Traditionally and globally, working women have always had to walk the fine line between friendly and flirty, between sounding assertive and hormonally haywire
Prospective employers view uteruses as little bombs that can blow up anytime into indefinite maternity leaves and ever available leave there is
As far as the Indian corporate scene goes, the alpha male is sitting pretty. The man to woman ratio in most company boards shows that the boss is a he. The number of female honchos can be counted on the fingers of one hand in many, many companies. For instance, in the IT sector, they are down to below 10 per cent at senior levels and are approximately zero sometimes on boards.
Developed countries are ahead only by a whisker, with one report putting female board members at around 15 per cent. It would seem that corporate boards world over agree: mooch nahi toh kuch nahi!
When did a baritone become a must for a board member?
Neither having nor eating the cake
For every Chanda Kochhar and Kiran Shaw, there are thousands of women who halt midway up the corporate ladder. Theoretically, women have come a long way, but for all statistical purposes, they prefer a plateau to a peak. Ambition is unceremoniously and without warning replaced by a mellowing at any stage, which in turn engenders exits. Suddenly they begin to doubt if pay and perks and position can make up for missing a school play and feel compelled to take a call: be a go-getter role model or a hands-on parent. Both of course come with wily baggage.
Traditionally and globally, working women have always had to walk the fine line between friendly and flirty, between sounding assertive and hormonally haywire. And in boardrooms all over the world, they are the only gender that can hear the biological clock tick.
Sometimes gently and sometimes politically totally incorrectly, female applicants are quizzed on their matrimonial plans, if any, and on multiplication tables, if already married. Just like a male author is rarely asked if his wife ‘lets’ him write, the male applicant’s marital/paternal status is never an issue. While hiring most companies are clear on the subtext: women can disappear on them. That is the elephant in the room, a wedding invite from the bright young thing before them -- who can choose husbands from another city, country or cosmos, and demand to be transferred or relieved overnight.
Prospective employers view uteruses as little bombs that can blow up anytime into indefinite MLs (maternity leave) and SLs (sick leave) and every available CL (casual leave) there is.
More degrees mean late marriages mean later babies, with a large percentage of pregnancies falling under the ‘oops’ category. Most admit that with promotions, deadlines, work pressure, office politics and a lack of leave, they never get around to actually planning families, leaving it to chance, accidents or divine intervention. This derails not just their plans but also that of their workplace.
The breakaway from joint families means more work for the working woman. Travel is a pain and she compulsively calls and calls the babysitter. She can bunk a business conference anytime, but not a PTA meeting. Child becomes career and the rest just a hobby.
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg apparently had a chance to join social network LinkedIn as CEO when she was with Google in 2006. But Sandberg, who joined Facebook two years from then, prioritized a second baby over this offer, going by excerpts published from her forthcoming book ‘Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead’.
Anne-Marie Slaughter, a mother of two, was the director of policy planning at the US State Department from 2009 to 2011. At the end of her public service leave, she writes in The Atlantic, she happily went back home to become a normal working mom – as a professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University – instead of seeing her kids only on weekends when she was director of policy planning.
Women who step out
But there’s something new brewing this Women’s Day: a turtle-slow movement to bring the better half of the workforce back. Corporate culture is currently in the process of altering itself ever so slightly to suit hibernating women, of elasticising routines to accommodate the self-exiled.
The comfort levels for a woman going through a difficult pregnancy or a new mom in the office largely depends on the goodwill earned by the said woman prior to mommification. Freelance assignments and conditional provisions to work from home are offered on a whimsical basis, rather than any fixed company policy. If you have a proven track record at work, they are prepared to overlook this little misdemeanor of the womb. Also, there has to be the general promise of returning to work fulltime at the earliest hanging in the air.
When one family member has a high-flying career while the other stays at home, a hierarchy happens. It alternately suits and does not suit, decisions are revoked, lost ground is lamented, but in the interim the inevitable occurs: colleagues and teammates have zoomed past. The ‘gypsy bee’ has to work doubly hard to buzz her end of the beehive, to prove she means business. The bottom line is this: male colleagues have overtaken.
Where corporate climbs are concerned, it would seem that women are content to be on cloud 8.9. Cloud nine is thick with cigar smoke.
About the Author - Shinie Antony is the Bangalore-based author of Barefoot and Pregnant and When Mira Went Forth and Multiplied. She has put together the anthologies Kerala, Kerala, Quite Contrary and Why We Don’t Talk. She is the co-founder of the Bangalore Literature Festival and mother of two teenagers.