18 July 2007

A man's world

The other day, while a lady friend of mine was driving me around Bangalore, a car driven by a man suddenly cut in and almost pushed us off the road. Naturally, we were angry; but, being civilised folks, we let it pass. However, the incident remained on our minds for a while.

My friend explained to me that, as a woman driver, she has often experienced the ignominy of being cut in and squeezed into corners by male drivers. She said that men did that for two reasons: (a) it gave them some perverse pleasure, and (b) Indian men believed that driving a vehicle is a masculine task and not meant for women.

It was her second reason which had me wondering about the gender roles that are acted out around us, especially with reference to the jobs we hold. What she said was true – that there are some jobs meant only for men, and women are excluded from them. Though, in India, driving as solely a man’s job seems to have a cultural connotation to it, rather than a universal stereotyping.

Traditionally, hunting and soldiering were considered jobs for men alone. So were carpentry, blacksmithing and brick-laying or construction work. However, cultural nuances were always found, such as women labourers working at construction sites in India. Over the years, as newer job roles were defined, women were excluded from many of them. For instance, working on an oil rig is still considered to be solely in the male domain.

Nonetheless, when it came to white-collar work or executive job roles in the corporate world, more and more women were welcomed into the industry, with some women taking up important roles and positions once dominated by men. Or, so I thought. That’s why I was surprised to read an online article in last week’s issue of The Economist which reviewed two new books on corporate strategy… which is, well, at the cutting-edge of the corporate world.

The Economist article on books on corporate strategy, titled ‘Be firm, be flexible’, reviewed Michael E Raynor’s ‘The Strategy Paradox: Why Committing to Success Leads to Failure (and What to Do About It)’ and Chris Zook’s ‘Unstoppable: Finding Hidden Assets to Renew the Core and Fuel Profitable Growth’. Among other things, the article hinted that designing and developing corporate strategies is still considered a man’s job… though this view was likely to change.

Here’s an excerpt:

“The two books serve to emphasise the extent to which corporate strategy is man’s territory. Like golf, religion and the working breakfast, it seems set on excluding women from decision-making. Mr Zook’s bibliography lists 55 books written by men and one by a woman. Mr Raynor’s reference index contains the names of 80 men and not a single woman. Strategy today still assumes that corporate decision-makers are like generals on a battlefield, fighting in a sequential world where one step is “then” followed by another along a route clearly marked “either/or”. In reality, though, strategy is now a world more familiar to working mothers, where the inhabitants juggle many issues at once and rarely face clear-cut either/or situations.”

[Citation: ‘Be firm, be flexible’, Books & Arts, The Economist, 12 July 2007]


Michael Raynor said...

You're right be surprised at the Economist's observations because, in my case at least, they are incorrect. In "The Strategy Paradox" I cite over 30 works by more than two dozen different women authors or co-authors of scholarly and managerial articles or books that speak to issues of central importance to my main arguments. Whether this is good or bad per se, I don't have an opinion. Neither can I say whether this over- or under-represents the work of women in the strategy field generally. But if there is to be a discussion about the nature and significance of the citation of works by women in my book, let it at least be based on the facts.

runawaysun said...

@ Michael Raynor

Thank you for your comment on my blog. I really appreciated it. It's a great honour to have you visit my blog and comment on it.

Thank you also for alerting me to the arguments presented in your book. I sincerely hope that other reviews of your book present the correct perspective.