Thursday, March 24, 2011

Are today’s power women excellent role models?

Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Sir Richard Branson are business celebrities. Everyone knows them. Their business models are often referred to in MBA class rooms. They are hailed and recognized for their strong entrepreneurial skills and business acumen. They are almost always cited as role models for tomorrow’s young executives.

But mention Irene Rosenfeld, Indra Nooyo or Safra Catsz and not many hands will go up. In theory, they should. These are the counterparts of Jobs and co. Power women who have climbed the ranks to achieve business success probably unheard of a few generations ago. Irene Rosenfeld is the CEO of Kraft Foods, Indra Nooyo is the CEO of Pepsi Co and Safra Catsz heads Oracle. Just a sprinkling of a few names – of power women who run companies as successful as Apple and Microsoft. There are more of course. Some of them hold key positions in new age techno wizardry companies such as Google’s Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook who was sought by Mark Zuckerburg for her excellent skills in running Facebook the business.

So what’s the point in taking the name list of power sisters into high gear?

We all need role models. In a world where power dynamics call for strong, capable leadership, the class room is where the first nuances of building character and leadership traits are nurtured.  Tomorrow’s generation needs to know and relate to people that could inspire them to outstanding success. In Sri Lanka, positive and clean role models are a need of the times. Children often find inspiration in sports stars but not everyone can become sports heroes. Business leaders, particularly successful business women, need to connect with the young women of tomorrow.


My just-turned-thirteen son admires Steve Jobs – an avid Apple fan, he finds Jobs an ideal role model for tech savvy youngsters like himself. Today’s generation, female or male, comes equipped and empowered with skills we didn’t have. They need dependable role models more than ever because they have limitless opportunities and they need to be able to sift through to get to a career that not only inspires them but also drives them to achieve outstanding results.  Visibility of power women like Google’s Mayer and Facebook’s Sandberg can play an influencing role for young women. Women who have achieved success at high profile tech firms such as Google and Facebook can easily become the ideal role models for young women of today who are tech savvy themselves and are considering non-traditional, tech based careers.

This rings true for Sri Lanka. We have more women passing out of higher educational institutions than men, in keeping with demographic changes. More women join the labour force ; women must also grapple with gender specific issues that come into conflict with career options. Marriage, motherhood, reliable child care and domestic chores are issues that face every woman who has ever considered a serious career. Equipped to multi-task, women still find balancing it all a hard act to follow. Unless driven by a passion and a commitment to a goal, most would settle for less glamourous yet dependable jobs that would allow them to stick to regular hours. Some even give up on a career altogether – a few others consider returning to work once the children are grown and their domestic chores lessened.

Local favourites

In Sri Lanka, we have our own successful entrepreneurs such as Aban Pestonjee and Janet Balasuriya. There are top female bankers such as Rohini Nanayakkara and Ranee Jayamaha. More women have climbed the ladder of corporate success in Sri Lanka than ever before.  Indra Nooyi, Pepsico’s Indian born CEO who has the honour of being named Numero Uno on the Fortune’s “50 Most Powerful Women” list, is listed by Forbes as the 06th most powerful woman in the world. Born in Chennai, Nooyi represents a new generation of women to whom cultural and regional boundaries mean nothing. They have achieved the level of success that surpasses such boundaries.  And they are bankable, solid role models girls can be inspired by.       

Men are supposed to ‘traditionally’ identify with prestige in terms of financial compensation given the recognition of their work. On the contrary, experts point out that women treasure camaraderie, fulfillment and flexibility in a career. With technology paving way for work-from-home scenarios, more women are content – and committed to working late hours telecommuting while kids are at school or in bed. While such flexibility has its advantages, it can also have negative repercussions like in Netherlands, which has the highest percentage of women in part time work , in Europe. Netherlands therefore technically has more women in the work force but less women holding key senior management posts in the corporate sector. 

Additionally, some careers are simply not cut for telecommuting or work-from-home and require a physical presence in the office, in addition to putting in long hours. There are of course many women, in Sri Lanka and the world, who have success stories of combining it all – balancing the home with a demanding career and emerge victorious on both counts.       

Nayomini is a senior journalist  & PR professional and can be contacted at

Source : Daily Mirror - 25-Mar-2011

No comments:

Post a Comment