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Sylvain Rochon, April 13 2022

Neena Bhattacharjee – Getting a Strategic Edge Using Women Leaders

A CykoMetrix Spotlight Production

Every week, the Spotlight shines on an amazing professional with a story to tell and lessons to teach.  Welcome to the CykoMetrix Spotlight.


The following is an adapted transcript of the exchange between Sylvain Rochon, CMO at CykoMetrix as host, and Neena BhattaCharjee, Global Talen Management Leader & Leadership Coach (www.linkedin.com/in/neenabhattacharjee). 

Sylvain Rochon:  Welcome to CykoMetrix Spotlight. I'm the chief marketing officer at CykoMetrix. My name is Sylvain Rochon. CykoMetrix is a SaaS company that does psychometric, measuring personality, cognitive abilities, emotional intelligence for use in business and decision making.

I have with me Neena Bhattacharjee. She's a global talent management leader and leadership coach. She has worked for over two decades using people analytics, playing a critical role in advancing strategic and cultural objectives, working in consulting with organizations such as Samsung, Leyden India, Pearson, Tata Motors, Schneider, Citicorp, and many more companies. She's a TEDx speaker of note, a business psychologist, and a leadership coach with a special interest in gender diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Hello, Nina. 

Neena Bhattacharjee: Hi, Sylvain. Thanks for your lovely introduction. 

Sylvain: You're welcome. Neena. This is a subject that is close to me, what you're going to be talking about: how you can get an actual strategic edge using women leaders. In my family, the women are the leaders, and the men are basically just following along, not because they are demure, but because they understood the power of the women in my family. This is part of my own personal history. So, I've always really appreciated women in positions of leadership because I grew up in it. For me, it's natural. But in the social structures at large, in many nations, it is not a natural fit to have women in leadership, especially in business, at least not until today. And so, I'm really excited to hear your perspectives about how it is beneficial to have women in positions of leadership and how it does give a strategic edge to organizations. Please tell us about that. 

Neena: Sure. Firstly, I must congratulate you that you belong to a family where women were given importance. While I was growing up, I grew up with a working mom, but, you know, incidentally, the family that I belong to, the position of power was always with the men. So, women had to struggle for their place. Though if I try and analyze it, you would say the unspoken power, the real power came from my mother only. But the spoken or the power wielded was by my father. I think that's something which is very typical of patriarchal societies. Plus, if you look at the global data, we see that there is a crisis on women's leadership. If we try and compare the number of women who are graduating from school or doing business management, and we compare that with the number of women who really reach the senior level leadership position, the numbers are very skewed. 

So somewhere around the middle leadership level, women are leaving. So, an organization would probably put in the same amount of resources and time and trainings on women. However, they're not able to say that one half of your human resource is not getting the right opportunity to show their talent. The organizations are not able to use their competencies the way they should. It's like you hired an X number. But by the time they read the X number reaches a middle leadership position that X has gone divided by two, so it's X divided by two, that's left. The very fact that all that time and resources and everything that went into the grooming of women leaders is not reaping benefits to the organizations, that's one. Another is the fact that at very senior leadership positions, the gender diversity aspect, some unique men and women are very similar but they're [the women], very unique. They bring in very unique competencies and unique strengths to the table. So, in a way that one aspect goes totally missing. Now, most of the organizations which are either selling products or services are catering to the entire population where women are also a key part. Like you've shared, women were important. 

Women are very key participants in buying products for the households, even for buying properties and all. However, if we don't have that perspective inside the boardroom, we're kind of missing out on their voice. We don't have that expert advice coming into the organizations that can cater to the consumers. Having said that, there is enough research driven data which shows that organizations where women are sitting in the board, not only are they more successful, they are more profitable. They're also kind of safeguarded from any kind of bankruptcy. The data, which is available, like when the global meltdown happened, there's one researcher who's also a neurologist who says that men have so much testosterone and women have just a portion of what men have. Just because of the physiological differences that they have, men react in a stress situation by taking more risks because of their testosterone levels. They shoot up because it's a defense reaction. It's like your autonomous nervous system reacting to you, whether you fight or flight. So, men tend to fight in that mode. You take more rash decisions. Women on the other hand when they are tackling risk, they are more contained. They would think of all the possibilities where a man would not. So, he came up with a very interesting data that's the kind of impact women have. If an organization was to allow its women leaders to really reach their true potential, in fact support them in reaching their true potential, that strategic edge bit gets covered very beautifully. 

