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‘Step Up: How Women Can Perform Better For Success’ by Anju Jain is a non-fictional book that provides insights into gender disparity at the workplace, and strategies for women to overcome it.
The morning ritual began with me scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed. The topper from my high school had posted pictures of her second baby’s birthday. She is now a homemaker in the US. The girl who never studied in college announced her recent promotion at a reputed consultancy firm.
I cannot help but wonder:
When I started reading Step Up, I was expecting to find some answers.
The book begins by throwing light on the disappointing statistic that there are fewer women in the workforce than men, and even fewer at leadership positions. This may be a fact we already know. But we do not know what to do about it. Anju Jain narrates various anecdotes and examples to illustrate why this happens.
The examples are of women like you and me, the big and small hindrances in their life that have the potential of sabotaging their careers. This part is very engaging. Most women would be able to relate.
The next part of the book illustrates five strategies that could help overcome these barriers. There are excerpts of interviews of successful women from diverse fields, citing what worked for them.
The obstacles which confine the potential of women are very well identified by Anju Jain in Step Up. These factors include gender stereotypes engrained since our childhood, hypocrisy on the independence of women, change of priorities after marriage, psychology of both men and women, and the lack of comfort and vision within organizations. Some quotes were priceless, and resonated well with me:
“Dolls, kitchen sets, stuffed toys and puzzles make it to the shelves of girls’ rooms and cars, lego sets, tools and superhero figures make it to the boys.”
“Also men, who enjoyed the independence and intellectual prowess of these women or their girlfriends before, now begin to expect their new wives to embrace these traditional roles fairly quickly.”
“Besides attending to their day to day needs, many daughters in law are expected to prepare and serve elaborate meals, observe rituals and also diligently manage relationships with the spouse’s extended family.”
“Girls were and are told to come back home directly from school and not talk to strangers. And now we expect them to network?”
“Then there are instances where flexible policies such as part time or work from home are not even defined. Even where such policies are defined, they are not implemented for the fear of the unknown.”
Anju Jain rightly points out that women can be less confident at work compared to their male counterparts. Women make statements such as ‘I don’t know enough,’ or ‘I am not good at this’ when facing an opportunity out of their comfort zone. The reason behind this is that women want to ensure that if they are taking up a new responsibility, they are equipped to handle it.
Men on the other hand “have no hesitation in taking credit or announcing how capable they are. They have no embarrassment in making it clear to the world where they stand, which is typically at elevated levels.” Even when men have minimalistic skill-set and experience to take up a new role, they do not hesitate. More often than not, the bosses end up trusting their conviction too.
There is no harm is being honest, and assessing our capabilities. But the downside is that women end up missing out on a lot of opportunities because of such reservations.
Another behavior pattern pointed out worth mentioning was how women end up taking a back-seat in important meetings / events. Men on the other hand would try to sit next to the CFO and other influential people, and network. Women would feel that they are less important.
We feel embarrassed to unnecessarily interact with the senior management. I know I am guilty of such behavior. I am sure many other women feel this way too. Whereas ‘housekeeping’ roles such as holding a bouquet are assigned to women, who happily take it.
In my opinion, it is easier said than done for women to succeed professionally. While it may be possible to retain a job yet manage a family, it is very difficult to excel in a career. I know a lot of women who are very capable, but they do not have enough support from their spouses. Also, there are situations where the husband keeps moving and the wife must switch jobs and profiles much against her wish. Although we do know of a handful of stay at home dads, it is mostly the woman who ends up taking a break to raise the children, sometimes as a matter of personal choice. When a mother makes a comeback to the workforce after a gap, most prospective employers have no idea where to place her.
All these factors end up taking a toll on a woman’s career. The Indian cultural set – up of having unrealistic and unfair expectations from the wife / daughter-in-law does the remaining damage. Sometimes the best she can make of her circumstances is to get a job, and retain it. Promotions and leadership positions become far-fetched dreams. Complacency prevails in the consolation that career must be compromised for the sake of family.
Does that mean that we should resign to our fate and accept that we cannot have the best of both worlds? Certainly not. That is the very purpose of the book – to empower women to take charge of their lives, and achieve professional objectives despite their personal restrictions. Also, the strategies to excel at work are not specific to any gender, or marital status, though they may play a role in confining somebody’s aspirations.
Probably the most effective time to teach these things to women is at an early age. Girls should have clarity on what they want. Priorities should be laid out before marriage, and discussed with the future spouse. It may not guarantee anything. But it could be a start.
I would recommend this book to young women, who are just starting out their careers, and are not yet married.
For those who are married, and the careers have already taken a backseat, or the ones who irrespective of the marital status are not doing that well in their careers, the book could give insights on what they could have done differently.
Lastly, I would recommend this book to men, organizational leaders, and policy makers because the change cannot come from the woman’s efforts alone. It is the support of her family, and the comfort of the organization that makes all the difference.
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Top image via Pixabay and book cover via Amazon
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