Battle of sexes under the glass ceiling

Even as men and women match professional skills, the fairer sex has to grapple with unfair gender roles. Let’s explore.. .

Last year when Forbes released its annual list of the world’s most powerful women, only four Indian women made it to the top100.

According to a member of the BSE, only 4.9% women were on the boards of the over 4,000 companies listed. No surprise then, that industrialist Ness Wadia is said to have dumped Priety Zinta for being a tad too career-oriented!

As much as men and management would like us to believe that the glass ceiling is now a myth, it still prevails. Nirmala Menon, founder of Interweave, admitted at a recent CII conference; “Women on top are still rare. Globally, they comprise only 10% of senior managers in Fortune 500 companies. In India, women comprise only 3% of senior management.”

A senior woman manager says, “Very few men are willing to treat a woman as an equal. They are far too insecure and prefer to treat her as a child or a half brain. They will make statements like, ‘Just look at this once and I’ll finalise it. Why bother yourself?’ Thisc an be most irritating to an intelligent, thinking woman who, if not better, is definitely, his equal in intelligence.”

Agrees another senior executive, “When a man is decisive, he’s dynamic, but when a woman displays the same firmness, she’s difficult in the eyes of men.”
Psychiatrist Dr Harish Shetty from Dr L H Hiranandani Hospital, Mumbai, refers to a recent case study where a group of employees were debating about the new logo for their company.

When a woman suggested red, a colleague remarked that she was recommending it as it matched the colour of her sari. All the men present laughed indulgently without realising it had a very sexist connotation. “Such a remark would never be made to a male colleague. This mindset reflects a cultural conditioning that will take centuries to be c o m p l e t e l y wiped out,” cites Dr Shetty.

Even as men and women work shoulder to shoulder, discrimination between the sexes exists. Radhika Roy (name changed on request), a pharmaceutical manager says, “I was denied a promotion last year, as the management assumed that I was 28 and would be married soon. Consequently, I wouldn’t be able to give the same amount of dedication or time to my work, it was perceive d . ”

Meera Sanyal, country executive, India, ABN-Amro Bank states, “A career woman is also someone’s wife, mother and daughter-in-law and thus has to deal with responsibilities. This gives rise to certain periods in life where she’s forced to make a choice between her career and home. It’s here that the organisati on can show solidarity.”

Chanda Kochhar, head of ICICI bank, however points out, “Women too shouldn’t expect any special advantages or favours.” Another mid-level HR manager Rinita Sen (name changed on request) points to sexual politics.

“My supervisor, a married, middle-aged man was making sexual advances towards me. Things reached a head when he started touching my hands etc. I complained to my super boss. The issue became a major furore. I was asked whether I had responded to his proposals. Humiliated, I quit.”

Women still have to break stereotypical roles to succeed. Tarjani Vakil,India’s first woman CEO in the financial sector attributes this, “largely to the male chauvinistic attitude.

Even during the US presidential elections, Hillary Clinton couldn’t break the glass ceiling.” Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, chairmanand MD, Biocon Limited, confessesthat when she started out in 1978, “women were considered ‘high risk’ in the business world.”

However, she believes, “The picture is positive now with more Indian women making a mark in diverse fields from banking, biotechnology to politics.” So, here’s hoping Priety can keep her chin up and just pick up a glass hammer.

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