Last week Kriti hosted a session exploring the role of women in Entrepreneurship, Tech and in Positions of Leadership. The questions raised also led us to explore gender at work. Without a doubt this is a complex topic and sweeping generalisations and solutions can not fit all. But it is a very real global issue and constantly on the agenda of organisations such as the UN and WEF.
If you look at the data – whether it is the number of female CEOs, VPs or those in senior management – women are underrepresented. Full stop. A few examples shared from the experiences from those present were:
- Numerous entrepreneurship and start up events across the country fail to attract women – are women not interested? Or is this a space which is perceived to be ‘not for women’? Do women lack access to such opportunities? And so is there a need for ‘Women Only’ events? At a global level this ratio does not fair much better. At the recent World Economic Forum conference in Davos male delegates outnumberd female delegates by four to one. Some of us scorned the need for the tag ‘Women in X’ – but why do these spaces fail to attract a similar ratio of females?
- A ‘Women’ or ‘Gender’ Policy is not enough – Organisations may adopt a gender policy beautifully presented in a file which may sit on a shelf – but will it gather dust? The company culture, the attitudes of the leadership team and the behaviours and actions of individuals and teams combine to create an environment which either supports or undermines gender diversity.
- Promotion and Talent development – it is important to recognize who the organisation is pushing forward and developing for future leadership roles.
- The roles we are conditioned to adopt – Why are there so many more women in HR than in Management roles? In many leadership development workshops with large corporate organisations the majority and sometimes even the entire group is always men – and the HR person is usually a female. Is there an implicit track for what success looks like for women and men in the corporate world?
- The behaviours we exhibit – who are the role models we seek and who are the role models that are available? The leaders of an organisation are often male and old – so often young women (and males) may find it difficult to challenge upwards and decrease the power distance created by hierarchy and perceived openness and approachability. The leadership may also take on a paternalistic and nurturing role and younger colleagues may reciprocate the role of a student or child needing guidance. Do women get stuck in this role whereas their male counterparts move up the leadership ladder?
- The power of showing up and pushing yourself forward– Are women taking charge? It is important for women to take ownership and challenge institutional norms and take responsibility by simply showing up.. Whether it is turning up at events which interest you, challenging your company policy, reporting harassment and challenging the status quo. But this is no easy task when you are calling for systemic change.
In India and around the world gender dynamics are heavily influenced by societal and family values. Tradition and conditioning dictates a specific role/responsibility for women and similarly for men. Today Indian women are pursuing further study and working the career ladder to realise their potential and fulfill their ambitions for their career. However the role of marriage and building a family continue to play an integral role for both women and men. Both genders face pressure to get married however for some women the pressure continues at the extent of their career.
We also explored linguistics and dabbled in a little anthropology.
Adjectives which are often used to [exclusively] describe women in the workplace which often hold a negative connotation are: ambitious, emotional, bossy, abrasive, bitchy, bubbly, headstrong, sensitive, hormonal, pushy (closely related to ambitious/abrasive), feisty – when was the last time you heard a male being described as emotional or feisty?
Also some of these adjectives hold a positive or negative connotation depending on the gender it describes. How does this sound to you? “Woh ladki toh bohot ambitious aur headstrong hai” – This girl is very ambitious and headstrong. In India this statement is probably followed by something along the lines of ‘she’s too focused on her career, she’ll never get married’ – as if this is the be all and end all for a woman.
When people abuse in India and elsewhere some commonly used expletives are ‘Madachod’ or ‘Benchod’ – you would never hear someone say ‘Pitachod’ or ‘Bhaichod’. The derogatory term is directed at the female. Perhaps because the voice or source of this expletive is meant to be a male swearing at another male – but these expletives are adopted and used by both genders. ‘Benchod’ is also used very commonly to express a mistake very similar to saying ‘Oh F**K!’ in English and I’ve heard both males and females use this in India. (Sorry for using swear words – no offense intended!!)
So even the language we use sheds light on the gender divide and the implicit sexism it contains.
So how can we create change?
Gender at Work is an organisation which shares the above framework exploring individual and systemic change using informal and formal approaches. And this is what I will leave you with. If you are working in this space (or not) then please do share your experiences, feedback and comments.
Thank you to everyone who participated and shared their stories last week. A special thanks to Tanya for her excellent notes which helped me to write this post!
Some Interesting Links to explore the topic further