Glass ceiling for women is often talked about. It was used first in 1978 by Marilyn Loden in a panel discussion to explain how women have to overcome many challenges to rise to the top of an organization. It has been forty years and we have had many stellar women leaders not only leading organizations, local to global but also nations and transforming human lives. 23% of all national parliamentarians are women as of June 2016 as per UN Women. 70 countries in the world have had a female leader, says Pew Research Center. We have made progress; is this enough?
Huffington Post article in December 2017 shows, only 23 companies out of Fortune 500 and S&P 500 have female CEOs. Deloitte says, 12.4% of board seats in India are filled by women, not too far behind the global average which is 15%. Do these numbers indicate a satisfying development or a cause of worry?
Changing milieu points to a transformation in our homes
Nature’s creation of men and women remains unchanged. Though there is a rise of surrogacy, it is the women who have to bear children. However, if we look a bit deeper into our family structures and norms, there are changes visible all over. Economies of India and China have been growing fast. We see rapid urbanization, reducing family sizes, increasing mobility among families across cities, greater focus on education and employment. Naturally, the role of the woman in a family has undergone big changes.
Traditionally women in the family had the responsibility of child rearing, household chores, elder care, cooking, tidying the home and so on. We see these responsibilities increasingly being shared by the man and the woman in the family. Financial decisions in a family are being jointly made. Most activities which were made largely by the male members are now being discussed and the responsibilities are being shared. Voice of the woman in a family is significant now. Many women are gainfully employed and are contributing to the family’s income significantly. Girl children in most of our city-dwelling families receive equal importance as boys in all facets of life. Women have emerged clearly as leaders, often taller than the man in the family. The young girls in our cities are no less in any respect than the young boys. They claim their space in the society as much as the boys and join the workforce as an equal to the boys. This is encouraging. Where is the glass ceiling in this changing milieu?
Is woman empowerment just a fad now?
The issue is far from being over. City-dwellers in India have changed a lot, but they constitute a small percentage of the population. Moreover, there is still a big part of the city-population who is way behind the others as far as the shift in mentality is concerned. Many of these families in our cities and an overwhelming number of our families living outside the cities continue to follow the old traditions.
In many of these families, women go to work. But, the work they do is economically less rewarding than the work men do. Sometimes, they consciously decide to take up such work because they have inadequate support systems for smooth functioning of their homes. In some cases, traditional norms come to the fore where the woman has to discharge certain duties at home and hence, she chooses jobs which are less demanding on her schedules.
They tend to work at their own homes and at the same time, go out to work and contribute to their family income. In this situation, the work that women do is rarely about fulfilling their ambitions and actualising their dreams. So, we are far away from equality between men and women in this socio-economic class of our country. Naturally the girl child in these homes is less likely to craft a future which is lofty and ambitious. We never know when we are nipping a dream in its bud and disabling someone to dream. We need action here!
What can organizations do?
Companies need to accept the fact that a woman leader can do as good a job as a man. Deloitte report of 2017 tells us that gender diversity doubles when the top leader is a woman. This shows, the problem is quite deep-rooted. We have to have the mind-set of equality as far as ability of man and woman is concerned for a leadership role. Also this is about how we value diversity. This mind-set develops in a child when he or she grows up at our home and in the school. It is less likely to develop while he or she is an adult. Companies have a social responsibility to build this mind-set among children at school.
Secondly, we need to be sure why we celebrate Woman’s Day at work. If it is to celebrate diversity, and thank the women in our lives, we must celebrate this at our homes first than at the workplace. Companies can encourage their employees to celebrate diversity at their homes.
Many women drop off the journey in their careers because of commitments at home and the lack of support mechanisms. They find it difficult to get back to work when they are back on their feet again to give wings to their dreams. Companies should encourage women to restart their journey.
Last but not the least, it is important to understand that each job calls for certain skills and capabilities. We must not stereotype a job with a gender. We see, most nurses are women and most workers in a construction site are men. This does not mean that we develop a prejudice that certain jobs cannot be performed by a certain gender. Rather we should say, every person has a unique ability which will flourish in the right work and environment. This is a critical conversation that the leaders in a company must have.