Adapting power structures for gender balance!

Gender Equality

What is Power? It is a term that has often been misconstrued for aggression, dominance and autocracy. At its core, power is actually the capacity or ability to direct or influence the behaviour of others or the course of events. It is a dimension of effective leadership that can elicit collective crowd behaviour/response. It is that personal agency that can affect change! It is the ability to push the right buttons and move the needle! And what are power structures? A power structure is a way in which power is organized or shared in an organization or society. Or to put it simply, it is the distribution of power and the identification of power centres for allocating power.

Women’s rise to leadership that is crucial for gender balance in an organization requires that women make it through power structures, redefining possibilities and breaking stereotypes. Gender inclusion and greater diversity would be an organic consequence. To understand this better, it is important that we first examine the career patterns of men and women in India, for its finer and granular details.

Avtar’s research on career intentionality of Indian professionals led us on to the stark finding that women do not invest in careers the way men do, their ‘intentionality’ in careers weren’t at par with that of men. Women are great at obtaining a job. We see many companies hiring equal numbers of women as men at entry levels. What women did not invest in doing, was making strategic moves for career progress. Many of us, albeit unconsciously may perceive ‘investing’ in a career as not being a priority. Our investment in a career would at best result in hiring domestic help to manage the home front. It does not involve creating mentors or sponsors. Not surprising, as most often the woman who handles home-related responsibilities is keen that her home hygiene needs are taken care of.

What conclusion does this lead us to? That the power to cut through power structures and overcome challenges on the path of career progress, begins with the power from within, that of intentionality. Planning your path, demonstrating intent. Seeking your mentors, drawing inspiration from your role-models. Creating your own network of allies – your spouse, your parents, your parents-in-law, your children, your boss! Leaning on to your peer circle when the going gets tough. Breaking out of your comfort zone to connect with people very different from you. All of these actions, strategic steps are crucial to ensuring that a woman professional gets to the position of power she aspires to.

Having said that, let us not leave the gender dimension of power, to imagination. What is the association between power and gender? Several researches on this shows that Gender roles often shape power, from the ‘private’ relationships of the household to the highest levels of political decision-making. And organizations come somewhere in between!

What happens at the micro level units of a society (family), then becomes the foundation for power structures in the society – Gender stereotypes get entrenched in definitions of power. But things are changing and we are at the cusp of more equal times, in the corporate world to be more specific. Dynamics within families are evolving, specifically in urban India. We are seeing more dual career families with both partners engaged in economically productive professions – their career aspirations backed by organizational enablers like child care support, work flexibility and elder care support. The Working Mother & Avtar 100 Best Companies for Women in India lead this tribe! The culture of allyship – having allies championing the cause of inclusion, is catching up, in progressive organizations and that only makes the power structures more fluid and flexible. And it is this transient phase of power structures that will prove conducive for gender balance in the years to come.


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