Nari shakti myth and reality

A caveat first… I don’t set much store by International Woman’s Day… or any other day “celebrating” mothers, fathers, sons and so on. These are marketing gimmicks at best, to fuel the sale of a variety of products.

The image right now before me is that of Rotary’s first woman president, Jennifer Jones, appealing earnestly for donations for the victims/survivors of Turkey and Syria’s earthquake. In doing so, she displayed leadership, dynamism, compassion and sensitivity to the adversity being faced by fellow human beings far away from where she is stationed — the US. These are the qualities most women bring to the workplace; add to these, focus, sincerity and hard work and you have the formula for success. We know women tend to embrace diversity and inclusion, most of them having faced discrimination in some phase of their career. But when women do manage to break the glass ceiling and reach the top, are their qualities or contributions appreciated? Unfortunately not, finds a McKinsey 2022 report, revealing that 40 per cent women leaders surveyed say their diversity, equity and inclusion (Rotary’s very own DEI mantra) work is not acknowledged in their performance reviews.

It is proven that diversity at the workplace increases performance, productivity and hence profits. Yes, corporates do face a dilemma, more in India than the western world, because women workers tend to take long breaks for child birth and later. One IT major, a pioneer in recruiting more women at the entry level, found that after being trained at a considerable cost to the company, women left after a few years for parenting purposes. But continuous engagement and dialogue with the women, offering them flexible working norms, and extra training to up their skills, got dramatic results. Instead of losing a few thousand trained, skilled and competent women every year, the company managed to reduce that number drastically. It was a win-win both for the woman and the company!

Coming to leadership positions, the picture, though improving, is still dismal. According to a 2022 Ernst & Young report on ‘Diversity in the Boardroom,’ listed companies in India have only 18 per cent women on their boards, an improvement from 6 per cent in 2013, but still not satisfactory. This too because of a GoI 2013 mandate in the Companies Act that all listed companies must have at least one woman on their board. Now, at least 95 per cent of Nifty 50 companies have a woman director!

But things are improving; while IT major Infosys engages women who have to take a career break for parenting reasons through constant dialogue and assurance of flexibility, additional training etc, Tata Steel has launched a pioneering initiative called Women@Mines, to ensure gender equity, under which women are deployed in all shifts and functions of mining, including electrical/mechanical maintenance.

As we await better gender diversity in India Inc’s workforce, can we please stop crucifying women and expecting them to slog all the time by paying encomiums to the “sacrifices” they make for the family, first to get up/last to sleep, and drivel like that? This happens even in upper middle class families. By doing so we are not glorifying women, but covertly endorsing the back-breaking work the family heaps on her, expects from her and then applauds her for soldiering on! Women don’t need such pedestals; they are happy enough standing beside men, at the ground level!

They need a hand, not the title of a superwoman!


Rasheeda Bhagat

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