Voicing the Voiceless: Experiences of Indian Women Trade Union Leaders.

AuthorMaini, Rashmi

Theoretical Underpinnings

Though women's labor force participation is increasing day by day however, their participation in unions is not increasing in the same proportion in the central as well as the state level unions (Dean, 2006). Colgan and Ledwith (2002) also pointed out that the scenario in the unions across the developing and developed world is one of women's under-participation relative to their share in workforce membership and needs to be improved. The overall participation of women in Indian trade unions is a miniscule and very few women occupied leadership positions in trade unions in both central and state trade unions (Ratnam, 1995). This research tapped the experiences of those courageous women who took bold steps to come forward and joined unions as leaders to give voice to the voiceless women. According to Cohen (1994) and

Dean (2006), there are various benefits of participating in trade unions. Issues such as maternity benefits, equal wages, sexual harassment etc. are given importance in organizations where women are involved in unions (Anderson, 1979; Thakur et al; 2018).

The analysis of women's experiences at leadership positions in trade unions in India is anchored in a variety of theoretical foundations. Though a plethora of theories can be associated with the broader idea of women's presence or under-representation in trade unions, however, for the present study, leadership theories are selected to throw light on the phenomena of lived experience of Indian women trade union leaders. According to Northhouse (2013), number of theories has sought to encapsulate the essence of the embodiment of leadership by leaders. Leadership theories help to understand the choices, decisions and strategies employed by leaders and also the ideologies that guide the mindset or impacts of the leader. The impact of leadership theory is also considered important in the context of diversity as a necessity for strategic growth, as the information technology age emerges, global cultural awareness and diversity as cornerstones of future growth become evidently pronounced (Geothals, 2011). In the year 2012, a survey of more than 300 senior executives of companies that held revenues ranging from $500 million to over $ 20 billion and beyond indicated that diversity and inclusion in the workforce was a necessary strategic element in empowering the innovation strategy. If the strategy of 'diversity and inclusion' is used in an organization, it acts as a catalyst for the growth of the organization and eventually impacts positively on the revenue of organizations. From such a perspective, a large part of the possible ethnic or gender diversity is missed when the power and inclusion of women in the workforce in general and at the leadership positions in particular have been suboptimal and cannot be considered as an adequately exhausted resource for future (Heeter, 2012).

Herrera et al (2013) mentioned that there is a need for organizations to adapt to the changing culture or fluctuating organizational cultures in order to take maximum advantage of diversity practices to influence leadership effectiveness (Healy & Kirton, 2002; Tannenbaum, 1965). According to Tapia (2009), there are five major megatrends which influence the corporate environment and these are diverse workforce, multilayered responsibilities, autonomy, empowerment and global scenario. Tapia (2009) stated that United States is focusing on not just diverse workforce, however they have diverse stakeholders. If such work is performed as an institutionalized effort, mobility and representation of all voiceless/ underrepresented groups hold positions of leadership (Cook & Glass, 2014). As per Manson (2012), issues such as morals, ethics and values have to be explored in detail as these are the pedigree of this era. Socio-cultural perspective becomes relevant in getting moral and ethical perspectives together. People like Jim Collins, Winston Churchill and Peter Drucker emphasized that todays' era is the 'age of social transformation' where social order is shifting the human condition and experience (Turner, 2008; Moua, 2010).

Application of leadership theory constructs to women, and particularly those women who present nuances limit its direct translation to their experience (Chin et al, 2013; Chin et al, 2007). However, the overarching concepts of motivation, vision development and empowering others to a larger cause provide insight to the experience of a unique population of leaders. Cook and Glass (2014) emphasized that transformational leadership approach suggests that a leader effectively raises the moral, ethical and emotional connection of followers to a larger cause, empowering conscious action towards a common vision. The history of leadership study is deeply enriched and essential in understanding how women and particularly women of...

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