19 Mar 2019 21:31 IST

Time for women to move beyond clichéd narrative

Speakers at MMA Women Managers Convention strike a blow for the power of parity

The Madras Management Association's (MMA) Women Managers Convention hosted a day-long programme titled, Reflections, recently. The event focused on various aspects of a working woman’s life, with an inaugural session on “The Power of Parity” and special panels on “The Future of Women at Work” and “Fears and Failures / Thriving, not Surviving”.

MMA’s Executive Director, Gp Capt (Retd) R Vijayakumar, VSM, briefed the audience on the Women Managers’ Convention and a special issue of Business Mandate was released by celebrity author Usha Narayan and Suparna Biswas, Partner, McKinsey and Co, among other dignitaries. The magazine release was followed by experts from diverse backgrounds sharing their insights based on their life experiences.

Power of parity

One of the key speakers at the inaugural session, Suparna Biswas, dealt with the topic “The power of parity: Advancing women’s equality in Asia Pacific”. She said: “Half of all Indians agree with the statement that “when jobs are scarce, men should have more right to a job than a woman”. And 70 per cent of Indians agree with the statement that, “when a woman works for pay, her children suffer”, while research states that Indian women do 10 times the amount of unpaid care work than men, on an average.

She said that women are only 37 per cent of the workforce in the Asia-Pacific, below the global average, and form just 25 per cent of the workforce in India. Only 4 per cent of women hold senior management positions in India, with 44 per cent enrolled in tertiary education and 25 per cent making it to entry-level jobs.

Awaken the Durga within

Usha Narayanan, author of the book Awaken the Durga Within, says: “Everyone has a story, a struggle. But it is the inner fire you have nurtured that has brought you this far. This shows your achievement and how much more you can do. All the important decisions about a woman’s employment, age of marriage, planning a child always rests with someone else. Women try to balance work and bringing up a child, because that becomes her primary responsibility. In this process we end up sacrificing our desires to satisfy others.”

Usha draws examples from mythical characters like Sita, who walked into the fire, or Savithri, who followed her husband to death. ”Do you think such sacrifices happen in this age? So, what is the need for this book at this hour,” she asked, reminding the gathering about the recent social media protests on sexual harassment at the work place.

She says the #MeToo movement, which brought forth a storm of accusations and dredged up suppressed experiences, had many women share their stories of harassment. The questions on why these horror stories came out in public decades after the incidents happened shows that society is unable to accept it when a woman comes out in the open about such violence, even after years. Instead, she is often told to remain silent, respect elders and worry about how her behaviour could affect her family’s reputation.

This book is all about how women should not let family or society bring them down or restrict them but should nurture that inner strength. If they are not strong in such situations, they could eventually turn bitter, angry and resentful.

Durga is a midpoint between Parvati, a domesticated goddess, and Kali, the violent one. The stories in this book flow with messages for every age group of women, in whatever situation they find themselves, and reinforce in them the belief that they are no pushover.

Women, in general, should support and lift one another. Do not think another woman’s success is your lost opportunity; she is the one who broke open the glass ceiling for you to move forward, she concluded.

Don’t take your gender to work

Why don’t we find more women in positions of power? This question has sparked debates over several years across industries. Meera Harish, former Vice-President, Titan Industries, spoke on the “The Future of Women at Work” with a speech titled ‘Apna Time Aayega’ (your time will come).

 

“It took a hundred years for women to win political rights to vote, let’s hope it does not take another 100 or 200 years, before we see women in 50 per cent of the leadership positions across industries,” she said. Though data show a significant jump in the number of Indian women graduating, getting entry-level jobs and turning into entrepreneurs, yet not all are elevated to positions of power.

“The corporate and political worlds, tend to confine the narration to pregnancy, maternity and childcare where working women are concerned. This focus needs to change,” she said. “The real problem is the deep-rooted bias. Is 25 per cent of women occupying US Congress equal to 50 per cent of the seats? If not, let’s not cheer until it reaches that figure. It takes all kinds of men — the insecure, the spineless, and the men who are stereotypes — to widen the gender gap. However, there also exist visionary and supportive stalwarts, like Jamshedji Tata, who launched free medical help and crèches for children of female mill workers,” she argues.

“For women, an important aspect of reaching a leadership position involves not taking your gender to work. There is no need for any special treatment for a woman over a man and, to be equal, we need to feel equal. Be bold and speak up when you witness injustice in the system. Let there not be a ‘break ke baad’ (after a break); figure out a way to not take a break from your career and say no to tokenism at work,” she said.

Meera Harish quoted data from tech companies to prove this point. Netflix has the highest number of women in leadership positions, at 47 per cent, while Twitter has 33 per cent, followed closely by Facebook with 30 per cent and Apple with 29 per cent. Amazon and Google have 26 per cent each, while Uber and Microsoft have 21 per cent and 20 per cent respectively. In TCS, 11 per cent of leadership positions are occupied by women.

Capitalise on the feminine quotient

Sheetal Rajani, Head-Diversity and Inclusion and Agile Champion, TCS, however, argued that women can bring their gender to work, as their natural skills will be more in demand in the future.

 

“We are in middle of a huge technological revolution, yet it is not entirely about AI or automation, but about the people at the helm of these innovations, in terms of growth and abundant opportunities. We see technology as an abundance of talent, rather than a talent scarcity. The first set of jobs that got automated were ones that required greater investment, such as clinical or high-expertise jobs, while the jobs that cannot be automated are those which require creativity, empathy, and human emotion, like those special qualities displayed by nurses and teachers,” she said.

So, by moving from a restrictive mindset to a growth mindset, one can stay relevant always. Better ideas are born when one interlinks the home space and the workspace with both technology and empathy, she added.

Recommended for you