Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Directorinas wanted

Meet Jean-Claude Moreau. Brussels' answer to Ramamritham.  It is well known that Homo Sapiens Ramamrithamitis is thriving beautifully in Brussels  under the umbrella of the European Commission. Monsieur Moreau has excelled himself in a number of fields and he is keeping with this tradition in trying to bring legislation that women should have a quota of 40% on the Boards of European companies.

We in India, know all about quotas and reservations. But surely Europe has better sense. Apparently not. M Moreau noted, after years of diligent research, that women only constitute 13.7% of directors in large listed companies in Europe. Given that women certainly constitute 50% of the population, and apparently 45% of the workforce, this was considered totally unacceptable.The Solution ? Legislate a quota. Wow. Only a Jean-Claude Moreau can think of that. It would be hard to think of a dumber idea.

There is no doubt at all that women in the workplace are discriminated against by culture, by religion and by male chauvinism in many parts of the world.  But only rarely so in Europe. The reason why women don't occupy a natural 50% in the Boardroom there is down to two things - a male club that does not easily let in others and the difficulty of getting good childcare which makes talented women drop out midway in their careers.

The male club is rapidly dwindling away, at least in Europe. Sheer talent cannot be suppressed anymore thanks to the brutality of the market. In major corporations today, I dare say, merit usually stands. The market ensures that there is a 100% quota for merit - man, woman or otherwise. No thank you, M Moreau for your contribution. Sure the glass ceiling exists in many places, but the speed at which it is crumbling will be far greater than what M Moreau is capable of in action.

The real problem why women are underrepresented in senior management is simply the age old problem - women sacrificing their career for children. M Moreau has two options to solve that problem. One is to allow free immigration of Filipino nannies - the good that will do to the world as a whole is immeasurable. If he doesn't have the guts to do that, the alternative is for him and his fellow bureaucrates to all become child minders - that way they will contribute more to the society than being babus and dreaming up silly ideas like quota for women on Boards.

I have another suggestion for M Moreau. First introduce a quota of 40% for women amongst the senior babus in Brussels. Then we shall see about Boards of private companies.

PS - Jean-Claude Moreau is a figment of my imagination, just as Ramamritham is, and has the same qualities. In the unlikely event that a  real JC Moreau ever reads this, no offence mate !


gils said...

hahahaa...niceee...nalaltha kathukaraangalao ilayo ithelaam karecta thappa kathukaranga...koodia seekram angayum oru sundal commission start aaga praapthirasthu :D

TMM said...

Hmmm! interesting and some of our boards can come up with a quick answer to this suggestion. Elect or Nominate 50% of their Boards to undergo a sex change operation. Given that the Board usually have the 'geniuses', (who are just about a hairline different to 'crooks'), I would'nt be surprised if the Boards are able to game the system and use a loophole as above. Just kiddin!

Ramesh said...

@Gils - Ha ha. Sundal commission indeed :)

@Kiwi - If you adopt the analogy that Margaret Thatcher was the only man in her cabinet, perhaps you could say that already there are more then 40% women on Board !!

Shachi said...

Love this JC guy - as much as Ramamritham ;)

Things have improved tremendously on the professional front for women....however, there is a long way to go. Few more things that would help:
- paid paternity leave - dads usually miss out on the newborn/infant/toddler fun stage coz they dont get paid leave benefits. Many think men don't want to take leave and take care of the baby, and that is so not true.
- flexible/part-time jobs with higher will allow more women to choose those options and not feel compromised.
- more role models - I am very curious to see what the new Yahoo! CEO showcases....even if her husband chooses to stay home or she has 24x7 nannies, if she sets up a good example, more women will be willing to take such high profile positions.

I am in the middle of this dilemma - whether to continue working or quit for a while....I am doing my best to try to continue working and setting up a fine example for my children as well as the techie women who will follow my footsteps.

Sandhya Sriram said...

