By Sangeeta Robinson:
When I started working in Delhi (in 1991, after completing my post-graduation in Mass Communication) it was not very common for girls to live on their own. Those who did so were considered “very liberal”. During that time, working girls such as myself subconsciously felt that we were entering a predominantly male bastion and in order to succeed, we would have to emulate men. It was not enough to be good at one’s work, one had to hang out late at the office and chat with colleagues, go out and socialise among many other things. We were constantly expected to be around our peers at the workplace in order to be considered hard-working and career-minded women.
Today, I have seen a gradual shift in this mindset. Women are being appreciated more for their differences from men and the differential style of management they bring to the organisation. Mind you, this is only limited to global organisations. Indian companies still expect women to act like clones of men. Their differences are still perceived as disadvantages rather than advantages. And women are still considered to be seen in more traditional roles than as hard-core sales professionals, or as authorities in the manufacturing and technology sector. I would also go on to say that when women do join these sectors they need put in extra hard work to be deemed acceptable and only then be recognised for their worth.
Now, when it comes to providing a conducive workplace atmosphere to women, the multinational companies are leading the way. These companies incorporate inclusive policies such as flexible timings, work-from-home opportunities, and extended maternity and paternity leave. By pushing for paternity leave the message these companies send out is clear – that men too have a role to play in caring for their young children at home, thus rubbishing the gender stereotypes regarding women as primary care providers.
The Government of India’s recent move to increase maternity leave to six months is a huge leap in creating an atmosphere that makes it easier for a young mother to work. Organisations could also show support simply by allowing flexible working hours for another six months. Such moves will go a long way in retaining women at the workforce. At the same time, it is also important for young working women to manage expectations during this period and be prepared to take the due cut on compensation and benefits when they choose flexible hours.
Some organisations have been able to implement gender inclusive policies successfully by introducing the option of ‘tuning down’ or ‘tuning up’ one’s career according to the stage of life one is at. This applies to both men and women. It allows a person the flexibility to decide whether he or she wishes to commit themselves a 100% for a particular year, or scale this commitment down. Of course, the compensation and other benefits are adjusted accordingly for that period and they get reverted to the original once the person is ready to ‘tune up’ again. This ensures that it is not just women who take a hit on their careers to attend to family commitments.
Today, even small organisations are legally mandated to provide complete maternity benefits to women and also put policies in place so as to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. It is crucial that women be able to work without facing any form of gender discrimination. After all, gender sensitivity is a state of mind and it has little to do with the size and stature of an organisation.
Sangeeta Robinson is Advisor – Sustainability & CSR at ThinkThrough Consulting.
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