion—and are disliked when they don’t. As a result of the perceived incompatibility between the requirements of femininity and those of leadership, women are often required to “soften” their leadership styles to gain the approval of their constituents. Women, who do not temper their competence with warmth and friendliness, risk being disliked and less influential while men face no such necessity to be agreeable while exercising power. When women demonstrate competent leadership within an explicitly masculine arena, something that often requires the application of a “harder” leadership style, they are disliked and disparaged. Many women often do not feel listened to, because when they speak in meetings their comments and suggestions are ignored or belittled and that the same comments or suggestions from men have more impact. Women who promote themselves and their abilities reap disapproval, because they are stereotyped as less competent than men. Women would-be leaders are sometimes advised to eschew feminine modesty and promote their own abilities, strengths and accomplishments. In addition, when women promote their own accomplishments, it can cause their audience to view them as more competent, but at the cost of being viewed as less likeable. Women require more external validation, than men do, to be accepted as leaders in some contexts. Particularly in competitive, highly-masculinized contexts, simply having leadership training or task-related expertise does not guarantee a woman’s success unless accompanied by legitimation by another established leader to provide them credibility.

Androgyny in Leadership

The Ardhanaareeshwara symbolization in Hindu mythology, apart from adequately depicting the state of the absolute totality (Macrocosm), it also unfolds the nature of each one of us (Microcosm). No "Male' is exclusively masculine and no 'Female' is all feminine. Each type has in it, a trace of its opposite. Male has in him few feminine characteristics and female has in her few masculine traits and this, as a natural feature, needs to be owned up in complete humility. Even a human brain has two distinct divides that have two distinctly opposite ways of sensing and responding to the incoming sensations. The left cerebral half, functions in a 'word' dominated (Concepts and Logic) way, while the right cerebral half functions through 'Direct Spatial perception'. While the 'Right Brain' is naturally capable of creative perception involving insights and intuition, the 'Left Brain' is specialized in conceptual reasoning and verbal descriptions. For a balanced living both these capabilities are essential. Thus, though both halves of our brain differ in their quality, they perfectly complement each other to ensure a harmonious existence. This implies that it is essential for organizations to understand the existence of androgyny in leadership. Instead of creating men out of women, there is a need to leverage the femininity to balance the masculine in organizations. There is a need for every organization to appreciate the diversity and leverage the invincible power that is generated from the unison of the Shiva and Shakti for its leadership strategy. The woman-ness, in leadership styles instead of being abused for discrimination, could be used to balance the rampant and inherent masculinity of the organization.

The androgynous style means, the flexibility to sometimes be autocratic, sometimes be democratic and sometimes find a mix of autocracy and democracy. It means constantly using what we might consider a blended style, but at the same time, there could be situations that call for extreme versions of what might be called masculine or feminine styles. Organizations, must therefore strive to create balanced structures, to help the complementarities of the male and female leadership styles to flourish within them. Respect and equality should be practiced in the true sense by respecting women as people, beyond gender and not a resource that can just be best deployed as a support staff. There is an inevitable need to look beyond gender, nurture talent and grow many more good leaders that the world needs today.

Topics: #HRIndustry, #Blog, Leadership

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