Happy Women’s Day

When I wrote The Professional in 2007, in the chapter on what I called “New World Imperatives,” I talked about gender sensitivity. In it, I wrote about a particular incident involving Susmita and me. We were looking for a housing loan and had gone to a nationally known housing lender that offered an interest rate that was 0.5% better than its competitors. Susmita and I were asked to see the manager. As soon as we introduced ourselves, I told him that though I was going to be the borrower on record, it was my wife who would make all decisions and deal with the bank in all matters. In effect, I said, it was she who was going to be the customer, and that she had a whole set of questions and could the gentleman please answer them. After that Susmita asked him a whole bunch of questions and in response to each, the man looked at me and replied. It became quite awkward and even as I gestured repeatedly for him to direct the answers towards her, he did not catch the cue. As soon as we were done, we came out of the bank, clear that we would not do the deal with them. We settled for another bank that did not make the same mistake, even though the interest rate was a little higher. I narrate this instance to explain that increasingly, women are taking more purchase decisions in the world, and that it is important to break mental stereotypes as we are on our way to becoming a developed nation.

When The Professional was chosen for release in the US and elsewhere, I was unsure if the example would hold good. After all, in developed economies like the US, things were different. Or so I thought.

Last week, I read the latest issue of Fortune magazine, and in it, columnist Becky Quick had an interesting story to tell. She started her life waiting at tables in a restaurant. There, she made it a point to treat everyone seated at a table equally; her logic was simple: you do not know who is going to take the check, and her tip depending on that. However, recently – years after her waitressing days – she was shopping for a minivan, and guess what? While she made her rounds of dealerships, the salesmen inevitably asked her where her husband was even though it was she who was asking all the questions. And this is the US in 2012! In the same column, she narrates the story of Ann Mulcahy, former chairman and CEO of Xerox. When Mulcahy decided to buy a Porsche, after making her choice at a dealership and announcing to the salesman that she would buy the car, there was a pregnant pause, and then the man asked, “Don’t you have to talk to someone about that first?” She replied, “If you don’t start the paperwork in the next 10 seconds, I’ll drive 30 minutes to the next Porsche dealer and buy the car there”. The man got on the task immediately, but guess what? The finance officer followed up with the question: would she need someone else to co-sign the lease?

So, the two stories above do tell us that the male world is still not sensitized enough about the new reality. Becky Quick says that 44% of car buyers last year in the US were women and even when not the buyers, they influenced 80% of all car purchase decisions.

Leaving aside the above, what appalls me is the whole host of hard and soft discriminations we make everyday at the workplace. That includes the Information Technology industry where more than 30% of the entry level workforce consists of women. After joining, they invariably work for a couple of years and after that, there is the inevitable pressure to marry. Upon marriage, if the boy lives in another city, it is always the girl who must quit her job and relocate. It is quite commonplace for a project leader not to assign a critical component of the project work to a female colleague because she may not be able to “take the extra load” – that is to say, stay longer hours. When project teams go out for a client dinner or a get-together, it is invariably the men who create an invisible ring, and they are the ones cracking the jokes and having all the conversation among themselves, not realizing that the female colleague is left out. Today, even as the gender distribution is more than 30% at the entry level, at senior management level, that number falls below 5%.

Womens dayOne of the indices of a developed economy is that there is equality of women at the workplace – both in numbers and in the way they are treated at par. It is here that India has a long way to go. We have made great progress in inducting women in traditionally male environments, but we have to break stereotypes at multiple levels. We need to stop looking at women as appendages and as people for whom concessions must be made. If the overriding belief is that work is beyond a woman’s capability, it is not the woman who must change; rather, those beliefs must be challenged, and the organizational structure must be re-examined and redefined. Therein lays the path to progress.

Susmita and I have two daughters. When our second one was born, two of Susmita’s relations, both doctors, consoled her. They said she should try againHappy Women's Day for a son. My mother, not educated beyond her matriculate, came to see her and said in no uncertain terms that there was no difference between boys and girls, and just in case Susmita thought otherwise, two were enough and that we must not try for more children.

Remembering her, Susmita and I have always felt that a change in thinking is not a matter of education; what we need is a social reform at a much more fundamental level.

On that note, Happy Women’s Day to all my readers.

Comments
Anusha Says
Thursday March 8th 2012

Excellent view Sir! I’m proud to be part of MindTree.

