Over the past couple of decades, the corporate world has undergone a number of changes and come a long way. Gone are the days of uniformity and completing the average, monotonous nine-to-five routine — it is all about personal creativity and proving oneself within the organisation.
One of the key changes that have occurred is that the general working environment across the world is much more efficient now than ever before. Not only are workplace conditions, employee safety and corporate social responsibility major concerns, but the corporate world has also opened its doors to female employees who — in some countries — enjoy the same opportunities as their male counterparts. Unfortunately, when it comes to positions of leadership, what corporations fail to do is hold these employees in the same regard as men.
According to a 2013 poll conducted by Gallup Incorporated — an American performance management consultancy — 35% of American preferred to be employed under a male boss rather than a female one with only 23% desiring a female boss in their new job. Ironically, a greater number of working women preferred male bosses over their own kind, with 95% of them admitting to have been undercut by another woman at least once in their professional lives. While a study conducted by the Wall Street Journal in 2008 substantiated this widespread preference by proving that employees with female supervisors experienced much more stress than those who were led by men.
Keeping these figures under consideration, one can conclude that while women are actively contributing to the growth of businesses around the world, there still exists a double standard which prevents them from breaking through to managerial level. Things are similar — if not worse — in Pakistan where the male-dominated society discourages women from working in the first place, let alone acquiring leadership positions. “I believe there is a difference in the general attitude towards women who work that manifests itself in the form of such discrimination,” says 30-year-old Faryal Gohar who works as a Human Resource professional at a German multinational in Dubai. “Working women in Pakistan are often viewed as ‘fast’ and negligent of their homes and domestic life. Denying them ranked positions is but a way to send them back to their kitchens!”
According to 25-year-old Hira Inam, an analyst at a leading telecommunications firm in Pakistan, there is a deeper explanation for gender bias in the corporate sector. “In my experience, male bosses are definitely more qualified and reliable,” she explains. “Men are aggressive which allows them to counter risk better and make sound business decisions. Female employees can be aggressive but their aggression stems from emotions so they tend to be indecisive and risk-averse.”
A study entitled ‘Attitudes towards Women in Managerial Position in Pakistan: A Comparative Study’, published by a team of psychologists in 2013, supported Hira’s reasoning with its findings. It highlighted deep-rooted stereotypes held by men in the country towards working women and showed that men hailing from joint families had negative gender-role stereotypes towards female bosses. “Considering how the greater half of our population feels about ambitious women, it is no wonder that the highest ranks in corporations around the world are dominated by men,” says Gohar. “These stereotypes must be shunned completely for women to achieve successful careers.” The study also found that men residing in nuclear families were neutral towards women of power.
Nonetheless, there is undeniably a lack of faith in female leadership across the corporate world and this may well be a result of negative perceptions associated with working women. In fact, not only is a woman’s ambition undesirable for a Pakistani man, any assertiveness a woman might express — be it at home or in the workplace — is considered wrong. “Women in our society are expected to be demure and prudish and maintain etiquette at all times,” explains 24-year-old Areej Fatima, an analyst at another leading telecommunication firm in Pakistan. “We are perceived to be too weak, emotional and indecisive for the practical world.” These expectations are challenged when a woman attempts to break the stereotypes. “If a man expresses aggression in the workplace, we accept it and assume him to be passionate about his work,” explains Gohar. “But a woman behaving the same way will be dismissed as emotionally unstable or uncouth by her colleagues.” Fatima goes on to admit that she consciously tries to keep her behaviour in check, while at work, lest her colleagues judge her wrongly. “Even when I disagree with something someone has said, I do it tactfully,” says Fatima. “For example, I calmly ask probing questions rather than making a loud, sweeping statement. If I don’t like something, I will make subtle suggestions to improve the idea instead of dismissing it completely.”
According to Faryal, one of the key contributors to these gender stereotypes is the concept of the ‘horrible lady boss’ often depicted in the global media. The portrayal of a female boss as a ‘Dragon Lady’ perpetuated by movies like The Devil Wears Prada and Horrible Bosses simply reiterate the unfair notion that women are and will always be unsuitable for leadership. Nonetheless, there are many like 28-year-old Ali Aftab, a production engineer working with a local fertiliser company, who believes that some degree of aggression is necessary in both men and women if they wish to be successful professionally. “Aggression and ambition are needed but one must learn how to manage other people’s egos if they wish to get somewhere,” advises Aftab. I believe this applies to both men and women. I have to make conscious, diplomatic decisions at work myself.” Tughral Turab, a director of operations in Africa for MicroEnsure dismisses the idea of male vs female aggression entirely, suggesting that gender plays no role in determining one’s progression through their career. “Perhaps gender does influence your behaviour and personality to a certain extent,” says Turab. “But ultimately, it is an individual’s competency and ability which carries them forward in their careers.” According to Turab, an employee ought to be judged on the basis of his or her merits and performance as opposed to gender.
During the 1950s, when Gallup actually began its research the influence of gender on corporate leadership, just 5% of the respondents voted in favour of female bosses while 66% wanted to work for men. However, thanks to forward-thinking men like Aftab and Turab, the results are gradually increasing in favour of female bosses. “Slowly and gradually, women like Marissa Mayer (CEO of Yahoo!) and Indra Nooyi (CEO of Pepsico) are redefining female leadership for the rest of us,” says Gohar. “Nonetheless, there is still a long way to go before female authority is given its due respect.” One can assume that the liberal-minded younger generation will alter the current corporate trends but the statistics issued by Gallup agree with Gohar: There is still a long way to go before male and female bosses are held at par with one another.
By Ans Khurrane