Saturday, April 17, 2010

When there are years of Historic Inequality, how can Meritocracy work?

WILL Forum – JSW Panel
With President Ruth Simmons, Brown University in Mumbai

"Will Rationality overcome Prejudice in the Workplace?”

"One can never consent to creep-- when one wants to soar!" -- President Ruth Simmons, to the WILL Forum.

It is a rare opportunity to stand next to the accomplished presence of a shining personality like President Ruth Simmon -- without being touched by her straightforward passion, depth of understanding on the case for equality for women, and commitment to excellence in education.

In sharing her wisdom with the over 200 senior women executives and women from the social sector at the Y.B. Chavan Auditorium in Mumbai -- President Simmons seemed to have a clear message for the WILL Forum, that "when there are years of historic inequality, how can meritocracy work?"

Following are some of the views on a wide range of topics covered by President Simmons -- with discussions from the WILL Forum Panel of Sangita Jindal (JSW Group), Ritu Anand (Tata Consultancy Services), Janaki Chaudhary (GE India), Shravani Dang (Avantha Group), and Sharmila Banerjee (JSW Group) -- to "feed the fires" of your learning:

On Education:
* Education can be had in a variety of settings
* We can learn anytime we encounter something
* We can learn from tragedy -- and we can learn from challlenge
* Anything that challenges us can teach us
* Education never ends, never peaks, and is life-long
* Care for children-- make sure their needs are met
* Even the humblest task is an opportunity
* "My mother was my earliest tutor-- I learnt self-esteem and integrity from her" -- President Ruth Simmons

On Leadership:
* Need to have courage and know how to face challenges
* Sometimes the challenges may seem too great
* Cultivate the habits of Open-ness and Flexibility, Passion, and must Inspire others
* Be assertive -- but listen to others point of view
* Move from conflict to "collaboration"
* Try to bring people together on a "common vision" and "common goal"
* "I have been able to acheive my goals in life -- I can now do for others what what has been done for me" -- President Ruth Simmons

On Equality for Women:
* Meritocracy is an argument against quotas by those who do not want equality
* When there is historic inequality -- then how will meritocracy work?
* "If you are not working for equality as a nation -- you are not a nation in my point of view" -- President Ruth Simmons
* In company boardrooms, public-spiritedness and soft-skills are still regarded with disdain -- men value the profit and the bottom line
* What is going on in corporate boardrooms is "making money" -- but do corporations need to make as much money as they do?
* There are immense cultural differences between what companies value and what women aspire to do

On Affirmative Action:
* It was a wake-up call for me to know that half the stocks in the NYSE are traded by women!
* We maybe uncomfortable with activism -- but without activism, legislation, and affirmative action -- nothing will change
* If you do not want to wait for another 100 years for equality for women -- stake your claim now!
* Women should stop buying products or investing in companies that do not show women in leadership positions
* We don't need to be present -- but our voices need to be heard

WILL Women Panelists:
* Men are promoted on potential -- women on acheivement
* Women are performing better than men in all exams -- what then is the "gate" that remains closed for them to move up the ladder?
* We don't want to talk about life-cyle issues of women -- it is not relevant to our leadership qualities
* Aspiration levels among women still remains low -- mentoring will be key in corporate India
* There seems to be an eco-system with unintended barriers for women -- this needs to be acknowledged
* Research needs to be done to highlight how men speak about women in their teams -- there are clearly different yardsticks for women

All thoughts and contributions are welcome -- and thank you for your continuing leadership.


Poonam Barua
Founder Convener
Forum for Women in Leadership

1 comment:

  1. Good to see work like this. It will take a long time to change attitudes in India and elsewhere.