When we structured the Indian Newslink Indian Business Awards in 2008, many women in the business community said that there should a separate category to recognise and reward the best among them.
It took us another year before instituting the Best Businesswoman of the Year category, not before subjecting the issue to scrutiny and debate among our readers and the judging panel.
We were encouraged to include this category following the results of a number of surveys, which indicated that notwithstanding the fact that New Zealand pioneered several moves to champion the cause of women, they continue to be “less than equal” in aspects related to career advancement, monetary compensation and so on.
The late Paul Samuelson once quipped, “Women are just men with less money.” As a father of six, he might have added something about women’s role in the reproduction of the species. But his aphorism is about as good a one-sentence summary of classical feminism as you can get.
The first generations of successful women insisted on being judged by the same standards as men. They had nothing but contempt for the notion of special treatment for “the sisters,” and instead insisted on getting ahead by dint of working harder and thinking smarter.
Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher made no secret of her contempt for the wimpish men around her. (There is a joke about her going out to dinner with her cabinet. “Steak or fish?” asks the waiter. “Steak, of course,” she replies. “And for the vegetables?” “They’ll have steak as well”).
Many pioneering businesswomen pride themselves on their toughness.
Dong Mingzhu, Vice-Chairperson of Gree Electric Appliances, an air-conditioning giant, says flatly, “I never miss. I never admit mistakes and I am always correct.” In the past three years, her company has boosted shareholder returns by nearly 500%.
The new feminists are right to be frustrated about the pace of women’s progress in business. Britain’s Equality and Human Rights Commission calculated that, at the current rate of progress, it will take 60 years for women to gain equal representation on the boards of the FTSE 100. They are also right that old-fashioned feminism took too little account of women’s role in raising children. But their arguments about the innate differences between men and women are sloppy and counterproductive.
There is growing evidence of women doing well in industries that were once considered ‘Men’s Domain.’ These include agribusiness, chemicals, mining, nuclear energy, oil and technology.
Women would be well advised to ignore the siren voices of the new feminism and listen to Ms Dong instead. Despite their frustration, the future looks bright. Women are now outperforming men markedly in school and university. It would be a grave mistake to abandon old-fashioned meritocracy just at the time when it is turning to women’s advantage.
As we close the gender gap, there may be an occasion to revisit the Best Businesswoman of the Year category.