Recently in Finland a four party coalition government was sworn in. Sanna Marin is the prime minister of maybe the first all-female headed coalition in history, as the leaders of all the four parties are women.
The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India gave a great boost to gender equality with its judgement allowing women to gain permanent commission and command posts in the Indian Army.
These advances in leadership roles are something to celebrate, as also a time to reflect and introspect.
Presently nearly 22 countries in the world have women as head of state or government. Women span the globe in leadership positions from Bolivia to New Zealand, Namibia to Norway and Germany to Greece. So in effect nearly 12 % of the world is ruled by women, and this percentage is only going to grow. As the future progresses, the tapestry of society and our planet would warrant very different leadership.
The challenges facing individuals and nations today are different from when men led what was largely a linear growth trajectory of humankind. Climate change is undoubtedly the most formidable and all-encompassing. The invasion and primacy of data, the consequent disruption by technology of business and commerce, and the issues of fluidity of identity are battles that were to a large extent unknown earlier.The responses to these new age challenges have been rather traditional. The age old techniques of aggression, creating an ‘us and them’ paradigm, or denial of problems or negotiations that are long drawn and mired in jargon or passing of legislation as a panacea, coupled with the right noises that are often not backed by action are conventional responses we have been seeing.
As the notion of progress gets redefined, the unconventional challenges are an opportunity for women leaders to bring to these issues a different perspective, a solution model that emerges from the pragmatic and expanded world view that woman have honed over centuries. That is driven by compassion and not aggression. Women do not have to be better than the men. They have to make distinct and better choices in leadership positions. Choices that resonate with the times, and provide a different paradigm of resolution. New Zealand’s response to terror, Croatia’s then president consoling her 2018 FIFA Football World Cup team in rainy Moscow, and Iceland’s legal enforcement of equal pay for men and women are examples of this path.
Men were at the forefront of agriculture, the industrial age and to a large extent the information age. This is undergoing change. Now, more and more women are poised to be architects of how these industries shape up for the coming century. Today, from agriculture to services to space as the new frontier, women are making inroads and slowly making their way to positions of leadership. Sheryl Sandberg is the COO of Facebook, Ursula Burns is Chairman of VEON, Phebe Novakovic is Chairman and CEO of the defence giant American Dynamics – in all 33 women are CEOs of Fortune 500 companies currently. Each is charting out new growth strategies based on the demand and disruptions of today, while keeping an eye on the expectations of tomorrow.At the work place too, the changes are exponential.
As per the ILO, globally the female labour-force participation rate (FLFPR) is approximately 49%. As women ascend the job ladders, consciously evolving an alliance of women in the workplace is an imperative. Much like the coalition of men that operates in workplaces, such alliances of women could support, mentor and encourage girls and women. Today, a Whatsapp group is all that is needed to nurture such an alliance of women in an organization.
The workplace will also increasingly throw up issues of inclusion of gender identities we have been hitherto unfamiliar with. Already leave and reimbursement for sex determination surgery, toilets for trans genders in offices, and dealing with homophobia are becoming part of human resource work. ISRO recently unveiled Vyomitra, the legless female humanoid as the first travelor in the Gaganyaan project. She or her cousins would surely accompany the manned missions later. With technological advances the workplace is not going to be the preserve of humans alone. Sentient and sapient beings such as robots, singularity and AI systems will be an integral part of the workplace. The future workplace will go beyond biological beings as we know them. Dealing with men, women, different identity humans, machines, AI, and the environment will be the challenges facing women managers, warranting nuanced sensibilities and an approach free from the bonds of legacy.
While we continue to unshackle the chains of patriarchy and surge forward, we should prepare for the different world looming ahead. The way ahead does not lie in angst about men or against men. As our landscape evolves, we will have to be accommodative, compassionate and inclusive, not because we are ‘women’, but because the future tide should not rise to the advantage of a select few like it did in the past.
The future is to be about equality not equity, empowerment not uplift, and opportunity created by choice. For women, men, trans-people and the rest.