Sylvain: So, you mentioned just now the difference is the biological differences in men like you have hormones like testosterone, progesterone. These initiate behavioral changes in critical situations like stressful situations and others. Of course the behaviors manifest differently because of that biology. That is fairly well researched, I know. But it's also how the two genders are raised inside the culture. So how they're brought up and they become adults with certain ideas and certain approaches to life and certain behaviors that are culturally ingrained in different nations. It's not equal in every nation of the world either. 

To have these elements that make women and men behave differently in a business environment, to your point, means you also have the fact that you're trying to sell to the whole of the population. There's 50% women, 50% men. So, you need to have that distribution. But one of the first things you mentioned in your first piece is that there is a discrepancy in the proportion of women leaders, men leadership and middle management and upper management. There's just not a lot of women that climb the corporate ladder, so to speak, and end up in the top tier of businesses. So, could you tell me a bit why this occurs? Your perspective may be different from your reservations in different nations because culture is different. Can you talk more about that? 

Neena: Sure the cultural differences exist. Women tend to be pushed back a little more in the societies which are patriarchal. But since I worked in the corporate world and most of the people who generally go to the corporate world belong to that socioeconomic strata of society where their education is given importance. So, on the face of it, the biases or the lack of opportunities which would probably exist in a lower strata society does not exist. So, women are given those opportunities to study. However, the gender biases, which are I would say the implicit biases, which nobody teaches us but we absorb simply because of the gender differences that we have, tell us that women are different and men are different. These differences don't just happen: men versus women. Women also feel the lack of confidence, not at a very perceptible level. They are confident, they speak well, they're highly educated, but at a level where you have to take risks… For example, there is enough data which proves that if men and women are applying for a job, men would look at, say a job description or the selection criteria and would apply for it. They meet around 50%, 60% of it. Women, on the other hand, are looking for almost a perfect fit. They're innate nature is to not take risks. The fact is, somehow women want to be perfect. When they are raised in different cultures, you would see that women are taught to be proper. You have to be a good girl, even if your mother is not saying it. She has reached that level of involvement. 

Then there are aunts and grandaunts or anyone, or the society per se. You get feedback that you have to be perfect. So, if you see a lot of women leaders, women who come in very senior positions, politicians, when they speak, they speak as if their success reflects the success of the entire gender. That is how it is perceived. For men it's like, successful men represents themselves. Well, a very senior woman or a successful leader or a politician, she's carrying the load of her entire gender. So that's the kind of loads that we carry. So, I would say that at certain levels there are certain cultural differences. However, if you look at the educated elite, which may differ in percentages in different countries, the basics are the same. I think it's also the evolutionary penalty that we have because there was a time like 100 years ago, 50 years, 60 years ago that men were in charge and women were taking care of the house and the kids. 

Now it's been a few decades since they started going out. But the fact that I have two kids, for example, I'll give you a very interesting example... When my son turned 16, one day, he came to me saying, Mama, I want to go to an XYZ place… [At the time] I had incidentally watched a movie. I forget the name of that movie. I was pretty emotional because two kids get kidnapped [in the movie]. I said to him, why do you want to go alone? He was looking at me. When I looked at him and said, at 13, he looks like a grown up man. But for my daughter, I was reluctant to send her in my car with the driver that I hired myself. I would say, let her go out a little more because I was concerned. She gets all the opportunities, but when it's about her safety and security, I have to think twice. So, this kind of gets ingrained. She doesn't ask. But if she was to say “I'm going to stay back overnight at somebody's place”, I would be concerned about who they are. But with my son, I'm like, okay. I would be concerned, but not that much. 

So just because you were born a woman in a society or in a country or in a space where your security also is important, it adds to that extra gender play. Most of the leadership traits, for example, are very masculine. However, women are taught to be communal. They are also by nature communal. They want to have good relations with everyone. If you study the boys, small boys and girls, when they play, when boys are playing, there's a lot of competition on who will be the leader. While women, small girls, when they're playing, they're more focused on collaborating with each other. They're not like this if somebody is trying to be bossy or wants to impose their dictator or their will on the group. On the other hand, when small boys are playing, they will choose a leader. So, when a woman becomes a leader, her leadership requirement is in contrast to her gender role that she has consciously or unconsciously imbibed. It's a woman who is outspoken, who can talk assertively and confidently. She's not saying it - there's data which supports that as well - that she's not equal to men and women. It's not just the men who are not liking her. 

