|Volume 5 Issue 03 | March 2011|
Women as Decision Makers:
DR. SYED SAAD ANDALEEB suggests ways to transform the work
Organisations are often mired deeply in “people” problems. In Bangladesh, these problems range from poor training and motivation to problems with rights and entitlements, unsavoury organisational climates, discrimination and even persistent harassment that contribute to systemic problems and organisational ineffectiveness.
Photo: Zahedul I Khan
As if these intractable issues are not enough, there is brewing another potentially contentious issue that many organisations are seemingly unprepared for -- the growing number of women among the ranks of decision-makers. As organisational participants, their role and involvement in organisational affairs will become more significant over time. This development represents a significant departure from the conservative ideologies of the past that effectively barred women from the workplace.
That women will seek greater opportunities and climb the corporate ladder in the near future is no longer in question; what is in question is whether ways of integrating them more completely in economic life and organisations of the future have been thought through by organisational leaders, the corporate bodies or successive governments. Unless this emerging phenomenon is given unequivocal attention, now, organisations of the future may have to confront many new challenges that will cut deeply into their overall performance.
The necessity of increased incomes is a powerful force today making both men and women seek work opportunities beyond their traditional roles. And with mounting economic pressures, more women will continue to join the variety of organisations in the country. Recent trends suggest that women are getting educated along professional lines and moving up in the managerial ranks. These women are well educated, extremely capable and certainly deserving of leadership positions. Many of them may not, yet, make it to the top. As the pressure builds to accommodate this segment on their way up, the need to transform the work environment and adapt it to the new realities cannot be ignored.
In particular, organisations must contemplate the fact that more women will make decisions that will affect the lives of men. Some of these situations will be potentially explosive, vitiating the organisational scene with greater frequency as more women rise in rank. Mechanisms for dealing with these issues -- especially the imminent conflict, the increasing power struggle and growing legal complexities -- are either inadequate or simply not in place.
Why must organisational leaders be concerned about this emerging phenomenon? With women's ascension to managerial ranks, increasing turbulence is expected in the workplace because of the interplay of women in their role as decision-makers, complex cultural traditions and the prevalent authority-based and hierarchically designed management structures where men have traditionally ruled. In fact, according to some scholars, Bangladesh, like other developing countries in South Asia, has a patriarchal society, which is characterised by male dominance, women's dependence and obedience to men, and each man's obligation to support his wife and children. This social structure is supposed to lay down many codes of conduct. Women from this social structure may, thus, find their decision-making roles undervalued, ignored or even mistreated, especially in organisations designed and dominated by men. But the increasing number of working women and their ascension to higher ranks, suggests that this structure is, or will soon be, under pressure to change.
There is no known study in Bangladesh that addresses this impending structural shift to provide insight into the way women are coping, adapting or innovating on their way up. Neither is much known about how women have influenced men in their organisational roles and whether men have begun to make any adjustments as organisational players. It is imperative, therefore, to gain a greater understanding of how the growing ranks of women and their evolving role and participation in decision-making are viewed by both genders in the present-day organisations in Bangladesh.
Given that the organisation of the future in Bangladesh will have greater choice of employing individuals from both genders, systems must be in place to select the best candidate. If the candidate is a woman, she ought to have equal opportunity to be selected after which she should be integrated fully in the decision-making process with commensurate authority. This is important because of the evidence, from a global perspective, that women's participation in decision-making can be a boon to organisations. This derives from two (among other) qualities that women are likely to embody in greater measure than men: emotional intelligence (EI) and relationship management. While these qualities have been debated in the literature, they are best suited to help build teams, foster team effort, generate internal harmony, develop a nurturing mindset and serve as the organisational glue that keeps entropy, a tendency towards disorder, at bay.
For these reasons, the European Industrial Relations Review recommended that more women should be actively involved in decision making and even suggested legislation to promote balanced participation of women and men in decision making bodies of all kinds --political, administrative, economic, social and cultural. These suggestions are consistent with recent studies in the western world that have shown that demographically diverse teams (which include women) can prove very useful to organisations, especially because team members with different experiences, values, attitudes and cognitive capabilities can introduce different perspectives to group problems that can lead to innovative solutions.
Because of the potential benefits of encouraging and even insisting on (gender) diversity, organisational leaders in Bangladesh should examine ways of fostering a climate that encourages greater participation of both men and women to improve the quality of decisions. To be able to accomplish this effectively, much more research is needed in this area to seek the best possible ways of integrating both genders. In fact, if organisations in Bangladesh are to modernise, harness the skills of both groups and raise the level of organisational performance, a variety of questions need to be answered, continuously, with organisational evolution. Here, organisational leaders must play a decisive role by supporting on-going research on the myriad concerns they confront on the issue of gender integration to be able to peer into the future, make necessary organisational adjustments and be better able to meet the future.
As creative solutions for integration are devised, especially on the issue of diversity, they must be included in policy documents of the respective organisations to formalise the decision-making role of women. Otherwise organisational performance may be sacrificed to a conflict mode of operation, draining the organisation of its vitality and hindering it from achieving its potential. At a broader level, society must also be prepared to accept the new and emerging realities, while legal scholars and practitioners must think proactively about safeguarding the evolving role of women in decision-making that must be harnessed to its fullest potential.
Dr. Syed Saad Andaleeb is Distinguished Professor of Marketing and teaches at the Sam & Irene Black School of Business, The Pennsylvania State University at Erie, USA. He is also the President of Bangladesh Development Initiative (www.bdiusa.org) and Editor, Journal of Bangladesh Studies. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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