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Helping women intrapreneurial leaders flourish: appreciating emotional labor

Reena Biju (Institute of Management, Nirma University, Ahmedabad, India)
Atul Arun Pathak (Department of Strategy and Entrepreneurship, Indian Institute of Management Nagpur, Nagpur, India)

Development and Learning in Organizations

ISSN: 1477-7282

Article publication date: 1 July 2020

Issue publication date: 21 February 2021




Faced with dynamic and challenging environments, organizations today expect all their leaders, including their women leaders, to be highly intrapreneurial. However, intrapreneurship is traditionally perceived to be a masculine activity. In order to appear intrapreneurial, women leaders consciously behave like men and suppress their feminine characteristics. This results in “emotional labor” that causes undue stress, emotional exhaustion, and burnout. Organizations can help intrapreneurial women leaders succeed by a combination of gender-related sensitization, focused training, setting up sharing and communication platforms, encouraging self-support groups and providing formal and informal mentorship to their women employees.


We carried out qualitative research which involved 31 in depth semi-structured in-person interviews (including 11 repeat interviews) with 20 women leaders from seven large organizations from the Indian IT industry. The interviewees had 15 years of average work experience, were in the 35-50 years age group, and held senior management functional or project management responsibilities. The interviews were typically 60 minutes each. The researcher took detailed notes, and subsequently, manually carried out multiple levels and multiple rounds of coding (initially open-coding followed by focused coding) to identify and abstract the themes and categories.


Our study identified that women leaders who are expected to behave as intrapreneurs, face “emotional labor” which results in stress, emotional exhaustion and burnout. To help women leaders succeed, a well-defined set of organizational interventions including gender sensitization, training, sharing & communication platforms, self-support groups, and formal and informal mentoring are useful.

Research limitations/implications

To increase the generalizability of our study beyond the Indian cultural context and beyond the IT industry, future researchers may carry out both qualitative and larger sample quantitative studies in other countries, and draw upon data from multiple industries. The issues arising out of emotional labor of women intrapreneurial leaders are likely to be present in a wide range of industries and cultural contexts. However, there may be nuanced contextual differences that need further exploration. Future research can build on our findings and explore moderators, contingencies, and boundary conditions that affect the suitability of organizational interventions that we have suggested.

Practical implications

Emotional well-being of women intrapreneurial leaders would help them take innovative organizational initiatives, and make the organization strategically agile. To help women leaders be intrapreneurial, organizations need many interventions and need to provide the required supporting infrastructure.

Social implications

Ways to resolve gender-related issues in workplaces are suggested.


Our study is valuable as it simultaneously considers two strategic organizational objectives of intrapreneurship and gender diversity of leadership teams. The paper provides useful prescriptions for organizations to help women intrapreneurial leaders succeed. This will help organizations that are facing dynamic external environments become innovative and strategically agile.



Biju, R. and Pathak, A.A. (2021), "Helping women intrapreneurial leaders flourish: appreciating emotional labor", Development and Learning in Organizations, Vol. 35 No. 2, pp. 11-14.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2020, Emerald Publishing Limited

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