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Srinath Sridharan

Independent markets commentator. Media columnist. Board member. Corporate & Startup Advisor / Mentor. CEO coach. Strategic counsel for 25 years, with leading corporates across diverse sectors including automobile, e-commerce, advertising, consumer and financial services. Works with leaders in enabling transformation of organisations which have complexities of rapid-scale-up, talent-culture conflict, generational-change of promoters / key leadership, M&A cultural issues, issues of business scale & size. Understands & ideates on intersection of BFSI, digital, ‘contextual-finance’, consumer, mobility, GEMZ (Gig Economy, Millennials, gen Z), ESG. Well-versed with contours of governance, board-level strategic expectations, regulations & nuances across BFSI & associated stakeholder value-chain, challenges of organisational redesign and related business, culture & communication imperatives.

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Celebrating Women Leaders We Learn From

While some corporate policies have changed over time to create gender-fairness workplaces, most have not been revamped to keep up with the times. Hopefully, women leaders will push for these changes

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There are a sufficient number of studies that indicate that the leadership styles of women differ from that of men. It might be logical to hypothesise that gender differences disappear in the so-called evolved societies and developed markets. But research indicates that societal development actually widens the differences between the genders. This is the reason why focus on the style of leadership is increasingly becoming important, and yet it is hardly ever attended to.

The way we celebrate women’s empowerment is affirmative action. True empowerment does not need any mansplaining. It is celebrating women leaders we learn from – celebrating those who defy the odds and stereotypes, those who disrupt man-made norms and the worse-than-glass ceiling, and those who rise against the heckles and show the path for others to follow.

Sadly, in the male dominated C-suite arena, women are often forced to prove themselves, more than their male peers. Despite our industrial revolutions and management science thinking, social and cultural barriers that hinder women’s careers as well as their entrepreneurial paths, continue to persist. 

The topic of closing the gender gap is a while away, for all the glass ceilings that still exist. The current workforce culture expects women to prove themselves more than their male counterparts, and to work harder to gain the respect of their peers. 

*Emphatic Leadership

Most successful women leaders set an example for other leaders, especially women, to emulate. With their grit and career path, they demonstrate that they don’t pretend to be someone else. 

They are genuine. Simply because they did not get their position easily. The journey to the leadership role came despite societal bias, stereotyping, and lots of personal sacrifice, grit and determination to make it happen.

Women leaders have that extra edge in constant learning and unlearning as a behavioural trait. They constantly ask questions and seek answers. They add openness to their curiosity. Women leaders use humility as a natural strength to their leadership style. Humility inspires team bonding, open conversations amongst stakeholders and encourages learning and performance. It also shows that such leaders are aware of their own weaknesses, eager to work with others and willing to understand other’s perspectives. 

In terms of connecting with individuals and institutions, women leaders have proven strength in establishing relational leadership, while men use transactional style. While outcomes of successful projects might seem similar in both scenarios, it helps institution building under women leaders.

*Stereotypes and silos

Another strength that women leaders demonstrate with ease is communication capabilities. They are more willing to share updates, even if it is not in their favour or even if it is not complete. They are ready to express gratitude or remorse, when needed. These create a safe space for their stakeholders and build trust and credibility. In a VUCA world, such leadership allows stakeholders to manage their concerns about uncertainties. 

Being able to empathise with all stakeholders is a modern leadership tool. The ability to share their views with stakeholders, especially their employees, builds trust. When employees know that their leader cares about them and their aspirations, they demonstrate it with their performance and loyalty.

There is a flip side to this attribute. With this – ‘women are good with people’ – sloganeering, is society pushing them only to mid management roles to manage the larger workforce? This is with the perceived bias that the largest workforce is in mid to lower management and will need operational leadership to manage them.

Women leaders, in general, are more cognisant of obstacles and their personal limitations. They utilise their strengths to make up for these and steer their journey ahead. 

Apart from the various man-made hurdles, women leaders continue to face stereotyping and battling of perceptions to get to their roles. As individuals, they are more critical of themselves and measure themselves against harsher standards. They tend to underestimate their leadership capabilities. In general, women often desist pushing for what they deserve. This could stem from worries that it would be seen as poor and selfish behaviour.

*Chauvinism Should Cease

The disastrous thinking and demonstration of male chauvinism is often noted with the thinking: “since men have most of the top roles, they must be doing something right, so women should learn from them”. Let’s stop right there.

We should rather learn from women leaders about what effective leadership is – and how meaning can be added to leadership roles, and how impact can be longer lasting than just the individuals.

For the cynics, there are sufficient research and practical examples of women leadership and its success. These leaders demonstrate qualities such as focus, vision, humility, empathy, passion balanced by compassion, steadfastness – usually attributed to male leadership. This is where women leaders of today can help. They have to help and mentor other women leaders to emerge. They have to lead the voices for creating women-empowered workplaces. While some corporate policies have changed over time to create gender-fairness workplaces, most have not been revamped to keep up with the times. Hopefully women leaders will push for these changes.

When the world is seeking compassionate and non-authoritative leadership, let us hope that we see the rise of women leadership across sectors. True empowerment is when the word leader should suffice, and not need a gender prefix.

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