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I recently came across this article that showed me some pretty alarming statistics. Just the headline that simply stated in bold, “India ranks third lowest in having women in leadership roles for the third consecutive year”, made my gut sink and a shroud of disappointment covered my being.
I am sure you would wonder that when as a nation, we are still struggling to find safety for women, why is this ‘pseudo-intellectual, pseudo-evolved’ woman talking about women in leadership?
Well, you see, in my head there is a clear connection. This connection is simple enough; the more the number of women in leadership roles, the more women-centric will be our policies and practices. After all, we are talking about almost half the population of the country.
Recent news has given us all the more reason to have women in leading roles. One example is the tax that a woman has to pay for something as basic as sanitary napkins.
One of the recent, most historical, yet ludicrous rulings, was that sex with a minor wife is considered rape, however, marital rape with an adult woman can’t be considered criminal. I call it ludicrous because according to the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, a girl in India can’t marry before the age of 18, and a boy before 21. So essentially, the SC is recognizing the act of child marriage and sex with a minor, as long as it is consensual.
According to UNICEF, 47% of girls are married by 18 years of age, and 18% are married by 15 years of age.
FORTY SEVEN PERCENT!
That is almost half the female population in our country, and the other half is still struggling with the societal pressure of either being a good mom/wife/daughter-in-law or working woman.
Now why am I bringing the legal system into the picture when we are talking about women in leadership? The point is two fold:
1.With half the female population getting married off as barely kids, we only have the other half left to fight for their rights. Women leaders need to be everywhere; from the judiciary to real estate, from CEOs to Cabinet Ministers, from health and external affairs to budgeting. We women are not talking about conquering a man’s world here. It is not a man’s or a woman’s world to begin with; it is our world that we are collectively trying to make better.
And clearly a woman’s right to live with dignity, to live a married life without getting raped, is not recognized by the judicial system, which is again a system dominated by men.
2.The second purpose is to understand that when a little girl from Jodhpur sees the neighbour didi, leading a giant Bank like ICICI, that life becomes a dream for her. Dreams are contagious, they spread like wildfire, and as women, it becomes our duty to fuel that beacon of fire in every little girl. To ensure that her eventual aim is not to marry at 18 or even 21, and then die a slow death in a domestic prison, but to hone her talent, potential, and to reach for the skies.
In my research to understand, why most educated and reasonably ambitious women drop out of the corporate race, I came across a few questions.
Is it family?
Is it the work culture?
Is it that subtle sexism that exists at the workplace?
Is it the lack of a support system?
Is it the societal pressure that deems an ambition in woman as something “undesirable”?
Last year, in a leadership development workshop that I was delivering for an MNC, one that proudly subscribes to Diversity and Inclusion, I came across something that is terribly common, yet terribly disappointing.
During the two day workshop, I noticed that out of fourteen leaders, there were only two women. Which wasn’t surprising – having trained and coached employees of Tech giants, I am well aware of the gender gap. What did surprise me was the quality of the conversation during the workshop breaks.
One particular lady had kept a cook at home, to cook for her husband who works from home. And believe it or not, she was the butt of all their jokes for hiring a cook. A working woman ridiculed by her male counterparts for not cooking herself.
This is the so-called ‘progressive’ 21st century, people!
I felt terrible, because I realized the struggle she would have had to go through, to rise up the ladder in a male dominated company; only to be ridiculed by her counterparts which in turn would diminish not just her self esteem but also her authority with her team members.
Another such incident, where I was taking a weeklong intervention for Women Leaders and the topic was (surprise, surprise) Women Empowerment. During those four hours intervention for the organization’s female population, in almost every one of them, a woman had to leave early because her child’s school called or her kid suddenly fell ill.
And when I asked them, if no one else could take care of the child. Almost all of them said that their husbands had an important day at work.
You see what happened here?
Self-sacrifice is so ingrained in us women that it is in our DNA to drop anything and everything for our children and husbands, and run like an overly domesticated Cheetah. Initially during my marriage, I often felt like my in-laws and my husband referred to me working, as ‘a break from my real duties’. Because in India, it is largely understood that women work to pass time, and when shit gets real, they need to drop their time pass and focus on their family.
In many of my workshops, I see women getting calls from home, rushing early or missing their lunch to attend to domestic affairs. The same almost never happens with men.
Of course, if I had a dollar for every time in my workshop participants crack ‘wife jokes’ (as if wives are not struggling women, but fire breathing dragons) and the other men in the room laugh riotously, I would be richer than the Ambanis.
And that is when the slow realization hit me that it is the poisonous combination of all those questions above, that discourages women from going up the ladder, even when they have the ambition to.
Sexism, societal pressure, support system, family values, patriarchal bounds, all of these stop a woman from achieving what she truly wants.
And it is time we break out of the boundaries we and the world around us, has set.
It is time we politely tell our colleagues that sexist jokes are so 1950’s, it is time they either grow up or shut up.
It is time we tell our parents and in-laws that every single time my child isn’t well, the father too can take leave and look after her/him; guilt tripping us will just be a waste of their time.
It is time women take the male dominated industries by storm and meet them head on.
Embracing diversity is no longer only a feminist agenda, but an agenda for growth. Diversity drives efficiency and effectiveness. And no corporate or organization can boast of inclusion, until we women raise our voices and speak up of our aspirations.
Because unless we have more women in senior roles across industries and governments, we will still have to continue paying taxes for something as basic as sanitary napkins.
Image via Pixabay
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