Gender Inequality in the Boardroom


Gender inequality in the boardroom is one of the burning topics of the modern age of globalization. Women of the day are free from the age old shackles of the male dominated norms and belief systems and are carving a niche for themselves as they are competing against males in all kinds of businesses.

Women right from their early educational stages are not only proving themselves competent but also proving their claims for occupation of the top industry positions. In such a scenario I believe it is evident and essential for us to know the transformation.

What has been the prevalent idea?

Concept of Benevolent Sexism and Hostile Sexism

A subjective, favorable ideology even considered chivalrous to some extent is believed to be offering protection and affection to women who embrace conventional roles is better known as “Benevolent sexism”. This contrasts out on the concept of another ideology which believes in an antipathy towards women who are viewed as usurping men’s power- the concept of “Hostile Sexism”.

The two approaches are complementary, cross culturally and both are prevalent. Both of these ideologies predict gender inequality. By rewarding women for conforming to a patriarchal (relating to a system run by males) status quo, the concept of benevolent sexism inhibits or stops gender equality.

The UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) Report released recently ranks India 136 out of 186, 5 ranks below post-war Iraq.

f04da2db112212a373f204Is it changing?

Yes, the days are changing and so are the thought processes. A system exists which has been favoring men over women in material power, status and authority (i.e. gender hierarchy) in one form or the other despite profound structural changes such as industrialization. But now it is changing. Women are increasingly occupying top positions and playing their roles across different sectors of the society driving growth and change.

In UK, years of gentle encouragement and half-baked government schemes barely made a dent in the gender inequality of UK boardrooms. The result is a depressing ration of 3:17 for women is to men. The European Union wants to legislate on gender inequality by introducing quotas to get more women into boardrooms. Keeping fingers crossed for November 14th and what may come of it.

Where is the change heading?

 Feminism – a social movement whose basic goal is equality between men and women is making way for the change. Women’s acceleration into labor force and entry into the male dominated occupation is increasing in number and the spirit of the change has been good so far.

What is the problem till now?

It is no good letting women into board rooms if they are to paint their nails and discuss on their favorites. But women can be pretty business savvy too. Companies with more women according to a government review (UK) have been seen to outperform their rivals with 42 % higher returns on sales, 66% higher return on invested capital and 53% higher return on equity.

What is the solution?

Although there is no single answer, part of the solution may lie in the way gender satisfaction is mediated by interactional processes that are largely taken for granted.

Mandatory vs. Voluntary Quotas

Mandatory or Voluntary quotas came with the hue and cry from companies that such a move would make investors flee, the stock market would crumble leaving the country in ruins all because of a few women in the boardroom.

I do not personally believe that quotas could be the way out for such a problem. Women are to be treated equally and given an opportunity as they are well qualified and can prove themselves but only when they are playing on a level field.

Do we have examples?

One of the best examples of this change is the story of Mrs. Sudha Murthy. When she was completing her post-graduation an advertisement posted by the Tata Company at the institution read that “Lady Candidates need not apply”. She dashed off a post card to JRD Tata, protesting against the discrimination. Following this, Sudha was called for an interview and she became the first female engineer to work on the shop floor at Telco (no Tata Motors).

Another example of this leading transformation is that of Kat Cole who went from Hooters Girl to President of Cinnabon by age 32. Kat when most kids went to school and were graduating started her career by selling beer and chicken at Hooters in Jacksonville. Her mother was raising three kids alone on an administrative-support salary, so Cole also working at the mall at that time. Cole was the first to go to college for engineering in University of North Florida but dropped out- much to her mother’s dismay – because Hooters was sending her all over the world to open franchise locations. At the age of 19 she was asked to go to Australia on her first assignment, Cole had never sat on a plane before. By the age of 26 she was an executive vice president without a bachelor’s degree. She finished her MBA at Georgia State’s executive MBA program in a rare occasion without having to go through her bachelor’s degree with recommendations from 10 CEO’s including one from Ted Turner, founder of CNN. Three years ago, at the age of 32(now 35) she accepted the role as president of Cinnabon, the sweet-indulgence franchise with 1100 stores in 56 countries approaching almost $1 billion in annual sales.

As per Kat Cole- lack of failure and fear of failure are the two prime reasons which hold women back from being entrepreneurs. She believes you should never say no to an opportunity, always listen closely to your employees, be moderately gratitude so that you aim higher and donate time as it will come back threefold. She believes in seeing every challenge as a chance to learn ad also emphasizes to remember not to remind your colleagues that you are young besides being able to think bigger and bigger than you even think you should.

What matters is that we need to break all niches for ego-dominated beliefs and stage a fair chance for men and women alike for in the corporate and business firms the only parameter that matters is the ability and the commitment you can prove for getting good profitable, sustainable business and profits irrespective of who you are, where you from or what gender you might belong to!

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Priyo Ranjan

The author is an ex-employee of Infosys and he is currently pursuing MBA from Xavier’s Institute Of Social Service (XISS).