While is funny for many one, for someone who lives this struggle day in day out, it is a different story. While a man runs one race, hard and fierce, a woman runs two at the same time, even harder and even fiercer, both pulling in opposite directions. for long, it has been "Well, its your problem, this is the stage and this is the script, you either perform or exit", but no one has ever wanted to redefine the stage or the script because it was never needed. i dont have a comment on the reservation, but i do feel, sometimes, it is important to think drastic measures to bring about drastic mindset changes and this is possibly one way. Maybe, i will wait for a post from your after five years, when all this Hoo Haa about Gender Diversity actually takes shape. Maybe, you will have a different story to tell :-)

sriram khe said...

As long as the Euro-Ramamirtham is not a Dr. Moreau :)

I vaguely recall reading in The Economist a couple of years ago that female participation in the labor force is significantly lower in a few European countries compared with others. Greece and Italy stand out in my mind as the ones at the lower end. The Scandinavians, of course, were at the higher end.

One of the major reasons was how much "traditional" the the woman is treated in Greece or Italy. It is also this same dynamic that triggers a lower fertility rate in Italy and Greece. The traditional not as in the old keep 'em barefoot and pregnant, but traditional as in the men not taking up household activities--a contrast to Scandinavian households.

The business environments in the US, for instance, also allow for flexibility for women to take a time-out and then re-enter the labor force (though, yes, there might be a slide in terms of the rungs of the corporate ladder.) In many European countries, the system is a lot more rigid--the rule of "seniority" means that when women exit, re-entry typically cannot be anywhere near the level where they exited.

I realize that I have gotten too wordy already! Oh well, maybe it is time I nagged students instead :) My point is that no wishful thinking like imposition of quotas can bring about a change in the boardroom unless there are changes at the ground level.

A final note: one of the best pieces that I read recently, I mean really recently, was the one in The Atlantic:

Ok, now I will shut up :)

Asha said...

The stereotypes are changing. Many men are coming forward to quit their jobs to take care of the family while the women want to make a career. We have two such examples in my own family. My mom's cousin is a geriatric doctor. seeing her practice flourish. her husband an IITian has quit his job and helps her run the hospital.

I don't favor quota though. It will change... if both men and women in a family complement each other, then we can have women in senior postition. One classic example is Bombay jayashree Ramnath and Sudha Raghunathan. Though not in the corporate field. Their husbands have sacrificed their careers for their wives. And some like sudha murty have quit willingly because they don't believe in nannies. Me too i too don't belive in outsourcing family responsiblities espeacilly bringing up kids. I think a child needs at least one parent until he becomes independant and leaves home. I feel sorry when i see many such kids brought up by nannies. Sorry my comment is running like a post. I don't know to say in few words :)

J said...

Isn't it striking that it terms of college grass the mix of men and women is 50:50 and has been for sometime now at least in the US and yet at the very top, you don't see many women and the few women at the very top seem to have made huge personal sacrifices. I was going to suggest the Atlantic article till I saw Sriram's comment. I agree that there are some careers that are more flexible, academics for one, but the corporate world is less tolerant. I think it is good to identify the problem but there are so many things we need to change is terms of social expectations of women, recognition that women are hard wired to put their kids before their careers and that is not a bad thing, allowing for work to get done outside the office and outside of traditional work hours as long as the job is done. Instituting quotas is getting the wrong end of the problem, it will result in filling the slots without regard to competence and that is not helping the cause of equal opportunity for equal ability. It seems like the previous generations fought the battles of right to higher education and right to ambitions and now our generation and the ones to come need to figure out how women can not only have professional careers but also reach the very top.

Vincy Joseph said...

It does not take any ESP for anyone to know women are just as capable of men, if not more :-) What hits most women is the family-career balance. If a woman could manage this equilibirium, she will be able to break the glass ceiling.

I am of the opinion that its more about individual women, their choices and the willingness to put themselves forward for those higher and challenging positions. I have definitely seen incredibly ambitious women ( in my close to 2 decade experience in IT indsutry), and these women have done tremendously well in their careers. The percentage of such women are definitely low.

Gender diversity is a hot topic even in this industry though noone speaks about "quota"

However my experience being in only one industry which is more modern in its outlook than others may make my opinion slightly skewed while taking a generalistic stand on women across industries in the globe.

And for women like me who are not in the “CXO” kind of positions, but still feel have done fairly well in career, I should accept that I live in eternal guilt of not giving enough time for family, especially my son :-(

Ramesh said...