Uma Maheshvari Says
Thursday March 8th 2012

I remember my mother telling me that my father was the most disappointed the day I was born. Reason, he learnt from the midwife who delivered me, that their third child was a baby girl.

In fact, whenever I excelled in anything I did, dad would feel very proud but will never forget to add his favorite line – I wish you were a boy! Many times I heard him tell my elder brother, you should be as bold as her.

I use to get into a lot of debate and argument on this but couldn’t change him around.

Today I am happy to be a woman living my life on my own terms:-)

manjerekar Says
Thursday March 8th 2012

Very nicely said by Mr. Subroto Bagchi about Women.

Additionally, i want to share an article to encourage Women of Faith.

This is not to offend any faith. Please take time to read this content.

http://modeletics.blogspot.in/2009/08/woman-according-to-bible.html

Nitya Says
Thursday March 8th 2012

Thanks for sharing this wonderful note, and I agree about the mental block people,even educated people, on having girl children… :( …wonder when that will change

Seema Ramakrishna Says
Thursday March 8th 2012

The blog clearly reflects that you believe in equality of gender. Thanks for being the man a woman can respect! The awareness has to be blended into our diverse culture and I think we are fighting and moving towards it!

Mrs.Snigdha (Banerjee) Agrawal Says
Thursday March 8th 2012

Your above article has echoed my thoughts. I too have two daughters, both professionally qualified and doing successfully in life. Their success chart is an upward ride they took entirely on their own, with our guidance. My husband and I never felt we should go for a third child in the hope of having a son.
Thank you for sharing this story with the public – to break the gender bias held by most men.

Geetha Says
Thursday March 8th 2012

Dear Gardener,

Thank you for this lovely post and for the greetings!

One of the best speeches I have ever read on the role of Professional women is this one by you:

http://www.mindtree.com/downloads/women_on_board.pdf

Here’s an interesting story on women that I would like to share here please:

“What Do Women Really Want?

Following is a noble story that illustrates in a fanciful way what women really want:

Young King Arthur was ambushed and imprisoned by the monarch of a neighbouring kingdom. The monarch could have killed him, but was moved by Arthur’s youthful happiness. So the monarch offered him freedom , as long as he could answer a very difficult question. Arthur would have one month to figure out the answer. If, after a month, he still had no answer, he would be killed.

The question Arthur was asked: What do women really want?

Such a question would perplex even the most knowledgeable man, and to young Arthur, it seemed an impossible query. Well, since it was better than death, he accepted the monarch’s proposition to have an answer by month’s end. He returned to his kingdom and began to poll everybody: the princess, the priests, the wise men, the court jester. But no one could give him a satisfactory answer. What most people did tell him was to consult the old witch, as only she would know the answer. The price would be high, since the witch was famous throughout the kingdom for the exorbitant prices she charged.

The last day of the month arrived and Arthur had no alternative but to talk to the witch. She agreed to answer his question, but he would have to accept her price first: the old witch wanted to marry Gawain, the most noble of the Knights of the Round Table and Arthur’s closest friend. Young Arthur was horrified! The witch was hunchbacked and awfully hideous, had only one tooth and smelled disgusting. He had never run across such a repugnant creature.

Arthur refused to force his friend to marry her and have to endure such a burden. Gawain, upon learning of the proposal, spoke with Arthur. He told him that nothing was too big of a sacrifice compared to Arthur’s life and the preservation of the Round Table. Hence, their wedding was proclaimed, and the witch was honor-bound to answer Arthur’s question:

The answer: What a woman really wants is to be respected and to be in charge of her own life.

Everyone instantly knew that the witch had uttered a great truth and that Arthur’s life would be spared. And so it was. The neighboring monarch spared Arthur’s life and granted his freedom.

What a wedding Gawain and the witch had! Arthur was torn between relief and anguish.

Gawain was proper as always, gentle and courteous. The old witch put her worst manners on display and made everyone uncomfortable. Eventually the wedding night approached. Gawain, steeling himself for a horrific night, entered the bedroom. But what a sight awaited!

The most beautiful woman he’d ever seen lay before him! Gawain was astounded and asked what had happened. The beauty replied that since he had been so kind to her, half the time she would be her horrible, deformed self, and the other half, she would be her beautiful maiden self.