There's a very interesting study, and it's not an Indian data. I was smiling because while we are a very patriarchal society, at certain level, men are very similar. It shows that men like women who sound a little tentative. They don't really like women who sound very self assured, very confident. They may think of them as competent, no doubt, but on the likability scale, they come down by both men and women. So, if you're going to start peeling up the layers, you will see there is so much that's there, that is a part of your socialization. That's how we grew up. That's how we learned to survive in this world and I feel that once we start talking about it probably some kind of progress can be made. So, if this can be handled and tackled by organizations, surely they will add up to their top line and bottom line because very competent women would not leave their jobs. They would stay on and give more. Because even if they are not really leaving jobs so much. If you have a kid to take care of, you would want to stay with an organization that you can grow. 

Sylvain: So, just to summarize the reason why, women are less found in mid management or upper management in part because of cultural biases like external biases, not enough support and that kind of thing which comes, I guess, from our traditions and from our antecedents. But also part of it is self inflicted. Like you said, women may not be striving to be leaders because of how they see each other. You see more collaborative space and they don't want to be seen as a leader because perhaps of their experiences where a leader is not liked.  They're sensitive perhaps to that or they feel culturally inadequate to be a leader because of how they were raised. That may explain the percentages in mid to high management. But to your point, what you were talking about in the last part is there is a strategic reason why you want women in leadership. And you want to encourage that trend up and that social learning to encourage and allow the young girls to feel empowered to be a leader and that it's okay. All these cultural changes that are still ongoing over generations because it takes a long time to change how we do things. So, what is the power, the true power of having women in leadership? What happens in an organization when there is that balance? 

Neena: Sure. Before I answer that, I would like to just clarify one point with you, Sylvain. It's not that women don't want to take on leadership positions. When I spoke of the various challenges they face, a lot of it is at an implicit level. It's not that you're consciously aware of it. Because we are a product of the way we are socialize, the way we are brought up, which is the environment that you're in, the culture society that you're in, and your ingrained genetic differences. For example, like I just said, when you study small boys and girls, they are not even aware of the concept of gender, what is it that they come up with? For example, there is this very interesting study where very small kids, five-year-old kids were shown some pictures of men and women and also, until age five, the gender preferences were for their own gender. So, most intelligent, most smart, and whatever was picked up by girls as women. The girls picked up women. The boys picked up the pictures of men. However, by age six, girls started picking pictures of men. 

So it's very baffling that would happen in one year's time that girls have started thinking that all the smartness [was male]. They could associate smartness with a lot of things. Why do they stop and boys would continue to take pictures of men? I'm not saying women don't want to. What I'm saying is that they face challenges which are there in the environment, which has got to do with biases, which are very overt and obvious biases. Biases are part of your unconscious because you were brought up like that. Women also because they may think that if I make a mistake, it's a big one. Men making this, a boy is making mistake, it's not a big thing. But women think that if I'm going to make a mistake, I'm going to probably reflect, it'll reflect on my entire gender, on my family and all that. So, these things are not conscious. So that's where I would want to clarify my point. The other is when you said how is it that they can achieve the strategic edge? What is it that women bring to the table when they are women leaders? I was reading this very interesting data point which says that when there are women leaders, their team members are generally more content with their jobs because they use a lot of empathy. They are communal, in the sense that they are cared for, their teams and all that. Women are multitaskers. So, it's not that men don't have specific strengths. But since we are focusing on women by default, they do well when they are multitasking. 

Another thing is that when there is a risk, they take a calculated risk. They will not take a risk for the sake of taking a risk. They would use a lot of data points. They would think about it, think through a lot of scenarios, and then make a decision, which is a wise thing to do, because, I mean, that's good especially when we've had these meltdowns and we've seen how it happened. Besides when they're taking risks, they're being communal. They are also bringing in a very different perspective. They're bringing in a perspective which is generally missing from very senior levels, from C suites. So, they bring in that diverse perspective. It's like if you have men who will generally be thinking about a situation in a specific way, they bring in that little thought there. They can actually bring in the perspective of any client. Like every organization, there is no organization, which is unless of course, you're making accessory, seven specific products for men. Otherwise, your clients are like both men and women or maybe kids or whatever. So, they bring in that perspective, which tends to go missing if there are not enough women who are representing their gender in the high table. 

