Bossy as she comes
JUST BEFORE MONDAY
Be the b*tch your team curses in the corridors. That’s how my ex-HR initiated me into bosshood,” says Adele Sequeira*, Features Editor with a leading Mumbai daily. Two jobs and a whole lot of team building later, Sequeira is glad she never bothered with the advice.
“The HR person was a woman,” says the 56-year-old, who had asked to be replaced should she be pushed into a brand of leadership she didn’t endorse. But things worked out fine. She took a ‘carrot-and-stick’ approach to extract the best out of her team without breathing fire.
Ask her why these stereotypes are projected on women in positions of power, and she reasons, “Many women mimic the power representatives they’ve seen around them, most of them male. The whi
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Sequeira’s own journey proves that such trappings are avoidable. “Being yourself, playing by instinct is the only way,” she shares, while cautioning that being yourself doesn’t presuppose the woman to be universally nice. If she is a whip-cracker by nature, she should certainly crack whips to lead.
The burden of niceness, riddled with bright smiles and lots of ‘pleases’, resonates with Sabarmati Muttereja*, also a media professional. “As a woman in a responsible position, I often swallow my urge to be angry (at someone), because I don’t want to fall into the stereotype of the hysterical woman who cannot handle pressure,” Muttereja says. “Then here’s a certain way I dress, lest I be accused of using my sex to my
Doesn’t being all-smiles present the danger of being talked over or undermined? “For that, I have to be simultaneously firm—make it known I can get my work done,” Muttereja says, addressing women who straddle the fine line between being nice-enough and not-too-nice to navigate the choppy work waters that are, by social extension, patriarchal.
Some argue that it all boils down to individual choices. In Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean in: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, she refers to a Forbes report about women having to desexualise themselves in order to fit in with the work environment.
But Mini Menon, Co-founder and Editor, Indy Network, believes that dressing up or down is as incidental to an efficient female boss as it is to a male boss who knows his job. “When a Chanda Kochhar or a Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw walks into the boardroom, who cares what they are wearing?
There are only fair bosses and unfair bosses. Bosses who align themselves to the organisation’s goals, push their team to its highest potential, versus bosses who don’t,” Menon simplifies, dismissing the role of sartorial choices in cementing a woman’s power persona.
All the same, she acknowledges the challenges a female boss faces in dealing with male colleagues who resent her growth. While Sequeira puts down the wary reception of successful women to “a sense of male entitlement”, Menon notes that it is often a deflecting point for less competent peers looking to hide their own inadequacies. “It’s convenient to label a result-oriented, female taskmaster as difficult. A demanding male boss, on the other hand, is just a great CEO.”
The year Sandberg’s book sparked stormy discussions about women and work life was also the year Apurva Purohit, CEO, Radio City 91.1 FM, told India’s working women, Lady, You Are Not a Man! ( The Adventures of a Woman at Work; 2013). The catchy title is, on a closer look, reassuringly self-explanatory—as is Apurva’s take on the matter.
“There are several advantages women bring to the corporate world as leaders and we need to celebrate those diverse skills rather than donning the man’s role. We don’t need to be men to succeed—we can succeed on our own terms!” Apurva says. Admitting that she herself had it relatively easy in an industry populated by female pioneers, she adds, “Men are invariably preferred for board positions and listened to more seriously in panel discussions”. Perhaps her corporate mantra of using female attributes to her advantage is what Sequeira refers to when she wonders, “If women can school kids into being responsible citizens, why does she have to take the tough-guy route while nurturing a team of young potential?”
Interestingly, neither women are averse to adopting the so-called ‘male approach’ to leadership should the occasion demand it. “I’ve ruffled feathers whenever I needed to,” laughs Sequeira, swearing that there is nothing like a good She-Boss. Only good bosses, who happen to be Shes.
(*Names changed on request)
It’s convenient to label a result-oriented, female taskmaster as difficult
—Mini Menon, Co-founder and Editor, Indy Network
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