Like most workplaces, my office also celebrates women’s day. As part of the women’s action network, I have been actively involved in the celebrations. Over the years, we have been conducting games and events such as sessions and discussions specifically targeted at women. While the games served as a networking opportunity for women, the sessions inspired them and gave them a platform to voice their opinions and concerns. We also organized a few events that included all employees.
A few years back, we added one extra element to the celebration and that seems to have bothered a few men. We started leaving a rose, a greeting card and a piece of chocolate in every woman’s cubicle early in the morning so that they find a nice little surprise when they come into work on women’s day. Along with this, we sometimes leave relevant books, if the budget allows it.
Most employees appreciated this gesture and thought this was a neat idea. I even had a male friend from a different branch ping me yesterday to know what surprise we left for the women and thought it was cool. However, some men plainly complained that they felt left out and it brings out a divide between men and women.
Two years back, I had one person tell me something on the lines of, “We were all harmoniously working together as a family, with no difference between men and women. Today when I came into work, I saw a rose and chocolate in women’s cubicles and I was hurt by that. By leaving a gift only in women’s cubicles, you are bringing a divide between men and women.” I didn’t know if I found this funny or irritating because I knew for a fact that his team did not work as a family, the men and women were not treated equally there and his team was well known to have a high attrition rate. Since everyone outside his team knew of how toxic his team’s environment was, he was either blind to the reality around him or was in denial or worse, thought this was the norm.
I usually do not address these childish tantrums because only a few men seem to think this way while most of the men I encounter appreciate the women’s day celebrations. In fact, some even recommend the women they know to go out for lunch or snacks and have fun.
I’m writing this because a friend of mine was very disappointed on women’s day. Someone had taken away all the chocolates we had left in the cubicles of the women in her team. She was excited on her way to work to see what we had left in her cubicle, only to be upset that someone had taken all the chocolates. She suspected that it was a prank by one of the men in her team because they had all joked about this the previous day.
So I decided to write a post explaining the need to celebrate women’s day. While men also may have their own problems in the workplace, women face issues that are unique to them and all men may not be familiar with this. So as a woman who gets to listen to the troubles of many other women, let me explain.
It starts even before hiring… in fact, from birth. Yes, it is the twenty-first century. Yes, women have come far. Yes, we have more rights and choices than we used to. But if you think that girls do not face any issues anymore and there is no need for women empowerment, you are either blind or quite privileged to notice the problems. Also, just because things are better now or things are worse in other countries does not mean that we, as a society, cannot improve any further.
Among the parents who decide that it is okay to spend on the education of their female child, many would not want them to work. In many communities, a man who lets his wife or daughter work is seen as incompetent. Parents may allow their girls to work till they get married to gain exposure, but once they marry off their daughters, they would insist that her duty lies on taking care of her new family.
A lot of women who work after getting married are forced to quit their job once they have a child either because their families expect them to be “good” mothers and focus on the kids or because there is no support system to take care of the children. If they decide to hold on to their career ambitions, their families would still expect them to be domestic goddesses.
It is 2019, but women are still expected to fulfil the traditional role of taking care of the household before concentrating on work. Where I come from, married women typically manage the whole house, perform most of the household chores or supervise the help, take care of most aspects of child-rearing if not all, teach the kids, care for relatives, fulfil the social obligations expected of a woman and along with all these fulfil their role in the office.
Then comes hiring. Many employers prefer not to hire young women because they assume that they would quit their jobs or not focus on work once they get married or have kids. You can’t really blame them because this is probably a pattern they would have observed. But times are slowly changing.
More and more girls are allowed to go to schools, where teachers encourage them to work and stand on their own feet. These days many of the women who would have had no say in the olden days have become a little more empowered. Even if their parents oppose the thought of them working in the corporate world, they can convince them and start a career if someone would hire them.
When managers hesitate to hire female freshers, a lot of these women who are just on the brink of becoming independent lose out and end up living in the shadow of their spouse. These women then actualize their dreams by empowering their children. So it takes one more generation for women’s progress in these families because of someone’s preconceived notion about women in the workplace.
Few hiring managers also have the stone age idea that women in the workplace will be a distraction to the men. I also know of a team where they specifically do not hire women because the team is full of men and they thought any newly hired woman would feel uncomfortable.
There are also managers who hire women with the sole idea that women are cheaper labour. The gender pay gap is a well-known issue, even in developed countries. Employers know that even if they pay a women lesser money, she would stay as long as it is not extremely uncomfortable. The women stay because other companies are also going to do the same, so there is no point in switching unless things are really bad and they need a fresh start.
