D.K. Aruna is known as a 'firebrand leader' in Telugu politics. Hailing from a political family, she is a three-time MLA from Gadwal in erstwhile Mahbubnagar district and a minister in the Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy and K. Rosaiah Cabinets and is currently vice-president of the BJP.
Women tend to have a more cooperative, participatory style of leadership. Men tend to have more of a command and control style. Men are more task-oriented and overbearing, while women are more democratic, she says in an exclusive interview to mark International Women’s Day. Excerpts:
How do you assess the level of empowerment of women in society today? How patriarchal is Indian politics?
One should admit that Indian politics is male-dominated. Though attempts are being made to empower women in politics by extending reservations to women in local bodies, we see several instances of husbands of these women leaders calling the shots from behind, attending official meetings and taking decisions on their behalf. This is unfortunate. However, one should also admit that the situation has improved a lot for women in politics now.
Though women voters are coming out in large numbers to cast their votes and they outnumber men in a few constituencies, politics is still not a preferred option for the majority. A vast majority of women needs to seek permission from their husband or senior family members to attend to political activities.
What progress have you seen on gender equality in your life and work? What challenges did you face?
The practice of gender equality has improved a lot over the years. When I was a girl in the 1960s and a young woman in the 1970s, the mindset of most men or even society was that a woman should be confined to the home and she must take care of her husband, children and family members. The argument was that there was no need for women to pursue higher education or a career. This mindset has changed especially since the 1990s when economic liberalistion policies were introduced. Women are competing with men in all sectors, pursuing higher education and attaining top positions in society. As a woman leader, I faced several problems. Male leaders maintain a huge base of followers and they move around in big groups and create a bigger impact. Women leaders remain isolated as the participation of women in politics is still very low. That way, women will be at a disadvantage over men. But the situation is slowly changing for the better. There is increased participation of women in politics.
Is there any significant difference in the leadership of men and women? Why do we need more women in leadership?
Women tend to have a more cooperative, participatory style of leadership. Men tend to have more of a command and control style. Men are more task-oriented and overbearing, while women are more democratic. There is need for more women in leadership as this increases diversity. Some surveys also revealed that firms that increased the number of female partners at top management level saw more of profits.
Why haven’t women achieved equality, despite legislation in place regarding gender pay parity?
Gender equality could not be achieved fully despite the governments introducing several legislations over the years. These were never implemented in their true letter and spirit. Most of these remain on paper. The Equal Remuneration Act, 1976 of India (ERA) prohibits differential pay to men and women workers for performing the same work. Although India has come a long way in addressing the issue of pay equity, there is more to do. The principle of equal pay for equal work needs to be strongly advocated and promoted by the government. This should be supported by strong wage policies and strict implementation of the existing anti-disparity laws. Since pay disparity is also noticed in the unorganised sector, it is imperative to conduct regular awareness programmes among the workers, enlightening them about their rights. Additionally, efforts need to be made by the government to formalise the unorganised/informal sector by framing effective wage policies applicable to them and implementing them.
How should women succeed in a male-dominated environment?
You don't need to have a leadership title to be considered a leader in your office or anywhere. Whatever your position, find a leadership role you can excel in — whether it's heading a key initiative, solving problems and resolving conflict, or calm decision making in a crisis — and push yourself to be the go-to person for those situations.
If your communication style is a bit weak, practise being assertive. Many times, women take on the role of the pleaser in an attempt to get noticed. It's nice to be nice, but trying to at all times to please others won't get you anywhere.
Your inspirations in life?
Indira Gandhi in my initial days. She broke India's political glass ceiling and became one of the most powerful and longest-serving Prime Ministers. I was also inspired by J. Jayalalithaa, who made it big in politics despite the odds. I admired Sushma Swaraj. I also have great respect for Nirmala Sitharaman, who made her own mark as the first full-time female finance minister as well as the first full-time defense minister....