|HER WORLD||Sunday, October 14, 2001, Chandigarh, India|
Striving to break through the glass ceiling...
Unexpected pitfalls an expectant mom faces
... and the effort is worth it
Striving to break through the glass ceiling...
There is common talk today that women have made the grade in many professions; that they have total freedom of opportunity. But the majority of women are still left gazing at their goals and ambitions through an almost unbreakable glass ceiling. They can clearly see what they want, but the hurdles in achieving. their goals seem insurmountable, says Vimla Patil
Two professions in modern India are known to be woman-friendlyó banking and medicine. Unlike the early decades of the 20th century, when women were largely employed in teaching and nursing, (because both these vocations brought out the nurturing and mentoring instincts of women and made the best use of them), today, women are seen in the higher echelons of all professions. But medicine and banking attract them for various reasons. Medicine is a suitable profession for women because roughly half the population of India comprises women. A major milestone in every womanís life ó pregnancy and childbirth ó needs medical supervision. Since many families prefer that women should consult and be treated by female doctors, women have an excellent career opportunity in this field. Also, since family physicians have fixed consultancy hours and few late-hour house visits because of the increasing use of mobile and land phones, women also practice as general practitioners in cities, towns and villages. Even in the field of medicine, women prefer fixed income government jobs of teaching or working in state-run hospitals or health centres, so that they can perform their various roles in life efficiently. Thus, 40 per cent of Indiaís doctors are women.
Similarly, nationalised and private banking in India is also peopled heavily by women because of the security and privileges which this field offers. In all nationalised banks, well-paying jobs are secure and the promotions are automatic. Employees are entitled to home and other loans on priority basis. Long leave for maternity and unpaid leave for family emergencies with a lien on the job are possible in this vocation. In banking, women can refuse promotions if these entail transfers, especially to rural areas. There is no punitive action for inefficiency because of strong union support. This applies to almost all government jobs.
The third vocation which is fast gaining ground among educated women is entrepreneurship or flexi-jobs. The former allows women to work at their own pace to a self-designed time schedule with the skills they have or can acquire. Thus, catering, garment designing or tailoring, confectionery, stationery designing, artwork creation, graphics, desk top publishing, public relations and event management, media consultancy and television work, investment guidance and insurance ó these are some of the favourite vocations of women who are looking to making money on a flexi-time work basis. Yet others take part time jobs or work on assignments from home.
All this information points towards one conclusion. That women have to find a job or vocation which fits in with their given life patterns rather than choose a vocation which itself defines their life-graph as in the case of men. A manís life and achievements or success quotient is defined by what position ó money and fame ó he achieves in his profession alone. A womanís success is judged by a different yardstick altogether. Has she performed her various roles well? Is she a good daughter? An efficient wife and loving mother? Does she manage her house and look after her family well? Is she always there to hold up the sky when clouds darken the horizon? Is she always available when her family needs her? Over and above these, has she the right attitude to earning and self-reliance? Does she hand over her earnings to the family kitty without caring about her personal security? Does she carry the role of culture-bearer and religion teacher to her family? Has she, carrying all this baggage, achieved success in her career? Then alone is her triumph truly valued by society. A fractured family, a broken marriage or unhappy motherhood devalue a womanís performance, whereas a manís professional excellence remains undiluted by any of these.
The gist of these statements perhaps constitutes the glass ceiling in every working womanís life. She has to tailor her vocation and success to the life which culture and tradition bestow upon her.
The first major creator of a glass ceiling is the dual personality she inherits by birth as a female. In her parental home, at least in urban educated homes, she is encouraged to achieve excellence and high quality in anything she does. Yet, the same parents entreat her to put her husband and in-laws first from day one after her marriage. She has to change her personality and goals drastically to adjust and fit into her new family. In many families, her husband or in-laws decide the scope of her work and success. She has to observe strictly the unseen line of control drawn by her matrimonial family.
Motherhood is the second event which changes her life. In an age when nuclear families are the order of the day and joint or extended families are vanishing in metro cities, women have no infrastructure and support systems to depend upon. Mothers, aunts and mothers-in-law are busy in their own lives or not willing to take on responsibilities of running homes or minding children in their old age. Add to this the severe dearth of reliable domestic workers and you have a straitjacket for ambitious women. Even when women choose to have only one child, the tussle between motherhood and career ambition creates yet another glass ceiling in a womanís life.