I’ve been fortunate enough to work in a place where people are treated equally and fairly and all of us get treated the way we deserve. However, attending discussions which serve as a platform for women to voice their concerns, I hear so many appalling stories where women are treated unfairly. My friends and relatives often speak of the way they are not seen on equal footing with the men, despite doing equally well, if not better than their male counterparts.
There are many women who have been denied well-deserved hikes and promotions because they are about to go on maternity leave. The manager of a woman I knew frankly explained to her during an appraisal that although she worked well, he cannot promote her now since she is going on a maternity leave for 2 months and would be busy taking care of her baby when she returns, so she cannot give her all to the company. The man he was promoting now may not be up to her level, but the act of promotion will motivate him to work harder.
Appraisals are about what the employee did in the past, not what they are going to do in the future. However, many managers exploit women who become new moms because they can’t switch jobs anytime soon. You could say that from a manager’s perspective, they have to look out for the team’s future and a new mom is not going to be able to give her all, so it should be okay to give a promotion/hike to a man in this case.
Here is the thing though. How can the manager be sure that the man is not going to switch to a better job by showing off his newly acquired promotion and hike? When managers worry that women may quit or slack off once they become moms, shouldn’t they also be cautious that men may switch jobs after receiving a hike/promotion?
Back to the example, after explaining that he can’t promote her now, this woman’s manager also gave her advice as a “well-wisher” to focus on her family and work flexibly. But then, once she was back, he also expected her to give her 100%. So she had to do the same work as usual without the title she deserved. Needless to say, she decided to switch jobs, prompting her manager to reinforce his perception that women usually quit after becoming moms.
Another friend of mine once worked in a place where bachelors were valued less than married men and spinsters were valued more than married women. The leads in her team held the belief that men were playful and didn’t focus until they get married and once they have a family to take care of, they become more serious. So bachelors were passed for promotions or hikes whereas married men were favoured because they were seen as the breadwinners of the family.
For women, they held the opposite view. Single women were seen as more focused on work whereas married women were considered to automatically hold their personal lives higher than work. There was no proof to support this claim though. Men and women, married or not, who worked in a similar fashion and produced similar results were seen by this clouded lens from the management and given different ratings during appraisals.
This friend had a consistent track record of good performance and got outstanding ratings until she got married and slowly started getting less important work just because she was engaged. People assumed (read gossiped) that she would be spending a lot of time on the phone with her fiance and wouldn’t be able to work to her full potential anymore.
Now, we are talking about a woman who was very driven and ambitious about her career. Just before her engagement, she was so focused on an upcoming release that she didn’t even have the time to prepare for her special day. Instead of taking time off to choose the attire and accessories to wear for her own engagement ceremony, she ended up leaving all the choices to her family.
Since her fiance was abroad, people expected her to quit and join him any time soon. She, on the other hand, wanted her husband to join her because she will not be legally allowed to work in the place he lives. Being stuck in a place where perceptions and gossips were more powerful than the actual work one does, my friend got sidelined and was given menial and monotonous work because people were being “considerate”.
In reality, they were just scared that she may leave any time and wanted to give all the interesting and important tasks to people who had less chance of leaving. She didn’t receive good work even when she requested and kept on hinting that she had no plans to quit. Over time, she knew her career would be stagnated here and was forced to switch jobs.
While the bachelors in her team were seen as less dedicated than the married men and prejudiced against, they were still invested on and had mentors to train them. The women in her team were pushed out one by one by being assigned thankless and unimportant tasks that made them unhappy and didn’t grant them an opportunity to improve their skills.
Notice the pattern here? Such managers are always “well-meaning” and “considerate” when they “let” the women take less important tasks so that they can focus on their family. While some women may feel happy to have a flexible job even if it means that they don’t progress in career, what about others who value their work and are ambitious?
Such things wouldn’t happen if there were more female managers, you say? To an extent, yes. I’ve heard wonderful and awful stories from women reporting to female managers. It isn’t about the gender of the manager, but their mindset. Female managers can also have preconceived notions about women in general. They can unconsciously hold on to society’s expectations thrust on women and expect their employees to conform to these norms.
