Business Case Studies, Executive Interviews, Kamal Singh on Women Executives

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Executive Interviews: Interview with Kamal Singh on Women Executives
July 2007 - By Dr. Nagendra V Chowdary

Kamal Singh
working with the British Council as Head,
Governance & Social Justice, India.

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  • Who are to blame squarely for gender discrimination? Are men to take the brunt?
    Yes! Because men play the game of power relations physical power, economic power, political power, institutional power. This has had an impact on social relations.Men coopt women into this and have created the myth that women are their own enemies!

  • Midway in life, between a third and a half of all successful career-women in theUS do not have children. In fact, 33% of such women (business executives, doctors, lawyers, academics and the like)

    in the 41 to 55-age bracket are childless and that figure rises to 42% in corporate America (as per a study conducted Sylvia Ann Hewlett in partnership with Harris Interactive and the National Parenting Association). The findings are startling and troubling. They make it clear that for many women, the brutal demands of ambitious careers, asymmetries in male-female relationships and difficulties of having children late in life, conspire to crowd out the possibility of having children. Why has the age-old business of having babies become so difficult for today's high-achieving women?
    I think these statistics are of the 1970s and 1980s, when women had to do twice thework done bymen butwere rewarded only half of what men got! Research fromthat period has shown the cost of women's struggle to be seen as "successful" in their careers by male counterparts. As Naila Kabeer has pointed out in her researchwhenwomen stepped out to work it required a shift in household management, with men having to take on some burden. But this issue never came up in the household decision-making process, as men's response was that if women wanted to work then it was up to them to ensure that the household was not neglected!! Thus, women tended to end up being "super-women" in balancing their work and home duties. You can imagine the tremendous pressure on women then. But their stories of struggle have resulted in what we see today:women-friendly workplaces, crèches, flexible hours,and even paternity leave!

  • Is it true that most successful men are not interested in acquiring an ambitious peer as a partner? Should the reverse be also believed?
    What about the trend of role reversal these days? I feel younger men today are more willing to accept women on grounds of equal qualifications, knowledge, experience, ideas etc. However, the rising trend of violence against women is also alarming.

  • Generally speaking, the more successful the man is, the more likely he will find a spouse and become a father. The opposite holds true for women and the disparity is particularly striking among corporate ultra-achievers. What are the sources of disparity? What can be done to eradicate such disparities?
    Are you suggesting that men stay away fromintelligent and successful women? Then, its their loss! Let women make their own choice: let them choose whether they wish to marry or not. And, if they choose to remain single, then respect their decision. Don't stigmatize it. I think the institution of marriage is overhyped! Indian society may still create barriers and disparity for single women, but today's single woman is on the go ready to take on new challenges and cross new frontiers with great success.

  • Let's now look at wage disparities. The persistent wage gap between men and women is mainly due to women being penalized for interrupting their careers to have children. In a study, economists Susan Harkness and Jane Waldfogel compared the wage gap across seven industrialized countries and found it was particularly wide in the US (for instance, in France, women earn 81%the male wage, in Sweden 84%, and in Australia 88%; while in the US, women continue to earn a mere 78% of the male wage). Why such disparities when job expectations (and outcomes too) do not differ gender-wise. What can help prevent such disparities?
    We need equal pay legislation, regulation and monitoring of the legislation to ensure equality. Don't forget women in the west got their right to vote later than us! Men are not designed to have babies. Men need to accept thatmotherhood is an integral part of a woman's life who chooses to have a baby. Employers need to accept that women need career breaks for early childhood career in order to prepare a healthy new generation, they can't be penalized for taking time off for this. We should look at best practices around the world and adapt whatever suits our conditions.

  • How should working women (more so with achievers and superachievers) strike a balance between their work and life?
    Through delegation, prioritization and access to quality service providers who can do take on some chores at home or work. This will release quality time for self and others. I learnt the concept of "me time". This was through one of British Council's projects that we have run with women in public sector, police and the academia. It's called Springboard women's development program from UK, now run in more than 20 countries. "Me time" means giving time to yourself to do whatever you wish for yourself it means protecting a bit of your time for your own needs, leisure or development or even just for awalk or nap!Women are always giving their time to meet the needs of others, and when we introduced "me time" they first felt guilty about spending time on themselves! Many have reported how much this has helped them and even improved relationships as others begin to respect their "me time".

  • What can women managers learn from 2002's Time magazine's Persons of the Year, Cynthia Cooper (Worldcom), Coleen Rowley (FBI), and Sherron Watkins (Enron)? Which of their experiences, do you think, are important for women managers?
    Inspiring, and that empathy and determination to succeed pay off! But sometimes it becomes difficult to relate to high-achievers as their life seems a bit unreal when compared with our ordinary lives. You will be interested to know that in the Springboard programwe have profiled Indian women achievers who have made huge changes in their lives through their own efforts, despite adversity or lack of resources. Women have reported that they have found these real life stories very motivating.

1. Women's Western Wear Market Case Study
2. ICMR Case Collection
3. Case Study Volumes

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