Personal Finance

The problem with having too many women leaders in a firm

Workplaces devoid of male presence focus all attention on relationship building. FOTOSERACH
Workplaces devoid of male presence focus all attention on relationship building. FOTOSEARCH 

Here’s a frustrating truth about men: when women step up to lead, men step back. As women become the majority in a group it’s harder to get men interested in participating.
David Murrow, director, Church for Men.

The events of the night of January 18, when a group of women parliamentary aspirants (now MPs) descended upon the offices of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission angrily demanding a nomination certificate, were a grim reminder that women in Kenya will not take what they consider oppression lightly.

Forcefully banging on the doors, these angry women were in no mood to negotiate what they saw as a blatant abuse of their rights. The days of the passive Kenyan woman, it seemed then, had come to an end.

Mahatma Gandhi, for all his achievements in leading India in passively resisting British rule, had strange beliefs. Chief among these was that women were sexually passive human beings, capable of suppressing all carnal passions to focus their energy completely on what was good for their families and the society.

In a number of bizarre experiments, he did everything he could to turn himself into his version of a woman; devoid of all sensual desires and urges.


After one such experiment, Gandhi considered it the highest compliment when his woman companion remarked that sleeping next to him felt like sleeping next to her own mother — completely free of any sexual connotations.

While these thoughts may seem ludicrous now, they are still prevalent among the corporate sector players and with leaders of family business.

It is possible to start thinking that the solution to all corporate corruption and upheaval is to engage women in every position of leadership, first to assuage the male guilty conscience for having oppressed these sisters for so long and, second, to allow them to make up for lost time.

But reality has a way of reminding us about how things are rather than how we wish they were.

Women are necessary, lovely, delightful, wonderfully colourful creatures. However, when they constitute an overwhelming majority of management within a workplace, the resulting corporate environment can be disturbing.

Till late 2012, a local State corporation had women occupying 10 of its 11 senior management positions. While this oversight was recently rectified to include three more men, this corporation’s results fall far short of the expectations given by women activists.

The work environment at the corporation is caustic. Women can be particularly obnoxious when dealing with their female counterparts, with primary complainants in this corporation made by women about their female bosses. Even in the area of granting maternity leave, women find more favour with men than with other women.

This corporation last experienced significant growth more than three years ago when they acquired new outlets for their products.

However, these acquisitions are now a study in mediocrity, half-made decisions and non-performance. Bitter turf battles, many of them fought on the personal and corporate front, characterise what should be a leading local enterprise.

Clearly, the exclusion of men from a corporate environment does nothing to solve business problems; it only creates other pressing issues. What is the leader of family business to do when faced with an organisation that has increasingly become dominated by women? What are they to do to attract more men to the venture?

First, leaders of family business must recognise the importance of men in society, the family and the corporate environment. To make statements that place blame on the male species for all the problems that confront society is wrong.

Second, leaders should recognise that eliminating men from the workplace, while yielding some benefits, produces many more problems.

Third and most important, workplaces devoid of the mitigating male presence focus all attention on relationship building to the exclusion of corporate results. In that situation, men do not rise up to revolt; they quit.

Mr Mutua is a Humphrey Fellow and a leadership development consultant focused on family businesses. Email: [email protected]