While a male manager would hide their bias, such female managers can straight up speak out these thoughts because it won’t be considered harassment or discrimination. Some women, be it managers or individual contributors, make it a point to say stuff like women don’t work as well as men and aren’t as committed. Their reason for perpetuating such stereotypes is to establish that they are not like other women. Instead of holding each other’s hands and rising to the top together, some women try to be on top by pushing others down.
Now, don’t get me wrong. It seems to be a common misconception among men (and some women) that women always feel jealous and competitive towards each other. That is not what I mean in the above passage. In fact, the female bond is an awesome thing. Most women I have met in my office have been super nice, inspiring and so uplifting. But as in every demographic, there are always some bad eggs and these are the people I am talking about.
You can’t blame all of them as well. Some may genuinely be bad, but others may be a product of their times and experiences. They may have faced certain discriminations and stereotypes in society even before joining the workplace. In a company which is mostly male, these women would have assumed that their coworkers also have the same mindset and the only way to survive in corporate culture is to show that they are different from the stereotypes about women.
These women need to realize that the days of having to compete with each other is gone. There have been many women employees before us who have paved the path for us and we need to do the same for our future generation.
Even women managers with the best interests in their heart can be hard for other women to report to. To become a manager, a woman would have had to trod a very rough and tiring path. A lot of female managers can easily relate to the plight of their female employees and are very empathetic and encouraging. However, some of them assume that their struggle is the norm. Since they themselves had to face a lot of challenges to be where they are, they may even have more expectations from the women in their team than a male manager would.
It is like a mother being a lot more stricter with her daughter because she wants her child to be strong and safe. Since they have experienced certain issues in the past, they want to groom the younger women to be immune to these by being harsh. These managers need to realize that times are changing. The problems they faced as inexperienced employees are different from what current freshers face. Also, women do not need a motherly figure, but an empathetic ear. These days, a lot of women managers provide exactly that and it nurtures all the women in their team.
So why don’t more women become managers, you ask? Well, it takes a special kind of woman to be a manager. Imagine having to balance managing your house and a bunch of people in the workplace, some of whom may disregard you just because of your gender. For a woman to be a manager, it takes a lot of support from her family, from all her reportees and the higher management.
She needs her family to understand that she has to perform office work even at home and attend late-night calls. They need to not expect her to be a domestic goddess who cooks a full course meal for everyone at home, keeps the house spick and span, teach the kids and take care of all the family member’s needs. They need to understand that a woman’s role is not to just cook and clean and not chide her for outsourcing domestic work.
If a woman becomes a manager after battling with her family for their support, her next challenge is that all her reportees have to be unbiased and view her for her capabilities and not her gender. This may not always be the case. Some people, men and women, will think that she is not capable because of her gender. Sometimes, there may even be a man whose ego gets hurt just because he reports to a woman and would either not cooperate with her or disrespect her. The female manager now needs support from her higher management because they need to be willing to take the time to understand if someone is protesting against her just because she is a woman.
When my cousin was a team leader, she used to have this one guy in her team who would object doing things just because a woman asked him to. There was also this one case in my office where a man had to be suspended because he was giving a very hard time to a manager, just because she was a woman and his ego didn’t let him work under a woman. Of course, harassment cases take months to resolve and need hard evidence if any progress is to be made. So imagine the amount of stress the manager had to go through till her accusations were proved and actions were taken.
Speaking of harassment, let us not forget about sexual harassment just because it is less common in the corporate world (or so we think). Yes, there is the Vishaka Guidelines, but how many companies actually implement it properly? How many issues are addressed with the victim in mind and the urge to bring justice? From the stories I’ve heard, these committees aim to preserve harmony by calling the victim sensitive and/or defending the culprit by subtle victim-blaming.
If you say that women around you are not harassed and you treat them well, then good on you. But the reality is that most women who face sexual harassment do not voice it for fear of repercussions. No matter the evidence produced, the woman is still interrogated endlessly as if she is the accused. No matter how they claim to keep it confidential, the word still goes around and the woman is shunned, even before the case is closed.
Now, men do not intentionally ostracise the victims. In a society where victim-blaming is prevalent, coupled with the incorrect assumption that women can get away with falsely accusing men, most men try to stay away from the victims who have the guts to register complaints. This is not about ignoring the victim. This is about avoiding trouble and self-preservation. The thought process here is, “What if she misunderstands me and complains about me as well? Let’s keep a distance just in case.” So if a woman was to speak up about sexual harassment, it would affect her work because the men would start avoiding her.
