NOT being an astronomer or astrologer, I cannot claim to know whether women are indeed from Venus and men from Mars. Or is it the other way round? Anyway, having mulled over the matter for decades, it seems clear that women do manage in a way entirely different from the way men do. People-management and task-orientation are said to be the two axes along which the pundits judge managerial effectiveness. The woman’s approach is different in both. As a result, in a world consisting largely of men as employees at all levels, they are beginning to make their mark felt.
Whether women get the right opportunities or not is much less of an issue than 15-20 years ago. Articles about women’s experience of working life, and more specifically of being managers, were a favourite with editors then. Was there in fact a glass ceiling stopping their promotions in jobs? Were all professions really open and accessible to them, except the physically onerous ones such as fire fighting — the real kind, not the metaphorical one, at which of course women are brilliant! Accepting responsibility Take tasks first.
To my mind, there is little doubt that women are potentially better than men at almost any job that demands accepting responsibility for delivering concrete results. If you think about it deeply, and observe the reality even in a relatively less affluent society like ours, this generalisation is true of the majority of women. In the poorer classes they manage even better because the woman has to make do with very little, and stretch her resources. After all, the economists tell us managing is all about scarce resources.
Often she doubles up as a part-time wage earner too. In the more educated class, working generally in the organised sector, one finds they plan better; they chase, badger and tame colleagues into submitting to their ways. And as for relentless follow-up, which men joke about endlessly, women are superlative at it. Surely it must come from the DNA, since all societies have had a division of labour that meant the woman stayed back to keep the household ticking over like clock work.
Consider what it must have meant in the hunter-gatherer civilisations. The baby needed attention or milk, the older children needed to be occasionally sorted out, small emergencies handled, from a cut finger to a major problem — and all the while the cooking-cleaning-mending routine went on, with no gadgetry to take the place of manual work. What better situation can you think of, to teach one to manage time, to prioritise, plan and just get on with the work?
Surely, the ability to take on difficult, repetitive, even thankless tasks and do them superbly well, day after day (which is in a nutshell what all the books and courses want us to learn) must have been etched thus in the female psyche aeons ago? Administrative skills Today’s business scene or even non-commercial organisations need superior administrative skills, particularly of managing people and systems — which require a combination of this consistent performance along with the nimbleness of mind and body to respond to minor crises. No wonder women are better equipped here as well.
The strange thing is that this has not been recognised and given due credit. Take for example the much talked about total quality management approach or TQM. One of its pillars is daily routine management, according to set processes, to learn which all we need is to look around us at home. Households run only because the daily routine — such as boiling milk, packing the lunch box or setting curd with yesterday’s buttermilk — all goes on with faultless precision, and on time, with fall-back choices even in times of great stress such as illness or bereavement.
Of course, no one has taken the trouble to describe this with fancy jargon such as “seamlessly managing the end-to-end value-chain 24 by 7”. That is all the difference! Doubtless one day some business school professor in the U. S. will discover this with amazement and publish an article in Fortunemagazine, exactly as happened with the dabbawallahs of Mumbai and their six-sigma level accuracy in logistics. Don’t forget that an economist has already won the Nobel for saying that the informal household sector represents an un-measured part of the GDP.
A UN report some years ago estimated it at over eleven trillion dollars a year! The starting point in the factory floor quality management for example is the process known as 5-S, which tells us to clean the workplace first, put everything in its proper place, mark and designate places and bins correctly, get the right tools for the job, and clean up afterwards and so on. The breakthrough here is that, unlike in the past, the person doing a task is charged with keeping the machine clean and looking after quality. “Put everything back in its lace” reminds me of my grandmother for whom it was a lifelong refrain. “Let your hand do what the eye tells you must do” she used to say, meaning that you should keep an eye out for “deviation from standard”, and most important of all, not wait to be told! No doubt, as she was married at 13 and had not gone beyond the fifth grade in school, this sound philosophy of managing came down to her not from books but through other women managers before her, an endless line of mothers and aunts stretching back into history.
The second aspect of human relations is a women’s speciality. Here women manage the age-old paradox of management much better, juggling praise and criticism expertly; and never leaving anything to chance or taking it for granted, erring on the side of making sure at any cost rather than assume others will find a way. “We trust, of course,” Mikhail Gorbachov is supposed to have said of the Soviet attitude to anything, “but we verify”. Get the job done This would be cynicism for many men, but a woman finds nothing wrong in it.
She knows from experience that with the best of intentions, the men in her life repeatedly say, “Oh leave it to me” and then come up with creative excuses for not remembering to order the gift, buy an essential medicine or ring their mothers on their birthdays. Intention and competence do not equal achievement — and she knows this to be an axiom. So if asked to choose between the directive and supervisory style on the one hand and the supportive, coach-mentor style, the woman loses no sleep over the choice.
The latter is for the birds; get the job done first, the punditry can come later (at seminars! ) is her general attitude. Readers will have realised that there are many men too who lead by the so-called women’s style of managing described above. That is exactly my point: there is a yin and yang in management and some men adopt the one that falls far more naturally in the realm of their “better half” and they manage the better for it.
It is quite possible that the strong-willed go-getting CEO’s have been brought up by a very capable and active mother and learnt from them unconsciously. To me this alone can help explain the popularity of the genre of leadership that was made so popular by Jack Welch of General Electric, the U. S. Who knows, since tough times are more common that good times, perhaps what the world needs is more `feminine’ managers among men too.