Feb 12, 2004

The Hindu Business Line : Women in power

The Hindu Business Line focusses on the Question : Women in power:"Studies have shown that while men take promotions, increments, incentives etc; in their stride as though they were long overdue, women tend to be more self-effacing or circumspect on whether they really deserve such recognition.

The Fortune 2003 list of the 50 most powerful women in international business has an interesting section called: 'Power: Do women really want it?'
It comes as no surprise that this article is accompanied by a full-page picture of the US National Security advisor Condoleeza Rice - who has nothing to do with international business, at least not directly, with the Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, who has topped successive issues of Fortune featuring America's most powerful women in business.
The underlying message in bringing together `private sector power' and `public sector power' comes through... err... rather powerfully. Big bucks do matter, but so does clout in the government. And power comes from both. As far as women politicians are concerned, after the exit of the former US Secretary of State Madeline Albright, Condoleeza is considered to be the most important symbol of power in the US. Not too far behind is the New York Senator Hillary Rhodam Clinton. The magazine quotes her saying that she is no longer surprised when told by women that they were getting out of politics or corporate life because they were not willing to pay the price in personal relationships. 'I don't think it's a good thing - but I don't want a society where people are turning their backs on the fundamental requirements for personal relationships. The economy is not an end in itself. It's a means to an end - so people can have better lives.'
Reminds one of the famous words of Gloria Steinem, one of the most radical feminists of our times: "I have yet to hear a man ask for advice on how to combine marriage and a career." And also the wonderful book by Terri Apter titled, `Working women don't have wives', in which the author says that the primary reason for women's tardy progress in their careers is that they don't have wives to take charge of domestic details! Even though that book was based on studies done between 1982 and 1992, one wonders if anything has changed at all after a whole decade. Women, particularly in India, continue to be largely responsible for the nitty-gritty of running a home, bringing up children, and ensuring that not only nutritious but also interesting fare is put up on the table day after day.
Reverting to how women handle power, the question needs to be examined from a deeper perspective. Or, perhaps, we need a new definition of "power" as several top professional women pointed out in the Fortune issue. Should a powerful woman be determined by the billions of dollars she manages in a company, like Carly Fiorina; the political clout she wields, like female heads of state; or the massive, and often hysterical, following they have across countries and communities, like entertainment icons? Or should other criteria, very different from those mentioned above, be applied to define `power'? "