I learnt that sometimes our best intentions could be misplaced
We should work towards making the workplace more conducive for diversity instead of arranging for flowers and cutting cakes
Women’s Day is important not to ‘buy platinum’ or ‘go for the baking class’, but to renew the commitment to treat each other’s difference with respect and equality!
If you did not wake up to March 8th with the whole world being in a tizzy over Women’s Day, you were certainly sleep-walking. Jokes apart, from the radio with their “all women artists show” on air, to the local coffee joint offering a “buy one get one free deal for women only”, to columnists writing about “the importance of women in society” to advertisers urging men to buy platinum, Women’s Day “sell”(ebrations), were on full swing. An advertisement that read, “On this Women’s day, send your husband and maid to our coffee shop we will teach them how to bake” –had me gagging.
Looking at the expression on my face, my wife walked up curious to know the reason. Just as I was figuring out whether she wanted me to wish her... to my relief she asked me not to bother! Relieved, but surprised, I asked her the reason? Pat came the response – “every day is my day. I do not need the marketing guys to tell me when to celebrate!”
Thank heavens. At least it meant I did not have to hide that baking advertisement!
This reminded me of another incident a few years ago. Meenu Bhambhani, our Head of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) very politely asked me not to come to her desk and instead yell out for her like I would for any of my other team members. Meenu is a person with disability and walks with the aid of a stick, so with noble intentions in mind I would walk over to her desk than have her walk over to mine. What did I do wrong, I wondered? Was my intent wrong? Meenu explained she did not want to be treated differently; that she be treated like anybody else in the team. This to me was the beginning of a learning journey. I learnt that sometimes our best intentions could be misplaced.
It is true the road to hell is really paved with noble intentions.
When I got into office, out of curiosity I shared my wife’s and Meenu’s request with a few women colleagues and asked them what they thought about celebrating Women’s Day. One dismissed it as gimmick, another refused to comment, and the third gave me a speech on how this day made a mockery of a tradition that marked at least nine decades of struggle for equality, justice, peace and development.
She spoke rather passionately on how we should be working to make the workplace more conducive for diversity instead of arranging for flowers and cutting cakes, and slowly the others joined in with comments of similar nature.
I pushed them to stop giving ‘gyan’ and tell me what ‘doing something’ meant, can they boil it down to two or three concrete actions.
Here is what I heard from them:
Do not patronize us - Our capabilities and aspirations are the same, but our constraints differ. We need flexibility, not a cause! This sounded vague so I pushed for examples, and one of them – a star performer, who recently managed an enterprise-wide project, spoke about three years ago when she had her daughter. Her manager allowed her to get home in the afternoon to stay with her child and slowly wean her off but did not mention this to the team or give her slack. She loved the flexibility and truly appreciated the fact that she was not held up by her manager as an example of his benevolence.
Do not make us your pin up poster child - One of my batch mates, who currently works for a large conglomerate, was lamenting the fact that sometimes she is treated as a poster child for diversity. She knows she got to where she is on merit and grit, and does not appreciate the overcast created on her career by the diversity implication.
Do not take decisions at the bar and the smoking area - A couple of them rued the fact that decisions were sometimes taken while the boys were at the bar or out smoking. These decisions were then just handed out to them without allowing them a chance to participate in the decision making. Their clear message – socialize over a drink and smoke, and keep the work in the office.
Simple and doable actions! With that here is to us all of us working together and making our relationships count for more than just gestures and lip service. Let our workplace be a celebration of the diversity we bring in – whether it is gender, ability, ethnicity or thinking! Women’s Day is important NOT to buy the platinum or go for the baking class, but to renew the commitment to treat each other’s difference with respect and equality!
Elango R, is the Chief Human Resources Officer at MphasiS. He blogs on www.agastyaelango.wordpress.com and follow him on twitter@agastyasays