04 Mar 2017 21:04 IST

A woman manager’s conundrum

Clarity of purpose is key. Short-term decisions will only bring short-term benefits.

Ahead of International Women’s Day (March 8) I think it’s appropriate to write about a fairly common discussion I have with women students in my various MBA classes.

The discussion revolves around the topic of whether retail is women-friendly, and extends to taking a look at which roles and/ or sectors are women-friendly. It took me a while to understand the definition of ‘women-friendly’ and certain aspects seem to make sense while a few others don’t.

First, let me address the aspects that are logical and where the concerns are valid. The first such aspect is with regard to physical safety. This is a very valid and genuine concern for any women professional. It would be very difficult to ascribe risk levels across sectors or managerial roles. As such, a woman professional needs to be aware of the situation and context to constantly evaluate the risk quotient. I am using the term constantly evaluate because risk is not static. It could suddenly crop up, and being aware is the first line of defence.

Logical and otherwise

The next logical aspect that constitutes being women-friendly is about sensitivity to and support for women-specific issues. This could include maternity leave and benefits or even something as simple as flexibility of working in order to balance home and work responsibilities. Although these are genuine aspects, they tend to be forgotten during the placement season. I shall come back to this point subsequently.

The other set of aspects that are expected to be women-friendly is not so logical and I do not subscribe to these. The most frequent point raised under this umbrella is the acceptability of the role/ industry by their parents. A case in point is sales opportunities. Many women students who are pursuing a management education shy away from sales openings, and their excuse is that their parents would not approve of such a career path.

I find this logic self-defeating, especially when the women students are already pursuing a marketing specialisation. Similar would be the case of women specialising in HR who prefer to avoid the manufacturing sector because the role might be in a factory.

Take a long-term view

The irony is that while these preferences play a large part in the choice of jobs and companies, these same aspects tend to get buried during the placement season. In a context where the preferred company is not visiting the campus or preferred roles are not available, these women students soon start to attend interviews of any organisation that comes to campus. Needless to say, this is a very short-sighted decision, focused purely on getting a job.

Very soon, family pressure, especially in terms of marriage as also the work-related stress, does take its toll. The sad reality is that a majority of women drop out of their career path after a few years of working. There are multiple reasons for the same and various organisations are now working to enable such women to return to the work-force.

However, my suggestion to women pursuing management education is that they need clarity of purpose and, more importantly, should stick with the same. Don’t take short-terms decisions as they would only lead to short-term benefits.

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