On the occasion of Women's Day on March 8th, The Economic Times marked its "observance" of the day by inviting Padma Ravichander, Managing director Perot Systems, to write something up about the participation of women in higher management in industry. The original article can be found here.

Let me start by saying that I was hugely disappointed by the content and general writing of the article. I am in fact, so traumatized by the whole experience that I am going to proceed to dissect the article and tell you why I hated it so much. This is going to be a bit of an exhaustive ripping apart seeing that almost every line seems to bother me. Words in bold and with quotes around them are straight out of the article. Those that have quotes around them but are not in bold need you to imagine me making air quotes if I were saying all this out :)

I am really hoping I totally missed a big point here and that my whole understanding of the "message" is warped, because my trauma will continue if that is not the case .:)

So she writes this article and she decides to use for a title, "Boardroom pin-up girls making waves" . While it doesn't make any immediate sense to me, I am sure if I were top-brass management of a Fortune500 company, I would not want to be referred to as a "boardroom pin-up girl" whether or not I am "making waves". Even to just catch the reader's eye, this , I thought, was a rather poor choice of words.

It starts out painfully like a high school essay stating how women "hold seats on corporate boards, run major companies and are regularly featured on the covers of business magazines as prominent leaders and power brokers." and with the naivete of a high school essayist she asks "Who could have imagined this even half a century ago?" . Why do I get the feeling she thinks "half a century" amounts to 500 years back?

We are then treated to a whole bunch of illuminating statistics about how the percentage of women at the "top of the corporate ladder" is very low. She goes on to say that in IT however, " The demand for IT jobs particularly in India have ensured a greater population of women in the workplace than ever before ". Of course, if we had only half the jobs they would all go to men and women are just making up numbers here. Notice also, how a demand "have" ensured something....in The Economic Times no less!!! ( I am not going to be charitable to grammatical errors. With my not-so-admirable grammar skills , if I can catch such mistakes,come on, those editors are paid for correcting them!)

" Information Technology, world over is a relatively new industry and hence has enjoyed the luxury of greater gender neutrality than other industries where the organisational values, definitions of competencies and leadership are still predicated on traits that are stereotypically as-sociated with men tough, aggressive and decisive."

This long sentence left me in a fix. While the poor language and paucity of punctuations are besides the point (or may be the reason for the dilemma), I am not really able to make up my mind what it is trying to convey:
a) Gender neutrality is a luxury.
b) IT owes its gender neutrality ( even while the rest of the article shrieks about even IT not having enough women ) to the fact that it being a relatively new industry, helps it "concede" that women may in fact also be "tough aggresive and decisive".
c) The problem is somehow, more that concepts of competency and leadership are associated with traits such as "tough, aggressive and decisive" and less that they are infact "sterotypically male" .


While most women in IT, she observes, are at "entry-level" jobs, there is a "definitive trend" that they "can" become global leaders because IT jobs demand " for employees to work across countries and cultures and reach out to people across continents. " What about world peace?? This is the kind of writing (BS,if I may) I subscribe to when my answer to a question that demands a 500 word answer ends in about 50 and I need to fill up the space provided.

I gather the courage to read on. The next paragraph starts off promisingly with the question " So can women in IT make good global leaders and what is holding them back?" and I go "phew! May be she will redeem herself." But Alas! that was not to be. Ravichander is of the opinion that "Leadership is an inborn trait in women, whether they lead global teams across ponds or manage households discreetly by always ensuring that every member of the family or team is well nurtured and attended to. It is a quality that is fairly unique, yet very much a part of the DNA of a woman."

While I don't quite understand why someone would want to lead a "global team" across a "pond", it could be some IT jargon that I am unaware of. However, "inborn traits" such as "leadership" don't seem to ensure that every family in the world with a woman in it is well nurtured and I am not really sure how many times the household management is discreet or that every member is "attended to". A quality so "unique", a little less than half the world's population has it as "part of its DNA". ( why oh why can people not stop this abusive use of the concept of the DNA?!!) Is she also not putting in question the ability/involvement of a man as a caregiver or/and "discreet manager" of his household ?

She goes on to talk about the work culture in IT that leaves no minute unconnected and demands a "24/7 online-culture" of employees. How is the woman supposed to take care or her family and work? The solution according her is that " Both men and women need to join hands" and "look closely at our current management practices around meetings, deliverables, timings, work styles, success metrics, performance evaluation criteria and decide how we can change some of these practices across the organisation that would cater to needs of a gender diverse population collectively. "

Why is it a work-home balance struggle only for the woman? Not once does she consider suggesting that men share or should share the responsibility of the household. While evaluation of general work culture will help no doubt, how much impetus is a consumer-driven industry going to provide if it affects deliverables and time lines? How much good are sweeping statements in the vein of "re-evaluate work culture" going to do?

Like I said in the beginning, the way it was written and the fact that,despite the style and content, it got published was a big disappointment. Successful women like Padma Ravichander should be able ,in the least, to not consider themselves "pin-up girls". It is most unfortunate that she should give an impression that

a) A happy family and a successful career are involved in a trade-off
b) The happiness of a family is solely the woman's responsibility
c) There is no part or involvement of the husband in the success of a woman's career.
d) Men in industry need to be understanding to their women colleagues because these poor women do not get the support from the very same men in their roles as husbands.

Maybe the next time they will find someone better to ghost-write ( yes I am the optimist and still want to believe she doesn't really think this way.) the article for her and definitely someone better to edit it.

As a side thought, I wonder if IT big shots hire publicists and if this is in fact the light in which she wants to be seen by the "global" market, because otherwise, that is one more job that needs to be filled in by someone new :)