Like in a marriage, careers are first and foremost a commitment. We all know that careers and jobs are different. Jobs can be temporary but careers are ideally more or less for life. This article on women in leadership is based on a series of interviews on the experiences of females who follow a career [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Fact: Discrimination against females comes from both males and females

Women in Leadership

Like in a marriage, careers are first and foremost a commitment. We all know that careers and jobs are different. Jobs can be temporary but careers are ideally more or less for life. This article on women in leadership is based on a series of interviews on the experiences of females who follow a career and not necessarily a job per se. Please note that the examples below are experiences of people. I intend not to generalise these to all companies when I am well aware of the corporate leaders who make it a point to give equal opportunities, regardless of the gender and leaders who believe in the unique strength females bring in to the workplace.

While speaking at a Lion’s Club event once, a man asked me; where is the rightful place for a woman? I redirected the question at him to which he answered that it was at ‘home’. Many other males and females present in the audience agreed with him and said that society is what it is today because of bad parenting and that being designed to be the nurturer, the mother plays an irreplaceable role in guiding her children. Another female said that it is next to impossible to juggle work and home, and be effective in both these areas at the same time. Another male added that in a particular governmental organisation, several males were being managed by a female and how difficult it is for this female manager and for the males under her, equally. I respected their views, but my question to them thereafter was not necessarily about a job in the corporate or organisational world, it was about a career, about an area of expression for a female where she can find her niche, where she can contribute and make a difference beyond her own family be it a neighbourhood, business organisation, community or even the country at large. Is it impossible to strive for a perfect package, a fine dynamic balance of playing multiple roles effectively and with awareness to improve this effectiveness continuously? Is it impossible? Or are we giving excuses?

In our interviews, a lady manager in a public organisation noted, ‘I was determined to make a difference. I was driven alright, but I had a bag of fears to work on. I was focused, but I had to take conscious measures not to be derailed when failure knocked me over, when others silently laughed at me and said that I was too much of an idealist; that I will not be able to change how things have been taking place for years’.

Another female entrepreneur who had given up working in the corporate world adds “this is what they said to me after university, ‘get a job, your problem is that you want to change things. It’s a do or die situation. Adapt to the culture or get out” or “Well, don’t get me wrong, but your thinking is too westernized. You will have a problem in convincing people”‘.

Another comment came from a female executive in her late twenties who was stuck in the hierarchy for many years. When she had put forward a proposal to improve the processes of the company, this was what she received in return: ‘Well, let me see, how old are you? And a female! I don’t mean to be rude. But I am approximately 20 years more experienced than you are. And now you are telling me that you can assist us to help make a difference in this company. Don’t get me wrong and keep trying but the truth is you will come against much opposition. There is a lot of red tape in this company’.


From my own experience, I remember travelling for close to two hours to meet a potential client who seemed so keen on some company research. After a chat for close to an hour and a half about other organisational issues, I approached the question of discussing the project, to which he simply replied ‘It’s very interesting to talk to you. Can we organise another meeting with my team? They are busy today. And to be honest, today I wanted to check you out and be sure that you are just not a pretty face’.
Thunderstruck? Flabbergasted? No. Frozen.

Another female consultant relates a similar story: In a similar meeting at a plant of a multinational company stationed out of Colombo she found herself being interrogated for her knowledge for almost two hours by another female manager only to say that she just wanted to test the consultant’s knowledge in the end; another meeting in which my own education/training was belittled solely because the lady director thought that foreign qualifications don’t really add value in this culture. The truth is that the discrimination against females does not necessarily come from males alone; females discriminate against females due to their own insecurities and fears. Gender discrimination, be it male to male, male to female, female to male, or female to female can occur due to different reasons based on what they consider to be threatening. One is threatened when one is not secure in him/herself first and foremost. The developmental question for all leaders then should be ‘where do I get my sense of security from? What am I anchored to that gives me stability in who I am?’

Mostly, women tend to focus on the relationships they have with everyone, so sometimes as a manager they may hesitate to be assertive by being more people-oriented and less task-oriented. Being people-oriented may make a leader successful in many ways but in the organisational world, it is perceived to be a weakness at times. However, all of this depends on the type of job, the industry and organisational culture.

We read books on leaders and entrepreneurs who have lead the way from the bottom up to build empires. More often than not these individuals are known to be extremely driven and focused at best, and cold, ruthless, calculative and manipulative at worst. Now, keep in mind that these qualities are socially acceptable for a male and not for a female. As a female manager or entrepreneur providing leadership to a team, at some point in their career they would have to make a decision about themselves; change and acquire the male qualities of a hunter, a builder, a provider or simply continue to be oneself with more social and cultural awareness.

I have and will always continue to believe that ‘who we are’ is our greatest strength. I have and will always continue to believe that a woman’s femininity and the set of qualities that come with it, is her main asset in the tool box. This is not a feminist comment but I am a strong believer that women have a tremendous capacity to endure, to uphold, to support, to wait on, to nurture, to sustain, to encourage, to influence and to drive and lead arduous labours that require sharp thinking, emotional and social intelligence, resilience and patience. I am also a firm believer that women can be equally great in their leadership only if she overcomes her insecurities and transcends the emotionality in which her biology affects the psychology. But how can we rise above something that is innate, hardwired, or uncontrollable because it is coded into our DNA as a female?


What if you are to discover that you are prone to having high cholesterol, blood sugar or blood pressure which is also hereditary? Would you not be more aware of what you eat or how you exercise? Being conscious about who you are biologically, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually can help you to take precautions and respond to situations differently.
AWARENESS is the first step in transcending fears, insecurities and emotionality. Awareness is also the first step in transcending ego. If males and females want to lead side by side capitalising on their unique and shared strengths, they have to transcend both their emotionality and ego.

It is an ongoing challenge and I too am trying everyday!

(Rozaine is a Business Psychologist, author, consultant and a university lecturer based in Colombo. She can be contacted via email on

Share This Post


Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.