This year International Women’s Day was celebrated on March 8 with the theme ‘Better the Balance, Better the World’. The fight for equality isn’t just limited to homes and society, but is one that has reached the workplace too. Gender balance at the workplace and representation of women in higher positions is needed now more than ever. NT NETWORK highlights the issue
Danuska Da Gama I NT NETWORK
There’s no field today where women haven’t set their foot in or have not showed power and efficiency – space, Kalpana Chawla; sports, Mary Kom; politics, Queen Elizabeth; social activism, Malala Yousafzai, the list goes on. These women, with determination, courage and other factors including support, challenged stereotypes to make space for women in a field dominated by men, and have achieved great success.
Of course, not all can become icons, but for sure, women don’t give up on achieving and striving hard. Known for being efficient at multitasking, they manage the affairs at home, the chores and work hard in their respective careers.
However, there is still a lacuna that exists. While on one hand gender parity and equality can get women reservation for jobs and education, it doesn’t really resonate with the work they do, their positions in the company or their average pay scales in comparison to men.
Women not preferred
There are gender defined roles, but women have defied these roles to prove their worth. While ‘women’s work’ was considered taking care of the home and family, it was the man who had to provide for the family and be the earning member. This view has definitely changed with more women working today than ever before. Yet one’s gender has to be specified on a CV. Job advertisements give preference to gender too, for various jobs the experience and qualification hardly matters.
There are several reasons (read: excuses) why women are turned down for jobs, or aren’t even considered for positions in the management or higher rungs. On the other hand it has been proved that having an inclusive work environment with men and women, can add to profitability in a company.
“In Goa I know that a lot of employers don’t want to employ women because they fear they will train them and then they will leave to get married or may get pregnant. This means that even if you are qualified, your personal life is considered over your CV, which is not necessarily done with men. Women should be employed none the less and be given a chance to prove themselves,” says freelance photographer, Jane D’Souza who has witnessed her friend face this issue twice.
While this phenomenon is prevalent across sectors, women have better opportunities in metropolitan cities in India. “After having worked in New Delhi and Goa, I feel it is the mindset of both men and women that prevent them from being hired and then climbing up the ladder in an organisation,” says a telecom professional. She believes that women don’t like taking up challenges like men because of the fear of failure or being overburdened. “Many women I know are just happy to be employed and receive a paycheque at the end of the month,” she says.
While Marilyn Pinto believes that people are more open to the opinion of women, the older generation isn’t very open minded. “I see there is still social stigma, sometimes they are decisive, and somehow prefer a male voice,” she says.
An issue beyond gender
Women face violence, exploitation and are objectified in every sphere of life: in work, at home and even when they fight. The fight isn’t just restricted to their representation in the workplace but is also for transformation of power relations within the organisational framework.
Women are on the frontline, protecting their homes, communities and families against harassment, whilst putting up with politics at the workplace.
“It is also to do with the culture and social fabric in our society that prevents a woman from coming up. Just because a woman is young, enterprising and fights for herself, she is considered short tempered, arrogant or aggressive and is thus looked at very differently from an organisational viewpoint. It is looked at more negatively, than being as a positive attribute,” says a social activist.
Also, a few women and men we’ve interacted with believe that it is the crab mentality and selfish attitude of co-workers that also results in women not being able to make a place at the board or climb the managerial rungs. “Women are women’s biggest enemies, and that’s best seen and experienced in any organisation. They can be all sugar and honey to your face, but run you down, despite you performing well which can hamper growth and performance to quite an extent,” says an educationist. “When some women are overtly friendly with the management level personnel and can influence them to an extent where they can’t see for themselves, it demeans a person’s self worth and esteem to a large extent,” she says.
Today the villages across Goa have more women as sarpanches and panchas than ever before. And while many women are championing the cause of women through their leadership, others believe that it is due to their own villagers, both men and women, that they haven’t been able to execute their plans and are quick to label them as being incapable and generalise it with being a woman.
Money and power also play a role in organisations and hamper women from rising, and can be a challenging task to take on. “I have not really faced any challenges because of my gender at the workplace. In fact I think I’ve faced more challenges because of other women rather than the men. I feel the richer they are, the more they forget they are human at heart. And when they are at a higher position and have power, they treat you like garbage, intimidate you with their words and make you feel small. Men too of power and money do the same,” says Orlyandra D’Souza who works in an agriculture company.