@Shachi - My heart goes out for all of you, who face the dilemma for which there seems to be no easy answers.

@Sandhya - India is a different situation where there IS discrimination against women. You have a much tougher road to travel for which I salute thee.

It'll take me a few more years than five for the gender diversity issue to hit home :):)

@sriram - Wonderful comment; I wished you had gone on longer. Yes Europe is not one homogenous whole, but attitudes to women reaching the top are supportive all over Europe now. The US is also much advanced. Asia is where the attitudes are still awful - Japan, China, India .....

Ramesh said...

@Asha - Yes, there are many men who are role models in this sphere as you have rightly pointed out. My feel is that families will have two career stages as we live longer and work longer. The first stage will be the man working and the woman homemaker. At 40, I believe the roles will swap for the next 20 years. Traditional unidimensional career paths will go away I believe - after all not even an alpha male can cope with the 24/7 demands of today without crumbling.

@J - Academics is clearly one of the leading careers where you see true equality. While attitudes are improving in the corporate sphere, the lifestyle demands are changing in the opposite direction. The global travel requirements just cannot reconcile to any form of family management - both for the man and the woman. These days, unless you are prepared to not have a spouse, or have a complete doormat for a spouse, being on the Board of a major global company is not an option.

@Vincy - You are a good example of how to balance the demands on an Indian setting. Would love you to do a guest post on how you did it.

sriram khe said...

Hmmm .... don't ever wish that I had continued with my comments. Which is why students who know me make sure they don't ask questions :)

There is also one other side to this argument: it is the coming end of men.

It has been a long-running theme in my blog:

To a large extent, and as I have noted in one of my blog-posts, it all began in the mid-1990s when I noticed that my daughter and her female friends were completely dominating their high school over their male counterparts--from academics to student government ... It was also the same time that I read an essay by Christina Sommers on this topic. I asked my daughter to read it and give me her thoughts; she barely read a page and said something like "so, what's new!"

At least here in the US, we are living through some really interesting times when it comes to gender issues. The neatest thing is that for the most part the changes are happening not via any Jean-Claude Moreau :)

Ramesh said...

@sriram - I don't know about your students, but the joy with you is always a mature argument, untainted by emotion or anger, which is a rare privilege. It is extremely stimulating; so carry on, my friend

I don't believe for one moment the decline of man. The rise of women talent is not a threat to man. I have seen no evidence that there is a sex bias in talent - merit will be gender neutral I believe. What is certainly under threat is male dominance, which might cause major insecurity and social problems.

Sanjay Balachandran said...

What Mr Moreau (and so does most male species) including your's truly do not realize that - managing a house, bringing up children is MUCH MORE DIFFICULT than perhaps working in a organization and in senior management. Women do not need Quotas, they are increasingly being recognized as talented managers- ICICI/AXIS/HSBC- some of the big banks in India are run by women. India missile program is headed by a woman (Gosh that breaks lots of stereotypes)... I think they are better juggle many things than men perhaps god given gift...

Ramesh said...

@Sanjay - Actually I disagree. Its fashionable to state that managing the house, children etc is more difficult and that women are better at juggling things. I don't think that is true at all. Every role has its complexities and challenges. There are many women who do their chosen roles extremely well and there are many who do an awful job. Just the same as with men. I believe talent and capability are strictly gender neutral. That there is discrimination against women in the workplace, especially in India, is undisputed. But I don't agree that any gender as a whole is either better or worse in terms of capability.

J said...

Did you read the article titled "Female Muscle" in the current Economist? To your point on quotas, I was amused to read that there seems to be a quota for men in the South Korean foreign service!

Ramesh said...

@J - Yes I read it. Ms Rosin is peddling trash. The rise of women does not lead to the end of man. This is just bringing the equality that is natural. In some areas women will be more prominent, in some it will be men and it will overall even out. There is zero evidence to believe that merit or talent is particularly weighted towards one gender.

Vincy said...

@ Ramesh, I feel honoured that you even mentioned about a guest post by me. I need to grow up to your blog to even think of that. :-)

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