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It's the Sister Act at Work

Published: 14th June 2015 06:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 13th June 2015 10:49 PM   |  A+A-

You’ve seen her in the movies. In The Devil Wears Prada and, closer home, in Laadla. The nasty female boss who schemes and connives to keep all the corporate glory to herself and refuses to help other women in her workplace. The typecasting began in the West in the 70s, probably adhering to a line thrown out by a group of researchers from 1973 who suggested that successful women in male-dominated environments not only had no interest in fostering the careers of other women aiming to follow in their footsteps, but actually worked to keep them down and out. They called these anti-women women the ‘Queen Bees’.

Forty-plus years later, a study has emerged from Columbia Business School in New York, pooh-poohing the old report. There is no such thing as a ‘Queen Bee’ swat that women bosses wield to keep other females out of their territory, it declares. The research team says it looked at top management teams in 1,500 companies over a 20-year period and found that women are more likely to make it into senior positions in a company that already has a woman as its top boss. In cases, where a woman has been given only a senior role, and not the top one, the likelihood of other women following her to the executive level falls by 50 per cent.

The Columbia academics blame men for the phenomenon, and say they are the ones who don’t want to let women into corner offices. “Women face an implicit quota, whereby firms seek to maintain a small number of women on their top management team, usually only one. While firms gain legitimacy from having women in top management, the value of this legitimacy declines with each woman,” the researchers say.

At the risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist, the new finding may have some truth in it. Male discomfort/insecurity can be a big reason for women being continually under-represented in, say, companies, governments and the judiciary. Having ruled the roost for centuries, perceiving themselves as the superior sex, it’s difficult for a lot of men to accept women in positions of equal power.

That said, there may also be, or have been, some truth in the old ‘Queen Bee’ allegation. Attribute it to a fear-based, scarcity mindset. When there is only a small slice of pie (aka jobs/money/positions) up for grabs, it’s a very rare individual who is generous enough to let others take a bite. The Global Gender Gap Report of 2014 found female economic participation and opportunity lagging at 60 per cent. Political participation was far worse, at 21 per cent. India’s record was particularly abysmal, with estimated earned income (in purchasing power parity) weighing in at $1,980 for women, at $8,087 for men.

It’s a grim tale, but it’s changing. The figures are better than they used to be. And so are the women, as the ‘Lift as You Climb’ movement indicates. The females behind this school of thought value the professional sisterhood, and frown upon women who pull the ladder up behind them once they’ve reached the top simply because they want other women to struggle through the climb as much as they did.

This lot believes co-workers have the potential to learn from and inspire one another, and that it’s the special responsibility of alpha females to pull along the other women in their ambit of power (or at least those working hard and looking to grow) as they shimmy up the success ladder. Or else, they warn, using the words of former US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”

  shampa@newindianexpress.com

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