Understanding women power
When it comes to leadership, male behaviour is most often in line with what is expected of strong leaders, women are expected to be warm and caring and are thought to be bad at making difficult decisions. However, various studies have gone on to prove that there is no significant difference between the genders on leadership effectiveness.
Adhoc district judge and assistant sessions judge, Shabnam Shaikh believes that women are excelling across fields and are also slowly outnumbering men. The judiciary in the State is a clear example, and she feels proud about it. “Getting into the judiciary isn’t easy. It takes a lot of hard work, research and reading. And the life of a judge isn’t easy. There is no entertainment, and I’ve chosen this for myself,” she says.
In fact she says that in Goa people have more faith in women judges as compared to men. “I feel that Goans are of the opinion that Goan women judges are very capable of discharging duties while delivering justice to the public. There has never been a grievance, where women as judges haven’t made their mark with delivering justice to people,” Shaikh says.
Women, just like men, bring important skills to a work place and this, if rightly tapped, can bring positive results and outcomes like integrity, interpretation and analysis, empowering and delegation, negotiation, planning and organising, conflict management, sensitivity, open to new ideas, motivating, financial management, accountability, taking initiative and responsibility and more.
Pinto says that with an impounding amount of awareness about gender equality through almost every channel, the change in perspective is pretty obvious. Speaking about her experience in the field of digital PR she says: “I feel that in the industry of creative marketing which I’m fortunately a part of, your creativity is what speaks volumes, no matter where you are from, your age or if you’re a man or woman. Whether it is a client or colleagues I interact with, anyone below the age of 45 will never care about dealing with a man or woman as long as their brand is in safe hands,” she says.
Architect, Madhulika Kanchi mentions that she has been lucky to be able to work with people who treat their employees equally in terms of work distribution and even payment for that matter. But she also says: “Yes, I’ve also faced situations where the employer expects you to churn out work in less time because they take your time for granted and in the end don’t respect you, so that’s a bit disappointing particularly when one is working as a freelancer.”
While she’s not sure if it is a gender issue, she feels that women have to work harder and toughen up to make their voices heard, be it in an office or on site. “Like with contractors and vendors we have to be very stern but kind too so that they take you seriously. Sometimes we’re mocked for being tough, but that just makes you stronger and tells you that you’re doing something right. When they can’t stand you they will talk you down just to make themselves feel better,” Kanchi says.
Diana Braganza hasn’t experience any gender discrimination so far. Marketing communications manager at Grand Hyatt, she believes that women today have the drive, passion and dedication which stands out and works in their favour when it comes to positions that require a higher level of responsibility and decision making. “I don’t think there’s anything different in terms of qualities, as human beings we all have a drive, we can all be passionate, we all have the ability to get tasks done. I don’t think there is anything different when it comes to comparing women and men at work,” she says.
While Jeanine Soares who works in advertising says that a lot of women do face issues in the workplace, wherein their opinions don’t matter, they are second guessed or just simply sidelined. Fortunately for her, she has worked in an environment without such issues despite working in a male-dominated industry like advertising.
“There was even a point where I had more female colleagues than male, which for a change was a great place to be in. We worked alongside another mainline advertising agency that had a woman CEO. Clients valued our inputs, as did our seniors and other members of the company. There was no sidelining of people, saying they wouldn’t be able to handle the workload or pressure the industry entails. So it was really refreshing working in such an environment,” Soares tells us.
Branganza says, considering qualities while comparing women who are stay at home mothers to working mothers are pretty different. “And that is also changing, I now see a lot of hands-on father, stay at home fathers who are equally great at handling work at home,” she says.
Many a times when women have to get to the fore there is a need for backing. And while they say it is a woman who holds the back of a woman, Sacha Mendes, who gave up her full time job as a fashion editor to start her own enterprise says that she owes a lot to the men in my life. “My father, my husband and co-workers, my best friends, most of whom are male, and my brothers… they’ve always held me high. And the women in my life, who are resilient and strong and hold it all together, I try to celebrate them every day.”
She believes that the idea that one gender is better than the other is highly divisive. “Both have different strengths that are complimentary — like shiva/shakti, yin/yang. There is strength in people coming together as one and eliminating all differences,” says Mendes
While men and women, both, can be effective leaders, it seems that there need to share responsibility with women through collective action, should we want a gender balanced world.
(With inputs from Christine Machado)