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Unveiling Women's Leadership provides a penetrating insight into the world of Indian woman leaders. The book unravels the unique challenges facing the Indian woman leader who has to juggle several challenges including patriarchy, the caste system, harassment, and society's expectation that she ought to fit snugly into stereotypical roles.



Self-Identity, Nature and Nurture


1. Women and Leadership: A Neuro-Social Point of View

Women’s brains are different from men’s in very significant ways. Yet, on closer examination, there is nothing about those differences that suggests any reason why women should not be found at all levels of leadership in close to full proportion to men. Recent work in neuroscience demonstrates the variety, capacity and plasticity of the female brain. These characteristics make it fully equivalent to a male brain, and with the correct social environment, training and nurture, female brains ought to produce the same social performance outcomes. However, the human brain is wired in such a way that it resists significant personal change in the face of social obstacles. There are specific strategies women must adopt to get out of the middle management ghettos in which they are often stuck. If women understood their brains better, they could make them work for them to achieve more social and organizational power.
Bruce Hiebert

2. Political Participation and Women’s Leadership

This chapter draws from the author’s work of nine years with elected women leaders across India to analyse the remarkable political journeys of two women, elected as leaders of their gram panchayats. These women navigate the labyrinths of power, gender, caste, class, patriarchy, violence and discrimination to define a new-age leadership that is both conscious and courageous.
They not only deliver basic services to their electorate but also alter power relations and raise critical consciousness regarding rights within their communities. The author argues that women do not have specific biological traits that make them better leaders; rather, their own subordination provides the impetus for social change, which catalyses the transformation of social and political norms around them.
Sriparna Ganguly Chaudhuri

3. Confronting Paradox: Exploring Mentoring Relationships as a Catalyst for Understanding the Strength and Resilience of Professional Indian Women

The challenges and opportunities facing professional Indian women as they move through their careers is discussed, with a special focus on how they face the dilemma of integrating their professional and familial roles. These women spoke of the power of mentoring relationships in guiding them in their careers. But they also shared some of the limitations they faced in enacting mentoring relationships, including norms about developing close relationships with men outside of familial boundaries. This chapter broadens the cultural lens by exploring more diverse cultural perspectives from the existing dominance of mentoring research from a Western context.
Stacy Blake-Beard

4. Women in Joint Liability Groups: Do They Take Risks or Innovate?

In this chapter, the relationship between risk-taking behaviour and innovation in the entrepreneurial ventures of women in joint liability groups (JLGs) is analysed. Through the findings of a survey of JLGs facilitated by Integrated Development Centre, a non-governmental organization (NGO) in Kerala, this study sheds light on the boundaries that exist in the choices that women can make. It was found that women’s choice of ventures, despite their willingness to engage in economic activity, is limited by personal, familial, social and economic factors. The major findings of the study throw light on the relationship between risk-taking behaviour of women entrepreneurs and innovation in entrepreneurship, the glass ceiling effect on women’s choices for entrepreneurship and the problem of women operating in an unequal space in the family and society. The author concludes that in the absence of true decision-making ability, self-identity is not able to reach its fullest potential, which in turn hinders empowerment.
Ajeesh Sebastian

The Cost of Leadership on the Self


5. I Picked Up a Fight, and Became a Leader!

In a first-hand account, Dr Rina Mukherji dwells on her experience in fighting a ten-year-long lawsuit on sexual harassment against a leading English newspaper, concluding that it was this case that transformed her into a leader of sorts. Focusing on sexual harassment in the workplace, she laments that employers do not have relevant committees in place, and that if they do, these are often biased. When women choose to go to court, the flaws of the Indian judicial system — expense, delay, understaffing — thwart them. In any case, they may lose their jobs, and thus become further victimized. The author suggests that introducing fast-track courts, providing legal aid and trauma counselling and strengthening political institutions would enable speedy and effective justice for women. She contends, however, that without first demolishing the ‘culture of shame’ that shrouds the self-identity of the Indian woman, none of these suggestions will prove to be effective.
Rina Mukherji

6. Is Sexual Harassment at the Workplace Curtailing Women’s Growth?

The authors review the evolution of women’s right to work as equal stakeholders in a society that has an entrenched system of discrimination, through the context of the law against sexual harassment. They examine briefly the seminal judgment of the Supreme Court of India in Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan and critique the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, which replaces the guidelines issued in Vishaka, to determine how they help in achieving an equal status for women in the workplace. The authors conclude that while the statute is a step in the right direction, mandating both employers and the state to work towards a workplace that is safe and equal for women, implementing the spirit of the law will be the true test of its success.
Poornima Hatti, Shruti Vidyasagar

7. Gender Discrimination in the Boardroom

The author analyses the discrimination against women in the boardrooms of the top 50 American companies in 2008, focusing on the human capital attainment of 100 male and 100 female executives. This empirical study draws on the status characteristics theory (SCT), which predicts that for low-status groups (such as women in this case), standards of ability are higher than for high-status group members. That is, for a woman to be perceived as having high ability, she needs to have more evidence of ability than that required by her male counterpart.
This study concludes that gender-based barriers do exist in senior management positions of the chosen companies. The author discusses the reasons for such discrimination, citing corporate practices, behavioural and cultural causes and feminist theories, and relates this to the Indian context.
Neha Verma