Which would he want her to be during the day and which during the night? What a cruel question? Gawain began to think of his predicament: During the day a beautiful woman to show off to his friends, but at night, in the privacy of his home, an old spooky witch? Or would he prefer having by day a hideous witch, but by night a beautiful woman to enjoy many intimate moments?

What would you do?

Noble Gawain replied that he would let her choose herself. Upon hearing this, she announced that she would be beautiful all the time, because he had respected her and had let her be in charge of her own life.

Though this is a whimsical tale, it clearly illustrates the point that not many people can correctly answer this question: What do women really want? The answer once again, broken down into its two key components:

Women want respect.
Women want to be in charge of their own lives.

Above all else, women want to be respected for who they are in their own right. … In other words, women are seeking freedom of choice and freedom to be responsible for designing the lives they desire.”

As Viktor E. Frankl’s famously said: “Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Thanks and regards,

Geetha

    Neha Shah Says
    Thursday June 7th 2012

    Lovely story Geetha….I would love to make a reference of this during our diversity and inclusion discussions…

Akhil Reddy Says
Thursday March 8th 2012

Well i want to share my recent experience, as we are looking for job recruitment in marketing for a startup. My brother is of the view, we should recruit a guy for that position. I immediately corrected him that let’s not be gender biased and all are equally talented. Happy women’s day !!

Anuramya Says
Thursday March 8th 2012

I am sure this article resonates with every person who reads it. I see that women who are in control of their lives are respected at least in this generation. But these are only as friends or collegues or bosses. When it comes to home , the woman still makes all the sacrifices. And is expected to do so. And they willingly do it. This thought process has to change. With Women and With Men.

Thanks for the good read Subroto.

Anu

Delicia Paul Says
Friday March 9th 2012

Thanks for your warm wishes Sir. Your article on Women is awesome. What distresses me is that this article may not be read by many people around the Universe. The success in it; is the message reaching the masses far and wide to make the world a better place to live in.

Satish Says
Friday March 9th 2012

Dear Sir,
Good to read. Hope the time come at the earliest.
Proud to be under your gardening…

Lubna Says
Friday March 9th 2012

It is true that society still has a long way to go, as far as treating women fairly is concerned. But, I am seeing changes.
Organisations, including the one I work for, are gender sensitive. The importance of diversity is being appreciated. Soon after the Wall Street collapse there was a debate on how having women in the board rooms may have helped.
I am not sure however, how effective, the proposed quota for women directors in India will help. It is debatable whether we do need a laid down quota to ensure women’s entry into the board rooms.
So the winds of change are blowing, whether by way of regulation or societal acceptance. You and so many others are helping usher in these winds of change – Thank you.

Hari Says
Saturday March 10th 2012

Very good one Subroto

Ashutosh Shukla Says
Saturday March 10th 2012

This a story of woman who lived on this planet from 1910 to 2009, I wrote this note on 19 Dec 2009, the day she died…She was my Nani

This is in tribute to my Grandmother. My “nani” (grandmother) went to heaven on 19 Dec.of this year. She lived a full life of 99. She passed away peacefully. I wonder how many changes she saw in her lifetime (1910-2009). From cooking on fire wood to kerosene stove to LPG gas, from oil lamps to electric bulbs (and for many many years there was just one in her whole house in Udaipur), from listening to a public radio at street corner (they heard about India’s independence and Nehru’s speech on that) to owning a valve based radio in 50s which used to take 2 minutes to warm up to a black and white TV in 70s to color TV…She witnessed two world wars (In WW-II her brother participated as British Army soldier on Burma Front) to India’s independence to India’s IT revolution (3 of her grand children and 1 great grand child are part of it) to India’s unmanned mission on the moon. She was the 2nd woman in the town of Udaipur who knew how to ride a bicycle in 1930s…(First one was a British Lady Doctor) Nani will live in our memories forever…I wish you did a 100 Nani!

Yes, in 1930s! She was riding a bicycle ahead of many men of that era!!!

Saturday April 7th 2012

Dear Gardener,

Thank you for this post. I believe gender-sensitisation should be a part of every one’s grooming and here family plays the most pivotal role. If one observes as a child the family respecting womenfolk, he’s grow into a more equality-minded and treat the women without any bias, whatsoever.

Sharing with you a piece I wrote in October, 2011

_

Last week, I was discussing the subject of gender diversity at workplace with a bright management student, who is specializing in human resources. During the discussion, I shared with her how I believe gender-diversity is a key business imperative and not a mere fad.

