Most Indian women either never enter the work force, or drop out early on in their careers.
By their twenties, women are expected to get married, have kids — and stay at home. We thus have one of the lowest female work force participation rates among developing economies, at just over 30%, and on average, women tend to earn less than half of what their male counterparts do. While it is encouraging that now almost 50% of India’s young women pursue higher education, only 4% of India’s senior level management roles are held by women. Since the proverbial odds are stacked against us, you’d think that we’d come together in full force to support one another at work. However, that’s not often the case.
I’d venture that most working Indian women can recall being treated with hostility by another woman at work, or feeling threatened by the presence of a female colleague herself. In fact, research indicates that globally, in male-dominated settings, women worry about their standing, so they hesitate to advocate for other women. They may view highly-qualified female colleagues as threats with the potential to replace them, or fear that less qualified female colleagues could reinforce negative gendered stereotypes and thereby undermine their own status as well. It’s a natural reaction when you belong to a minority that is discriminated against. Fearing that the group isn’t valued, or that there aren’t enough opportunities and resources to go around, some members distance themselves from their own kind. But in the long run this type of behaviour perpetuates the very sexism that we are afraid of being disadvantaged by.
Indian society still has much progress to make as far as breaking away from patriarchal traditions and old-fashioned gender roles go. Thus Indian women with a seat at the table have an even greater responsibility to help empower other women — and a massive capacity to make a difference. These are six ways they can help pull up more chairs rather than simply guard their own:
Don’t Judge Each Other’s Appearance
We are quick to make assumptions about female colleagues based on details that are irrelevant to their competence at work — such as whether they wear Indian or western outfits, the length and texture of their hair, or the brand of handbag they carry. We tend to use these details to make inferences about their character, upbringing, attractiveness, and purchasing power, and compare these to our own. Make a conscious effort to focus instead on the skills and value your female colleagues are adding, or on how you can collaborate with them to improve efficiency and results.
Become A Mentor
It’s tough for young women to find mentors at work in India. Most high-level positions are occupied by men, and seeking out a male mentor is tricky. One-on-one interactions between unrelated men and women tend to be socially awkward, instantly boxed by others as sexual, particularly when there’s a power dynamic. Taking women eager to learn from you under your wing can have a radically positive influence on their progress. Plus, sharing skills and best practices with those who work for you will ensure that the quality of your team’s output will improve overall.
Advocate For Equal Pay
Irrespective of education level or the rural-urban divide, the gender pay gap in India is huge — and it increases as women advance in their careers. If you’re in a position to do so, encourage transparency around compensation and help women negotiate better. If you oversee any amount of hiring, ensure that women employees get paid as much as male counterparts for the same work. This type of advocacy could even have a positive impact on your own pay in the long run.
Actively Create A More Woman-Friendly Work Culture
Work-life balance is a major concern for Indian women who want to work after marriage but are pressured by family to stay home. If you’re in a position of power, encourage your company to adopt women-friendly policies such as a reasonable amount of parental leave, flexible work hours, and on site child-care solutions. This could go a long way in retaining high quality female talent — including yourself. Don’t hesitate to pay a female employee or colleague a compliment on work done well. Share sincere praise privately and publicly — women’s achievements are all too often undermined rather than celebrated.
Recognise and Challenge Systemic Gender Biases
In India, some forms of workplace gender bias are so deep rooted that they’re simply taken for granted — they’re part of the system. Industrial manufacturing for example, employs a very small fraction of women. Most factories don’t even have toilets for women. As a result, very few women seek employment at these facilities, and so the toilets never get built. You see where this is going. At Indian companies, several positions would never be offered to women simply because they’ve never previously been occupied by women. Question these ways and help set new precedents.
Educate Men To Help
Indian men can often be oblivious to the elements that contribute to gender imbalance in a company since they’re rarely directly affected by them. Provide male colleagues with the education and tools to advocate for a more gender-equal workplace by involving them in conversations and problem-solving efforts around the issues women face at work. Here, and in most of the rest of the world, men still dominate the C-suite and hold a lot of the power. For women to help other women, we’ve also got to make men realise how important gender equality is — for everyone.
This article was written by Leeza Mangaldas from Forbes and is licensed by Bloomberg.
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