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Given traditional Indian norms that prevent the genders from mixing freely, many male managers still treat female employees warily. How do you deal with a male manager sidelining you?
With the slowly rising awareness of sexual harassment at the workplace, a deep sense of worry and apprehension has also sown its seeds; be it the female employee who feels anxious each time she notes something different in a male colleague’s behavior or the male employee who is still unsure of what sexual harassment really is, and dreads how every action of his might be interpreted.
Office dynamics especially in India have always been subject to the perceptions of “others”. An orthodox and traditional outlook has drilled holes into potentially good-hearted friendships and easygoing behaviour. For women, the challenge is dual: while on the one hand, female employees are learning to handle (and fight) harassment and want to be safe, they also want to be part of the team, and be treated on the same level as a male colleague. And more often than not the alienation is stemming from their male bosses.
A Project Manager, Radha has her work going really well for her. Managing multiple teams and project timelines, she faces no trouble whatsoever in her work. Her easy going nature has made her popular not only with her team but also with other Project Managers both male and female. Yet, she feels she falls short somewhere. Despite being with the department for over three years now, she has been unable to strike a rapport with her boss, Sudhir. Whenever he decides to have a tea break, he always invites the male PMs in their group but never her. She is called to join the group for lunch only if there are others along; the day they cannot make it, Sudhir ignores her completely.
While on one hand Radha is subject to this cold treatment from her boss, her friend Jyoti gets a taste of a completely different medicine. A friendly and sociable person, she has built a great rapport with her male colleagues. Her manager Ramesh perceives her behaviour to be ‘loose’ and out of line and alienates her entirely. If she compliments a male colleague on his attire, Ramesh ticks her off for it.
There are many such Radhas and Jyotis among us who get isolated within their teams purely due to the outlook their male managers hold. Such treatment often leaves us confused and demotivated.
Does being social mean we are ‘loose’? NO! Does being friendly mean we are crossing the line? NO!
Does being social mean we are ‘loose’? NO! Does being friendly mean we are crossing the line? NO! But that message fails to get understood by most managers and many women end up losing out on their overall performance at work.
Many might say you should speak to your boss, and that talking always resolves issues. But not this problem; not always. Bosses who hold such extreme mindsets will not be overcome by dialogue. If anything, it might just worsen their attitude towards you.
Some might even suggest involving HR. You could, but will it take away the problem? No. If anything, it could be termed as a harassment issue, which may not be the case.
Then what do you do? Just throw up your hands and give up? That wouldn’t solve the problem either. But a few simple moves could help ease up the tension and bring in a degree of comfort.
A lot of these should help ease the indifference we get subject to for no fault of ours. While sometimes it does stem from old school thoughts, it could also be a result of a ‘playing safe’ policy adopted by male managers (given the misinformation prevalent about sexual harassment). While we cannot fit into their shoes and see things the way they do, we can surely acknowledge that the shoes are different and try and at least ease matters for our own good.
This issue is not one to go away easily; it’s best to gauge the person for what truly drives his behaviour and also understand where we could possibly do better and accordingly work on getting our point across. At the end of the day, it is about making our lives easier at the workplace!
Pic credit: Alan Light (Used under a CC license)
Seeta Bodke is a Business Consultant and Senior Manager from the IT sector. After spending
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