I opened the Sunday Times to devour its contents hungrily- one of the perks of the weekend is being able to read the newspaper leisurely as against a weekday when I am in a mad frenzy with the toddler tugging my dress and me trying to scan the front page, the business section and the global one in a speed reading session with one eye on the clock ticking by.
This Sunday though I was disappointed reading about the shocking and appalling percentage of women in India that is employed (27%) as against China which tops the list with (64%) and US (56%). We are marginally ahead of Pakistan and Arab countries – well that’s nothing to cheer about given the pathetic state of women in these countries. It left me with a morbid feeling, I wasn’t really expecting the stats to be so bad given the host of measures MNC’s are taking to promote gender diversity.
I do not want to get into why’s of it but rather look at this meagre 27% of which I am a part and ask- do we have it easy? Right from fighting the misogynistic people around, to being mansplained and shouting our voice hoarse to make a point and being accused of being too emotional, its akin to walking on a tightrope. Thinking of the past 10 years I have spent in the corporate world, I sometimes feel we are partly responsible for it. By succumbing to whatever is meted out to us, not being vocal we are only encouraging the culture to remain as is. Thats when I made a conscious decision that I will do my bit, in changing the workplace culture. Not by shouting my voice coarse or getting into a feminist march but by saying “NO”, challenging the stereotypes in my own way without throwing a fit and bit by bit, day by day, from one woman to more- I firmly believe things will change.
Here’s how I do it!
- I am not the official cake cutting person at birthdays/farewells Doesn’t it irk you that whenever there is a social gathering and after the person in who honour it is being held has cut the cake, the song has been sung, someone will randomly call a woman employee to cut pieces of the cake for everyone. I never liked doing that job even when I was young for fear of messing up the Cake. I really suck at such things. I would just duck behind someone or pretend to be busy on my phone. Later I started finding it odd that why are women only asked to do this job. Lately I have started suggesting people- let each one cut a piece for himself/herself and have it. I was glad to see people were fine with the idea. So women unless you really revel in cutting slices of cake for others, its time you just open your mouth (other than for eating cake)
- There was a time when I was intimidated with a huge crowd in a meeting room- it had nothing to do with the gender of the people. The moment I had to speak, I had sweaty palms, my stomach churned round and round, I had this fear that I would fart out loud. I hastily spoke what I had to and prayed that there we no questions. As I grew in my career, the boardroom had fewer women and more men. I am in a situation now where we are just 2 women but talk, ask questions, challenge and can be heard as loud as the men. Women are often sidelined in meetings. Sheryl Sandberg had once said that women fear to take the head seat the the table- that fear needs to go. I have even gone to the extent of holding up my hand against a guy who was interrupting me and said very clearly and calmly “Let me finish”. Trust me, once we learn to speak for ourselves, and stop being intimidated, a major battle is won
- A man/woman meets a working mom- the question asked in all probability would be “how are your kids? Hows their school going?”. Why not ask her “Hows the project you are working on? Do you need help”. How often is a dad asked “How are your kids? How as their exam? I am not saying its never asked to a dad but he would often be asked about work. Is it something to do with the way we are wired? We look at a working mom as a mother first, working professional later. I make sure I ask the same set of questions to working parents, sans gender.
- I remember a few years back I was in my appraisal discussion and one of the corniest things that was listed out was how well I have been managing the cab bookings for any events, taking visitors out etc.. To be honest this was a job thrust upon me- being a non party person I never had an inkling about which pub served the best handcrafted beer so I was spared booking the place but there were a host of other things like arranging cabs, making sure people board them in time, coordinating, etc etc which I wasn’t spared. While the guys did this work too, most often you found it to be women. Some men even had the audacity to joke about it saying thats what women are good at- not technical but secreterial jobs. So when I joined a new place, I was quite clear about being completely clueless about picking a place. Luckily I found people to be more accommodating here, which worked well for me. I have also resolved that if such a situation arises in future I shall be open about my preferences and not shy away from saying a “NO”.
- We own our career- its not built overnight but requires years of perseverance, dedication, a good network and being damn good at your job- this goes without saying. As a woman when it comes to a promotion especially as we move higher up the ladder- I find we are often unsure about ourselves. There is no such perfect checklist but given a high level list of 10 points- a woman who can give herself a perfect tick on 8 will hesitate to go and talk to her boss about her promo. She would rather wait till she can tick all the 10 and then decide to talk. That could mean a year lost while her subordinate or junior picks up that promotion. A guy on the other hand may tick 5 boxes but would he shy away from having the talk? So what if I have never done this role, there is no reason why I can’t do it now? This is reason many women lag behind in promotions. Even when it comes to new jobs, women are less confident of selling themselves for a role which is different from what they have been doing.
I was one among them- not anymore. This does not mean I have become overconfident or being a blogger and having a flair for writing , I would just use it to sell myself at my workplace. I make sure I do the best job and make doubly sure the people who need to know about it, are aware. I set tangible objectives, have discussions with my manager, ask open ended and specific questions, seek feedback, don’t shy away from talking about my next level.
Being a woman, a minority at the workplace is not easy by any means, especially as you move higher up the ladder. However I firmly believe, the way people treat you depends to a large extent on how you treat yourself. So , instead of complaint in the washroom , next time make sure you speak up in the boardroom- loud and clear.
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(Image courtesy: goodhousekeeping.co.uk)