Naveen Puri is no chauvinist. Yet, two years ago, when he heard his new boss was Vidya Srinivasan, Puri was sceptical. A woman as head of the infrastructure vertical? Would she be competent enough to supervise the function? What if she ran roughshod over the team and destroyed his freedom? Was it goodbye to the buddy culture at work? Puri already felt nostalgic about the free-wheeling meetings and after-work shindigs.
About the same time, Srinivasan was preparing for her new role – leading a team with a majority of men. But managing gender bias was not part of her to-do list. “I knew my future team mates would be doubtful. You cannot change perceptions. You have to find ways around the problem. Being a boss has never been a challenge for me. I believe women are intuitively better managers,” she says.
Puri endorses the claim now. “Her collaborative techniques and mentoring have been more effective than any male boss. She doesn’t sugar-coat critical feedback which helps improve work quality,” says the assistant vicepresident, real estate, Genpact.
Women bosses like Srinivasan are no longer the rare breed they were five years ago. As vertical heads, project and team leaders, you’ll find them in every other office ofIndia Inc. In fact in the services sector nearly 30-50% of the bosses are women. So why was Puri wary of working under one?
Truth is the perception ofwomen leaders hasn’t changed as rapidly as the rise in their numbers and designations in corporate India. Do a dipstick poll and more employees prefer a man as a boss. Search the subject and you’ll be inundated with juicy sob stories about nasty or lousy women bosses.
Does this mean that women bosses in India are still under pressure to prove their worth? Do they work harder to demonstrate who is in command? Is it difficult to delegate?
To find the answers, ET on Sunday spoke to the women we are debating about: bosses from across industries and with different sets of responsibilities. The conversations had several surprises in store. For one, the women bosses were more candid about the subject than some employees. They did not wish away the perception bias either. But they had a unique take on it: experience alters perceptions super quick. At the end, what matters is whether they are a good boss or a bad one. Gender is incidental.
“It is tougher to establish yourself within the first decade or so of your career, than becoming a leader. Once you rise to the top, it is backed by an established track record. Then the fact that you are a woman becomes irrelevant,” says Roopa Kudva, managing director and CEO of credit ratings agencyCrisil.
Most women bosses agree. In March this year, Padmaja Alaganandan, executive director at PricewaterhouseCoopers, a consultant, was invited by the Asian Development Bank to speak on women leadership. “In the past 20 years, I never thought it mattered that I was a woman leader. Perhaps because consulting is more a meritocracy,” she says.