Sylvain: I've also read a study a long time ago. I'm not sure if it's up to date or if it's still valid. I believe this was probably a North American study. It's been a while so I'm not sure.  What they were saying is in a home, most purchases in a family with kids, are made by the women in the house.  Again, this is a bit traditional. The women in the house, the mothers, they are aware of every need, everything that needs to work, all the needs and so, they're usually the ones purchasing. I remember reading about that and the argument from the author was if the woman is the buyer and the leader in the business that produces and that does the marketing is a man, maybe there could be disconnects. Maybe you want to have a woman in there that understands the buyer, right?  You're part of the same community that kind of thinks the same way because that person in position of leadership is possibly also a mother that therefore understands the behavior of the buyer. Do you think this is still valid, this old information I got from a while back? 

Neena: Absolutely, it's valid. I would just say that I think of a scenario which we are not used to at all. Think of a scenario that men go missing from the decision table, you know, if they go missing. What are we missing out on? We're missing out on their perspective, their unique perspective which they bring to the table. So similarly, when women go missing completely from the decision table we will miss on something very important as well. It's very simple like that. Like if men were not there, for example, to bring in their logical mind or whatever that they bring to the table, then we'll miss out on a lot of things as well. So now we think that we've had women missing for far too long. So, let's bring them on. Since I would say that women sitting in very senior level leadership position is still a luxury. It's still something we are globally aspiring to. And I would like to share something very interesting. 

I was watching this debate happening between Canadian professors and some American professors happening in one of your universities, I think University of British Columbia. Somebody made a very interesting point that in Canada it'll take about 80 years for us to, at the pace at which we are going, to reach gender equality or equity. I was thinking, my gosh. If you compare the population size between India and Canada, one of our smaller states will have the same population as you have [in the whole country]. Of course, [in India] there are probably many centuries represented simultaneously. How long will we take to reach that level of gender equality? So, I was like shocked, if in a place like Canada it will take 80 years. So that's a professor's talking, and you take them very seriously. It's a reality. It's an issue which is burning and I'm glad we have reached a situation where we have started talking about it. It's about time because for far too long HR has also stayed because that's also the domain that I kind of represent away from the decision-making table. Now they are coming on. We are realizing that we need HR coming on. Similarly, we need also women to come in and bring in that unique perspective and their specific strengths to the table. 

Sylvain: I think that's very important. Like you said, I see a lot of movement and discussions about diversity in a general sense which involves gender, cultural, religious, as studies come out that says businesses that have a more diverse and more representative leadership.  Also team members actually succeed better in the market. 

Neena: Absolutely. 

Sylvain: So that's just a broad observation like X equals Y. Gender is a big part of it because 50% of the population is inherently or at least identifies as one gender or the other. So, you must have proper representation of that. Notwithstanding the other differences that we can always talk about as well.

This has been amazing. Thank you, Neena, for your time to talk about gender diversity and how women can be a strategic ace in the hole at the decision-making table in a company. 50% of the population, that's a big market. 

Neena: Yes. Absolutely Sylvain. Thank you so much for having me. I really enjoyed the conversation.

About Neena Bhattacharjee - www.linkedin.com/in/neenabhattacharjee

Neena has worked as a global talent management leader for over two decades using people analytics, playing a critical role in advancing strategic and cultural objectives working and consulting with organizations such as Samsung, Leighton India, Pearson, TATA Motors, Schneider, Citicorp and many more.  She is a TEDx Speaker of note, a business psychologist and leadership coach with a special interest in gender diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

About CykoMetrix - www.CykoMetrix.com

CykoMetrix is a leading edge combinatorial psychometric and human data analytics company that brings the employee assessment industry to the cloud, with instant assessments, in-depth analysis, trait measurements, and team-based reporting features that simplify informed decision-making around recruiting, training, and managing today’s modern workplace.

 

Written by

Sylvain Rochon

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