In the 1986 song, ‘Modern Woman', Billy Joel sang, "And after 1986, what else could be new?"
I thought about this song recently at a gathering of a few high-powered women who came together to discuss the status of women on boards of companies. What really has changed for women post ‘86?
The fact is, we have expected too much, too quickly – but we have also come farther than most realise. First, let us admit the truth: achieving anything in this still male-dominated world is a tall order. Women have made great strides, filling 45 per cent of all corporate management jobs, for example. But they have also done so at a time when many men were looking to be entrepreneurs, not managers.
Debates about the leadership styles of women and men gained momentum in the 1990s because of new research attempting to identify the styles that are especially attuned to contemporary conditions. The new emphasis was on leadership that is transformational in the sense that it is future-oriented rather than present-oriented.

In that sense, leadership roles for women were transformational; they brought about a radical change in traditional leadership roles. The participatory, networking style of women leaders has made them better candidates, on balance, to lead teams. Women leaders have been at the forefront of organisational efforts to re-design the leadership functions required in team-based work. The women's movement has itself shown ambivalence toward leadership and proven better at devising more effective alternative models of leadership.

Mentoring was one such strong and new facet of leadership. Women see a mentoring situation as developing an ongoing relationship, while men may see mentors as more of a path to their goal. This appears to be a fundamental difference between men and women, their perceptions and goals with regard to mentors.

Gender bias of course is still the deal breaker. The woman has to exert a lot of effort before she gets accepted at every stage in her career. Women who have chosen to be career women have the greater task of combining the responsibilities of keeping their homes as well as meeting up with the challenges of the work environment.

Now, things are rapidly changing; women empowerment is gradually increasing. The awareness, especially at management levels cannot be overlooked. Women managers are getting more ambitious than men. It also depends on the extent to which men are prepared to work with them as equals. Breaking the glass ceiling is a significant challenge for women all over the world.

However, the key to this opportunity is also that policies and programmes need to be developed by corporates that help women focus, in order for them to maximise their career potential and for organisations to benefit from the rich resources that women bring to the workforce.

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