Interplay between Structure and Agency


8. Women Heralding Change

The world today needs more feminine leadership, because we face one of the most challenging tasks of transformation of our times. Feminine leadership is needed to balance the very masculine models that abound, which do not always produce the world we want. The key to change lies in the feminine way, which looks at the whole group and tries to include the whole, waiting for those left behind: even if it means delaying the group, or the process or the fruit/result. The goals are collective; the focus of progress is that of the community rather than the individual. I have observed over the years that the feminine way focuses on inclusion instead of domination: it emphasizes process more than the end goal; it emphasizes group over individual.
Ela R. Bhatt

9. Attaining Leadership through Transformational Interventions

The authors examine the meaning of leadership for the common woman, how its construct is not limited to high-level achievements but is defined by the meaning of change it brings for every woman’s self-identity, and the influence and motivation for change that she in turn is able to bring into the lives of other women around her. In this light, the authors examine some successful examples of civil society interventions in India in fostering leadership in women by drawing the reader’s attention to the essential factor of participation and result-oriented approach as the key for success.
Seema Baquer, Monica Ramesh

10. Searching for the Elusive Glass Ceiling in Higher Education

While about half of the students are females at the premier Law Schools in India, the representation of women in senior management positions is negligible and a cause for concern. There is an almost impenetrable glass ceiling: while there are many senior women professors in the Law Schools and law colleges of the country, there is no upward mobility for the women professors from this position, since rarely, if ever, are women professors appointed as vice chancellors or registrars. This chapter looks at the problem, suggests solutions and also provides a personal narrative of double bind.
V. S. Elizabeth

11. Mobile Applications: A Game Changer for Rural Women Entrepreneurs?

Information technology (IT) in India has proved to be a powerful enabler for advancing economic and social development. However, the advantages it has bestowed on the urban Indian woman have not been seen by her rural sister on the other side of the digital divide. With respect to mobile technology, however, the story has been remarkably different, with high levels of acceptance across the country at large. While traditional IT requires these women to adapt to technology, mobile applications can be adapted to effectively address the unique socio-cultural, political and economic needs and sensitivities of this segment, making it a potential game changer for rural women as a whole, and rural women entrepreneurs in particular.
Nalini Srinivasan

12. Looking Ahead: The Feminization of Leadership

In India women are proving to be a valuable talent pool, fuelling a rapidly growing emerging economy. However, many women continue to report persistent and pertinent structural barriers hindering their professional advancement. The Indian woman embraces all her social gender roles equally — daughter, daughter-in-law, wife and mother. This embodies an important factor in her struggle for leadership, but also offers an important leverage for the feminization of leadership. Due to the specifics of the Indian cultural context, women in India command an important leverage for change — her family and children. With the support of policy-makers, corporates, non-profit organizations and universities, a multi-level agenda could increase the awareness of the challenges in closing the gender gap and facilitate the feminization of leadership towards a gender-free paradigm.
Neha Chatwani

13. A Study of Women as Panchayat Leaders in Bihar

In order to understand the performance of a woman panchayat leader, the ethnography method was used, including formal and informal interviews, and also data collection from administrative offices. The entry of women in the rural political sphere makes them a part of the socio-political power structure where they are expected to deliver, and their participation in structure also provides them with an agency to act. Highlighting the role of context, this chapter also indicates how the variables of motivation and personal traits help women function as effective leaders.
Smita Agarwal

14. How Difficult Is It to Treat Woman Lawyers Equally in an Indian Law Firm?

Law in India has been, and is, a male-dominated profession. However, the development of a chamber-based and technology-enabled corporate law practice has created more opportunities for women lawyers. The majority of the lawyers in our firm, Samvad Partners, is, and has always been, women, and this has translated into a women-dominated leadership in the firm. This happened only because we treated women no differently than male applicants in the initial years — judging them only on their qualifications and skills. If we understand the fact that knowledge, ability and skills are not constrained by gender, it becomes easier to make gender-neutral decisions. I will draw from our experience over the last eight years, looking at specific instances and examples, to argue that it is possible to treat women equally in the legal profession and facilitate their growth into leadership positions. The only impediments are our mindsets and approach.
Harish Narasappa

15. A Struggle for Equality in the Private Realm of Family Law

Equality before the law and equal protection of the law is a constitutional constant. However, the judiciary has clearly stated in Narasu Appa Mali (AIR, 1952 Bom 84) that personal laws stood outside the purview of the constitution. The situation today is that the plurality of personal laws in India, and women’s equality and rights within each personal law, differ. While a Uniform Civil Code may seem impractical keeping in mind the myriad systems of landholdings, tenancy rights and tribal systems that exist in India, moving towards equality within each personal law and creating secular systems of law to protect women within families is not just doable, but is the model of equality that the constitution in its current interpretation seems to justify. This chapter dwells on the catalytic role of some feminist woman lawyers not only in bringing personal law into the realm of political and legal debates, but also in actually transforming personal laws.
Sarasu Esther Thomas


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