However, she expressed her doubts on the overall subject of organizational initiatives promoting gender-parity.

According to her, an organization’s prerogative should be to promote meritocracy and establish processes that induct and manage talent irrespective of gender. She vehemently asserted, “To provide a pedestal to women and promote their cause in order to maintain gender parity would result in the male workforce feeling threatened and maybe even frustrated. A business has to be lead by people who have proven their worth and allowed metrics, numbers and tangible results to speak for them. Hence, ideally an organization should only make sure that equal opportunities are being provided to both genders and that women are supported and given an environment where it enables them to compete and prove their merit just as well as their male counterparts.”

She also raised the subject of female employees balancing the role of ‘care-giver with career-builder’ and raised an argument of it being matter of choice of the women. She asked, “please help me figure why should it be a business imperative to ensure gender parity at leadership roles, give that the organizations should necessarily be unbiased against any gender and provide equal opportunities?”

I am sure many of you may opine sharply to the thoughts expressed by the student above. Some of you may also say, “How dare she say all this?”

However, her confident argument and thought process behind it made me think. I am an HR professional; as a leader of several bright young women and men, I am responsible for hiring, building and promoting talent at all levels across functions. In all my years of working, I never observed any kind of bias towards any element of workforce diversity, including gender diversity. I worked with some of the great organizations of India and the world, which promoted & extended an inclusive, fair and open work-culture to all their employees, and always advocated & promoted talent and merit. Thus, I didn’t face any such situation where I would have experienced any undue bias towards any gender whatsoever.

Having said that, I am aware that this isn’t a universal phenomenon. We do keep hearing issues like ‘glass-ceiling’ that may still exist in some sectors and organizations. We do observe there exists certain discomfort with women working in manufacturing facilities or sales units. Often, this discomfort is not expressed in words, but a careful perusal of the body language of the hiring manager says it all. I have infact seen job-descriptions, which clearly say, “Only males apply”.

I often feel surprised at such discomfort or classification of gender, for I always thought Sudha Murthy broke the myth way back in ‘70s, by knocking the doors of a famous manufacturing company and opening it for women employees on shop-floor.

The difference of attitude of the society towards the women-folk has always left me confused. As a school student, I grew up with my female batch-mates studying much harder, being more sincere towards education, and participating in all events – indoor and outdoor, and competing with equal passion. However, right after the Class 10th, we could observe the change in society’s approach – boys aspired for engineering and girls often ended up taking ‘Bio’ – the aim being an apparently safer, or less riskier career in medicine! In those years, a very miniscule section of women applied and studied at the engineering colleges. This was way worse in pre-‘80s, where home-science and humanities were the key subjects for the girls. Either no career at all, or teaching or government jobs were the limited careers women aspired for! Thanks to this mindset, only a small creamy layer of women-folk pursued higher education or even joined the ITIs to pursue technical qualifications.

The late ‘90s and early 2000 changed it to a considerable extent. We witnessed a lot of women applying to and studying diverse fields like engineering, law, hotel-management, etc. Gradually, the percentage of women in such courses increased. The management colleges too started to have a good one-fourth and more of the batch as females and society started to change the outlook towards women opting for ‘riskier’ careers. However, largely this change remained confined to the metros and other large cities, and more so in the upper-middle class families.

Hence, the disparity in workforce remains at all levels to this date. Our factories do not employ women – they are considered a male bastion – due to the so-called physical labour required, perceptions of safety norms and also due to the mindset of the employers. So, at the workmen level, we don’t see many organization employing female workers. Law of the land doesn’t help remove the disparity either. It still doesn’t permit a large section of female employees to work before 6pm and after 8pm, and hence, poses a strong challenge towards organizations that aspire to promote work-force diversity to its fullest extent and benefits. Also, at this stratum of the society, male-members are still considered the breadwinners, and women run homes and look after children and elders.

I could never understand this dichotomy, for the fact that all our Indian homes that could afford a home-help, women of only the above mentioned stratum of the society work as maids, earning a substantial potion of their household incomes! Our farms always employed women, engaging them in harder physical labour than our factories merited! I always wonder if women can move around the town till late hours, why can’t they work inside offices and factories till late? After all, providing safe working conditions is what law and order is all about, and restricting the working hours only appear unfair to me.

