(Picture Credit: Disney)

Women in Business

As I sit down to write, I can’t help but share a facebook status update that one of my friends posted a few days back. The status read “We live in a country where a daughter’s promotion brings a crease to a father’s forehead since looking for a suitable groom becomes more difficult with every promotion”. Clichéd? YES, repetitive and boring? YES; TRUE? YES

It is very sad that this remains a fact even after all the big talk about gender equality. Something that most of us would have noticed is the decrease in the number of women as we go higher up the ladder in the corporate world, a shockingly bad gender ratio in business schools and near absence of girls in the so-called ‘elite’ engineering colleges of this country. Well, a lot many people that I have spoken with on this subject have put it down to the fact that women are simply not capable of higher level brain function that may enable them to obtain any of the aforementioned positions. With all respect to their opinions, I beg to differ.

Today’s work is not physical and life-threatening, but pre-historic stereotypes persist

Not just history, but even the world around us is replete with examples, that given an opportunity, women tend to perform as well as men in all walks of life. In the course of evolution, it was simple division of labour that led to women staying at home; since they were the ones giving birth to children and tending to them, it was logical that they don’t do life-threatening activities like hunting, rather stay at home. It’s probably by a cruel; twist of fate that this division of labour turned into a code of conduct. As modern times rolled in ‘work’ became less physical and more mental, it was only obvious that women could also be a part of the said work if they so wished. But sadly, gender stereotyping made sure that women were not given the same opportunities as men. Like any other kind of oppression leads to struggle, this denial of equal opportunities led to the bra-burning feminist struggle. The rest, as they say, is history.

Have things really improved for women?

Although women today have significantly more rights than what they had 50 years ago but the perception of what a female is and what she should or should not be doing hasn’t changed much. Frankly speaking I don’t know when it will change or if it will ever completely change or not but something that I can say from personal experience is that having to sit in a class with barely 15% females even after colleges consciously pushing for female students; having to work in a an office where the gender ratio is as bad as 8% even when the HR department is all gung-ho about having and retaining female employees; having to live in a country where being a woman in itself is an incriminating distinction-none of these is a good feeling. It feels as if I have come to live in a society that never needed me in the first place, a society that sees my purpose in getting married and procreating in kind rather than evolving as an individual.

Change cannot happen unless everyone participates in it

The best part of this entire comedy is one may be sad about it but there is absolutely nothing one can do about it, unless and until the larger society wishes to bring about a change to the plight of its unloved daughters. This concept of daughters being ‘distinguished’ is nowhere clearer than in an office, specially certain kinds of profiles, like finance, where the work hours are too demanding. It is not unusual to see women simply leaving once the so-called ‘more important’ things like marriage and children crop up. Although many corporates have started women friendly policies like flexible work-hours, child-care facilities in office, work from home options for new mothers, etc. but all this does not mean anything if women don’t stop feeling guilty about having career-related aspirations or their families do not support them in their ambitions.

I don’t know how to stop writing about this very real phenomenon; one faced even by women who would have worked equally hard, if not harder, than most of their male counterparts in order to get in the IIT’s and IIMs or the Microsoft’s and JP Morgan Chase’s of the world. I hope that I don’t fall prey to a similar situation but then, I am not particularly optimistic about it.

Read this article about being a girl in a B school.