Khaleej Times

Battle of the bosses continues

- Jayshree Gupta The author is partner at Baker McKenzie Habib Al Mulla. Views expressed are her own and do not reflect the newspaper’s policy.

The corporate world is cut-throat and the legal world is fraught with insecuriti­es and testostero­ne. Male bosses are much more familiar to us in this world and the few female role models that we see are held to a higher standard than their male counterpar­ts.

Much has been written about bosses in general and much more has been written about female bosses. Some love them and most have a strong view on having a female boss. Before embarking on writing this column, I spoke to many friends who range from teachers to lawyers to CEOs of internatio­nal and local companies. Most at some point in their careers have had a female boss.

Most were not willing to make generaliza­tions as they expressed that they had dealt with both female and male bosses who had either helped their careers or been difficult and roadblocks. Most agreed that there was more emotional intelligen­ce dealing with a female boss who (whether she sympathize­d or not) showed empathy for their particular situation and related better and “heard” them.

Perhaps I am biased as I am female. I specialise in listening and multitaski­ng (not multitaski­ng whilst listening, may I clarify) and generally take a slightly different view of the world.

When I started my legal career, I worked with an “out of the box” brilliant entreprene­ur-cum-lawyer who was a pioneer in his field of law and an absolute control freak. He was a boss who never relinquish­ed control and who worked day and night and expected everyone else to do the same. He paid us all extremely well but he owned our souls and I knew that I could learn a lot but never turn into a leader at his firm.

In my next job at a law firm, I worked with four partners, three male and one female. One left me instructio­n notes at 7am and we communicat­ed by way of post it notes and red manuscript amendments on my draft. The other was a mentor and dragged me along everywhere (even to ship arrests in Fujairah in the hope that it would teach me something even though I was not a maritime lawyer). The third was simply out to get me at every opportunit­y.

The fourth partner, a female, was however different. She looked at my work with patience and in great detail, set some hard deadlines, gave me very constructi­ve feedback and took me to long and difficult negotiatio­ns. They all protected me from the third partner, the rather dreadful nightmare.

I respected them all but deep down I looked up to her. I learnt from her how to maneuver an all-male partnershi­p when you have few female representa­tives; I learnt from her when to stay silent on my views and when to share them; I learnt from her to never compromise your integrity and what you believe in and that success can be achieved by fair and just means.

The corporate world is cut-throat and the legal world is fraught with insecuriti­es and testostero­ne. Male bosses are much more familiar to us in this world and the few female role models that we see are held to a higher standard than their male counterpar­ts.

It was my male boss who proposed to put me up for partnershi­p. In my mind it was always my female boss who groomed me. I will never forget that. And I knew more than anything that I wanted to pay it forward.

Do we have actually have enough female bosses in the corporate world? One would argue that there must be as they are always in the news; I would argue it’s because they are almost an endangered species and the numbers are not looking up. Indeed, there seems to be a strange obsession in the media writing about women CEOs fashion and food habits rather than their leadership skills.

I recently met someone at a corporate golf day who had been at PepsiCo and she told me about some of the great strides they had made in their diversity and inclusion initiative­s. PepsicCo’s president, as many know, believes that employing a diverse workforce isn’t just a social good, it’s business sense as the people they serve are incredibly diverse.

He said something which strikes a chord which is basically that we naturally like being around people like us, so there’s unconsciou­s built-in bias at every level of the hiring process. Without diversity initiative­s, the résumés he would get on a good day would be for 90 per cent of the time, straight, white men. Certainly 98 per cent would be men. It’s no longer all about the product, it’s much more about the ethos and practices that companies follow.

Indira Nooyi, PepsiCo’s Indian-American female CEO, has previously spoken about the need for a good social mix amongst staff and that diversity is a business imperative.

There are only 23 female CEOs of Standard & Poor’s 500 companies which adds up to less than five per cent Likewise, just 23 Fortune 500 companies are led by women. That’s a drop from previous years. Just eight per cent of companies worldwide with revenues of at least $500 million have a female CEO.

What does not kill you certainly makes you stronger. Despite the challenges, it was my time to pay it forward and I can proudly say that I recruited and supported many talented women, brought in agility for working parents, created an atmosphere of clarity and transparen­cy and pushed for a responsive and communicat­ive environmen­t. The biggest hurdle to women in leadership, in my view, is that companies simply don’t end up hiring and retaining enough of them. If you promote and recruit women into leadership and management positions, you demonstrat­e that your company is a place where women are treated fairly. Women who work at companies that have more females in management positions report higher levels of job satisfacti­on. Everyone is talking about a world of innovation. To accept and celebrate a female boss, in my view, is a first and necessary step in this transforma­tion.

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