30 Jul 2015 18:14 IST

Let’s take the world forward, together!

It is important to have men and women support each other for real productivity to happen

Tessy Thomas, Director, Agni Missile Project; Natasha Gangaramani, Director, Al Fara’a Properties; and Anuradha Prasad, media personality and MD, BAG Films, were co-panelists with me at an International Women’s Conference not long ago.

We debated the topic of women and technology, and discussed how technology has changed and impacted women’s lives across generations and social strata. One of the takeaways was the realisation that the ability to harness technology to better our lives, while staying clear of enslavement and total dependence on it, was determined by the woman’s perception of herself.

Subtle bias

As I thought of that, it became clear that we are all: men and women alike, guilty of a subtle bias. It starts at the home, where there’s at least a small difference in expectations from a daughter and a son.

Today, we give our daughters the best education along with our sons, but we view the responsibility of a daughter’s marriage and subsequent family life as a more significant milestone than that of a son’s. This is communicated to girls right from the beginning.

At co-educational institutions, our daughters are exposed to this unstated bias, though maybe in a different form. One young girl confided to me that in her mixed class in a professional college, many women lecturers tended to let the boys get away with things like inattention and poorly prepared assignments but came down heavily on the girls for even small misdemeanours.

On the other hand, most male teachers adopted a condescending attitude to the girl students, and managed to convey the impression that they were wondering what they (the girls) were doing in a professional college!

Powerful message

I would have been tempted to dismiss this as an extreme example if I hadn’t come across a research paper by Dr Bernice R Sandler, a pioneer in gender equality in education, who listed instances of gender bias in Western educational institutions.

She found that faculty members made eye contact with male students more often than they did with female ones. They were also more likely to know and use the names of men students. Besides, the women got asked fewer questions in class and, when questioned, they got the easier ones, the paper said — the implication being that their brains aren’t up to being taxed too much!

Such discriminatory input imperceptibly impacts a woman’s perception of herself. As Sandler writes, “Singly, these behaviours probably have little effect. But when they occur again and again, they give a powerful message to women: they aren’t as worthwhile as men, nor are they expected to participate fully in class, in college, or in life at large.”

Women at work

Today, the talent gap means women have got to be included. But even at the workplace, women, no matter on which rung of the career ladder they stand, often ask themselves, “What can I do to please my parents/spouse/in-laws/children?”

No harm in that question. In fact, I think it’s one we should all ask ourselves, regardless of being male or female. But it would be good if the woman balanced that question with another: “What can I do for myself, in order to contribute on a global scale?”

My co-panelists had all broken the pattern. Making Agni missiles together with running a home was only possible with family support, explained Tessy Thomas, who told of her son being a responsible youngster, and how it had contributed to her success at work and at home.

Balancing act

Being treated as the heir apparent, with marriage never being portrayed as an end in itself by her entrepreneur family, allowed Natasha to truly uphold the building business. Anupama has gifted an iPad to her cook, who is largely responsible for her family’s meals while she herself pursues her 16-hour-schedule.

“He has used it to upgrade his skills and make himself a better cook” said Anupama, showcasing how she has harnessed technology to balance her professional and personal lives.

Support and encouragement

Family support and encouragement are imperative for a woman to achieve her full potential. But it is equally important for male colleagues to be supportive of women if they are to be productive both at home and globally.

At the end of the day, as one woman participant in our recent programme on cross-cultural customer engagement wrote: “It is the woman who carries the baton of culture, and she can leverage technology today to do so.”

Ladies, let’s promise to believe in ourselves, and give each other the space to grow. The truth is men and women are like two feet, we need both to advance in the business realm, as in life.