On the other hand, at the knowledge and management workers levels, disparity is certainly decreasing. We see women performing exceedingly well in such roles. However, the numbers still do not stack up at all levels in the same manner. There are two broad reasons for this – one, still the number of female candidates studying in professional courses is far lesser as compared to their male counterparts. Blame the fact that old societal norms still exist in a large part of our small towns and rural areas. A very large segment of women do not get parental/societal approvals to move out of hometowns to pursue quality education elsewhere. Even those who do, often move back to hometowns, either working at whatever is available or yet again applying to ‘safer’ public-sector jobs, banks, et al. Hence, the modern, private-sector organizations get to receive a very small amount of applicants, and thus the poorer gender ratio at workplaces in lower and middle-management.

The second reason is that the women who get to obtain quality education, receive family support to pursue careers, join, work & perform in organizations, face another challenge – managing the dual roles of homemaker and career woman. Ironically, the age between 25 and 35 years when one can and has to concentrate on the career the most, most women drop out to get married, give birth to and raise kids. While both law and organizations extends support in such cases, this support is often inadequate. The pressure from society is often back breaking, many a times not allowing women to continue with their careers. Of course, this varies from family to family and society to society as a whole. However, we often see that such women resume work, if at all they do after a long break, only to find their roles being replaced by others. They are offered to take up whatever roles are available at the hand, which may or may not suit their skill or liking. In this hyper-competitive era, such gaps can be terminal for any employee, and thus jeopardize the rise of an otherwise competent performer with even higher potential. Consequently, we see furthermore skewed gender-ratio at senior leadership levels.

Keeping in view the above aspects, it becomes imperative for all well meaning organizations to encourage gender-diversity by employing focused strategic initiatives and provide cultural & infrastructural support to all female employees. In my view, these initiatives & opportunities in no manner subjugate the interests of and opportunities available to the male employees. Human capital is way too precious an asset to be forsaken at the altar of any diversity-initiative. In order to support diversity, no sensible organization would blindly entertain unacceptable quality of talent on its rolls and the subsequent loss of productivity.

I strongly believe that merit and talent is primary and cannot be compromised upon at workplaces. Having said that, creating an unbiased culture of opportunity, consideration to the physical and personal attributes of the female workforce and building concerted & innovative working possibilities that support women across ages and work-levels is an organizational imperative and must not be viewed as any special favour towards them.

I am reminded of this small piece I read very long ago in a book based on World War-II. It still holds a lot of meaning in the current times, when the value of partnership is even higher for both genders. Quoting here:

Rosie keeps a sharp lookout for sabotage
Sitting up there on the fuselage.
That little frail can do,
More than a man can do,
Rosie, the riveter.
Rosie’s got a boyfriend, Charlie;
Charlie, he’s a marine.
Rosie is protecting Charlie
Working overtime on the riveting machine.

I rest my case…please do let me know your views.
___________________________________________________

anjali g Says
Wednesday April 11th 2012

My career in the corporate world took off rather late as children were priority -moreover with my spouse being in the Army it was impossible to work without breaks.I am now back into the workforce with 100% support from all quarters and when i need to travel overseas , my husband takes charge of our home and children. Forget men, even my female colleagues do not understand this and think it to be against the natural ( read perceived) order of things in the world. I guess having been born and brought up in the closed world of the defence forces, I saw gender equality in all facets of life without external societal pressures of tradition and culture being unduly imposed on us. It is not uncommon for officers to move with children to a different station on posting if their wives too serve in the military and are posted elsewhere. Having said this , undoubtedly a lot of sacrifices, understanding and support from both sides are required so that a woman can hold her own in a man’s world.

Ram Mohan Says
Tuesday April 17th 2012

Amidst all this gender bias, my home is controlled and efficiently managed by women. It started over a century ago, my great grand mother who had her head tonsured and was mdde to wear red saree after losing her husband at the age of 20, soon became the head of the family. Forget the household, teh entire village respected her and would listen to her until she died in 1985. Then was my mom, who ran our family and my dad just supported very well and today my family is run by my wife supported be me and my mom.

In my entire household all are equal, but women are more equal as they have earned it.

Ram

Dip Says
Tuesday April 24th 2012

Sir,
Since you mentioned about your wife in this post, I would like to share that I actually liked her travelogues and short stories in Oriya magazines and followed her as an author while growing up. I came to know who is Mr. Bagchi much later only after I joined IT in late 90s.
Happy Women’s day.

Dip

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