“Big problem if big boss is a woman”- 8 February 2012

Madhumati never saw herself as a boss. All these years, she worked as an executive in the second-from-top layer in management of the big company. She worked with the top brass, shared her vision for the company, pushed major decisions of the board, took a lot of flak, too, when things went wrong. At 40 years of age and after having served the company for 15 years, she was considered for the top spot in a subsidiary company. She was surprised and scared at once. She was a seasoned hand in management, but did feel butterflies in the stomach with the new and unexpected promotion. Shomit, her litterateur husband, was extremely happy, but cautioned her against the trouble she could have with her male colleagues who would be needed to work under her. Madhumati knew what he was talking about.

This is a typical story that we come across so often that we start getting bored with the details, the same everywhere – men disapproving their woman boss, plotting coups, corporate intrigues etc…!
In Madhumati’s case, all details were more or less similar, plus a few more. Even her women colleagues at lower levels disapproving a woman as the big boss!
Nobody could challenge Madhumati’s professional excellence. Nobody could find any chink in the armour. And that made many women in the company’s middle-level management rather nervous, rather jealous. That she was a woman was only half her fault, as if. That she was young and had many years still to grow and rise in on the ladder, was her bigger fault. Men wanted her to be a demure person unsure of herself and all looking for help – a damsel in distress, as if.
But some women’s agenda was different. They expected Madhumati to be like themselves – all eager to do loose talk, curious about non-issues, interested in dinner and dance and fashion. And to their discomfiture, Madhumati was all that – except loose talk – but much more; she was extremely professional while working, and extremely affable beyond. At least, the women did not want such a boss. For, that meant that they had to work harder and for longer hours. To make things worse, Madhumati personally appealed each one of them to be on her side (and, of course, work hard to add value to the company’s successful run so far).
That was unacceptable. Why should we work so much and make her successful! – they, the women, wondered. So, both, men and women, at least a good number of them, had some or the other axe to grind against Madhumati.
All this was quite unexpected. Madhumati, Shomit, and also the company board were confused. Of course, the bosses fought back, stood by Madhumati, gave her a lot of support. Things did settle down in about couple of years. But Madhumati remained a person with profound sadness in heart. She could never understand why a woman boss should face such music.
This is an Indian reality, even though women have gone ahead in most sectors and the scenario is quite encouraging these days. Yet, in corporate world, to find a woman boss, unless she is the owner of the company, is still an anathema, in the sense it has not become an acceptable practice particularly when the woman boss is also an employee.
Many women may have had a different, more positive, experience. But stories like the one involving Madhumati (her name changed in favour of privacy) also keep springing up from the depths of corporate sector. By telling this story, one does not seek to indulge in over-generalisation. Nor does one want to create non-existent divides. The purpose is to expose the fundamental weakness we still have as a society, and to call a spade a spade.
It is unfortunate that the Indian woman is yet to get her absolute due in totality. Until that happens, Indian society cannot call itself truly civilised, or truly refined. For, refinement of a society does not come from physical development in the form of buildings and roads and dams and airports and malls; and schools and colleges. It takes place when a society evolves into a truly liberal one, treating women with utmost respect for their true worth, and by not treating them as objects of satiation, or of ridicule or hostility!

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