Especially in an environment where the majority of employees are men and the number of women is negligible, this would turn out to be a huge ordeal for the victim. To preserve the status quo and to avoid the gruelling interrogations and embarrassingly personal questions that come with registering complaints, most women choose to stay silent.
In an office, as in anywhere in society, everything about a woman is judged – what she wears, who she interacts with, what she eats, how she carries herself, what she cooks, etc. I once met a woman who made it her point to educate me on cooking, despite me constantly hinting that I’m not interested in her lectures. While a lot of women share cooking tips on random days and that is more than welcome, the problem with this particular woman was that she had this urge to shove every cooking tip she can down my throat.
The issue here is that she felt that cooking is the most important thing for a woman and tried to take me under her wing by offering advice every single day. It wasn’t like, “You should try this recipe. It’s good.” It was more like, “Wait, you can only cook these many dishes? As a woman, you need more recipes in your arsenal. Here, let me share some of my wisdom. Oh, you say you don’t have time for all this? You can always make time if you have the will. You can always let go of other interests/hobbies to focus on cooking.”
It wasn’t like I couldn’t cook at all. I can prepare a decent meal and cook well enough to survive. Her problem was that I didn’t know how to cook everything under the sun and didn’t make elaborate meals for everyday lunch. Needless to say, I had to avoid her like the plague.
The problem is that some environments have many women with this sort of thinking. Rather than mentoring the juniors on the work front, these women constantly advise youngsters on how to be the “perfect” woman.
As you can see, this is not a men vs. women debate. Women go through issues at home, at the workplace and by society due to other women as well as men. The problem stems from the mindset that women have to prioritize household duties and motherhood before thinking about their own career aspirations.
I’m not saying that women need to be given special attention because they do so much at home and then come to work. I understand most employer’s standpoint wherein what work one does at the office is what is important and personal life may be deemed irrelevant. The problem is when women are denied the promotions and pay rises they deserve just because they are much less likely to complain.
Apart from all this, women also have to deal with playful content shared on social media that stereotype women. I know the jokes and memes about women are just for fun, but after a while, they can get really annoying, especially if it is in, say, an official WhatsApp group. Imagine having to ignore subtle misogyny in the workplace because you don’t want to be called too sensitive and overly emotional and then you return home only to see that it follows you through social media as well.
Though the intent is humour, they come across as dumb at best and misogynistic at worst. Coming back to the chocolate thief, pranks are fun when everyone is laughing. In an office environment, jokes should be made only where it is welcome. When in doubt, it is best to stay professional. If someone is upset because of a prank, that is not fun, that is just being mean.
In my friend’s case, she was upset because she was expecting something and someone had taken it away on that one day out of the entire year when she is given permission to feel special. This is not about the chocolate. This is about how inconsiderate and insensitive some people can be and how it all adds up.
Think of it as similar to eating a birthday cake before the person gets to cut it. It is funny if the prankster is close to the birthday kid and the birthday kid likes such pranks. Otherwise, the act is annoying and makes the environment awkward for everyone involved.
To the people who simply do not understand why we need to celebrate women’s day in the workplace, I hope this post clarified it for you. It is okay if you still don’t get it or disagree, but don’t go around raining on women’s parade. Rather than a happy parade, it is already an obstacle race and we would appreciate it if there is no downpour.
Before I’m deemed too sensitive and serious for writing this, let me present the concept of death by 1000 paper cuts. One small cut here and there doesn’t seem like much. Women constantly get a cut at home, in the office and from society, so they learn to ignore it and live with it. But over time, all the cuts that haven’t healed completely accumulate and take a toll. At the lowest point, a single minuscule cut can be fatal.
I appreciate the employers who want to make diversity a reality and focus on hiring more women. However, it would be nice if they can stop and wonder why women leave the workplace and try to fix that as well. There is no point in bringing in more women when you don’t treat the existing ones right and eventually make them leave.
This is why we celebrate women’s day in the workplace. To let women know that we appreciate them staying when quitting is an easier option. To remind them that despite the hardships they face at work, we are working on bringing equality. That we pledge to make work a safe, inclusive and righteous place. This may take time, but we still value women’s contributions to the company and wish they would stick with us while we strive to provide the equality that is their fundamental right.
Note: I know men have their own set of problems unique to them at work. I’m writing this article post women’s day, so I am only addressing women’s issues. Being from a tech background, I can only write about my personal experience and things my friends, colleagues and relatives have gone through. I know there are other minorities affected in the tech world. I know women are affected in other fields in a different way, but I can only write about what I know and who I can reach.