“The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.”Isaiah 11:6
With all the furor going on about breaking the “glass-ceiling issue”, pay discrimination towards female executives, gender stereotyping, we are witnessing more and more businesswomen storming the boardrooms. But have equal opportunities arrived yet?
Partly. Recent studies show that for the majority of women in all manager grades equality has arrived. Until they start climbing the ladder and find out how a leader should look like…. We don’t lack heroine role-models in the face of Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel , PepsiCo’s boss Indra Nooyi or IMF’s Madame Chairman Christine Lagarde (yeah, she prefers being called like that because there is no word for a female chairman).
It seems that these ladies have broken the traditional gender stereotype in leadership that portrays women as lacking the qualities usually associated with effective leadership – problem-solving, influencing upward, ambitious and dominant. Did you just imagine a middle-aged man wearing a dark suit?
Factors such as culture, history, legislation and demographics should surely be taken into account when discussing this topic. It’s not a secret that emerging markets such as China, India or Brazil do a better job for promoting women than Western countries, even though some of them (the Nordic countries or France) have even imposed boardroom quotas for women. It’s very difficult for me to see how legislation or leadership courses for women would help in this case. Couple of days ago an article in Financial Times really sparked my attention. It was praising courses that are supposed to help female executives understand the role that gender differences can play. Well, isn’t gender balance supposed to lie with all managers, not just with women? This “fix-the-woman” approach focuses its efforts on the wrong side of the story. Women don’t need “fixing”. Trying to adjust female executives to the stereotype of “the perfect leader” possessing male traits seems to only portray them as the ones who need help to adapt themselves to the obviously sexist corporate culture. What’s more, the financial crisis proves that the sort of qualities that men pride themselves on, such as risk-taking and competition, can certainly lead to disaster. It’s not enough to just break the “glass-ceiling”. In order for sexism to be rooted out the majority of managers has to start speaking both women’s and men’s languages. So, why don’t we just make it a business issue rather than women’s issue?
After all, women are one of 21st century’s emerging forces – taking into account the ageing workforce and falling birth rates, the female overtaking of men when it comes to education or the obvious war for talent, becoming female-friendly is just necessary for both countries and companies. Considering the outperformance of women it seems to me only common sense to look for talented employees among females and take gender as a serious issue.
As I mentioned above, emerging countries and ex-communist ones tend to be home of many businesswomen. In fact, equality of men and women in politics and the work sphere in central and Eastern European countries was always an underlying principle of communist system which remained after the transition to democracy and explains why such countries are more female-friendly even now. Unlike liberal democratic systems, women’s employment in politics, sience and engineering was encouraged and work and motherhood were bound together. As a result, women’s participation in paid work increased rapidly and was the highest among any other economy even at managerial levels. What is more, it was supported by generous childcare, maternity and child allowances and flexible working hours which have only become issues in Western countries in recent years. The old doomed system had positive sides after all and there is something that Western countries can learn from it.
So, will the wolf live with the lamb? In the Russian folklore it certainly can. This reminds me on an old Russian metaphor fairy-tale about a lamb that asked a wolf to become its mummy and even protected it when it grew up and became a ram. So what should we conclude from this? We don’t really portray wolves as “caretakers” and lambs as strong because we tend to stereotype. I really hope that more will be done in this direction and companies will realise women’s growing economic importance.