Corporate jobs, peachy media assignments and hi-profile careers such as acting, art, dance or IT need endless time for concerted work. Among equals who may be brilliant and personable, those willing to give abundant time to the corporation or profession, have a better chance of making it to the top. Those willing to travel copiously and accept transfers linked to promotions, have more opportunities of reaching the top rung of the success ladder with jobs which fetch incredible incomes and perks. Obviously, women cannot run fast in this race because they must give equal attention to homes and families. A secure environment for single women to enable them to live alone in cities, let alone in small towns and villages, is hard to come by. Thus, lack of mobility and inability to devote the maximum time to a career cause a further layer in the glass ceiling through which women can clearly see their goals but cannot reach them. The last and perhaps the most important reason for the existence of the glass ceiling which women face in their lives, is the inherent gender inequality at work. Men always seem to get the top jobs more easily in a world where the dice is loaded against women in more ways than one. Sexual harassment and Ďdifferentí treatment based on gender also keep women out of mainstream top jobs. They cannot join the club or bar life of men. They cannot entertain on a hail-fellow-well-met basis and cannot spend late nights with male clients or colleagues without causing wagging tongues. Women have to be more cautious than men in guarding their reputations. Only women who can beat all these circumstances and stand at the right time, before the right door of opportunity with the right support structure, can scale the heights of success and break the glass ceiling! Surely, this combination of factors is hard to come by!
Unexpected pitfalls an expectant mom faces
The road to motherhood is paved with surprises and embedded with (pit)falls. This realisation dawned on me when I became a first-time traveller on the bandwagon of prospective maternity.
Flush with excitement, once my status as a mom-to-be was confirmed, I wanted to surround myself with all things cute and cuddly. Out I went to scout for some baby posters. Posters I did find, but mostly of cherubic baby boys and those too firang ones. I could hardly find any of bonny baby girls with fancy frills and cute ribbons Ďní curls. My efforts to give a gender-neutral look to my room by procuring a balanced mix of baby boy and girl posters were scuttled by, what else but, a surprising lack of choice.
This curious reality was only driven home more sharply when my husband quizzed: " Didnít you find any posters of baby girls?" Didnít female infants qualify for an equal space in these pictorial depictions, we both wondered. Or werenít Indian babies chubby enough to make it to posters ?
But such aberrations werenít going to deter me from basking in the glory of my exalted status. All mundane matters seemed inconsequential when compared to the enormous contribution I was going to make to the cycle of life.
Alas! my self-congratulatory bubble was rudely burst by a reminder from the tax department saying that I needed to make more investments if I wanted to escape the tax net.
From knitting dreams around the tiny wonder growing inside me, I had to unceremoniously get down to weaving schemes to keep the taxman at bay. After deliberations with my husband, it was decided that a money-back-cum-insurance policy would ensure us a good fiscal future.
The insurance man duly arrived, armed with a host of women-friendly policies. But one look at my rotund belly and his effusive smile vanished like the sheaf of papers back into his executive bag.
"Sorry madam, we donít take out insurance policies for.... pregnant women", he muttered sheepishly, much like a physician disclosing a terminal ailment to an unsuspecting patient.
What followed could easily be called a pregnant silence, as I grappled with this surprising bit of information. Imagine, even in this new millennium, with its advanced medicare facilities, insurance companies still expected expectant women to perish from the face of the earth even before they could hear their newbornsí coo !
Though this encounter had been unsettling, it prodded me to settle back into my work routine with renewed vigour. It was almost as if I wanted to prove the insurance fellows wrong by showing that modern moms-to-be were energetic, sturdy souls and not soon-to-perish, fragile creatures who would become a Ďdeadí investment for them.
It was with this vengeful energy that I was working on my office computer one morning when the document that I was perusing slipped to the floor. With a swiftness that should have put all doubting Thomases (read insurance men) to shame, I bent in my swivel chair to scoop up the paper.
All that I remember of the ensuing moment is the sound of retreating chair wheels and a big thud. No, it was not the Big Bang predicted by population theorists. My moment to contribute to the burgeoning population was not yet near. The big noise was all about the big fall that I had had.
Mercifully, I and the little baby inside me survived the fall after my great bend. But it only opened my eyes to the pitfalls a pregnant woman faces at every bend.
And, of course, it made me realise how unfriendly the manufacturers of such flighty and shifty computer furniture are towards moms-to-be. Did they not expect that their computer-savvy customers could include pregnant women ? Or is it expected of expecting females that they should carry their rocking chairs to their computerised offices ?
Having been through these experiences I wonder what more surprises or pitfalls I am yet to encounter. But I forget, the biggest surprise of all still awaits meóat the end of this journey, of course.
... and the effort is worth it
Christine King, the first woman Vice- Chancellor and Chief Executive of the Staffordshire University in England is a Professor of history. Her area of research is the history of religion. She has particularly focused on the non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Christine is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. Besides taking an avid interest in academics, Christine is also passionately involved in the field of management. She is the founder member and editor of a unique publication titled Through the Glass Ceiling, produced by a network of senior women managers in higher education. She has been an activist in the field of Access and Widening Participation for many years.
In the book edited by Christine King on the subject of Effective Senior Management Development for Women, she has convincingly highlighted the period of transition for the women of this century. "Women are increasingly becoming aware of the Glass Ceiling which, whilst invisible from above, is a real barrier and prevents their progress into more responsible and senior positions in different careers."
The meticulous research work in this book reveals that women in the UK, on an average, earn just 77 per cent of menís hourly earnings and their representation in top management is hardly visible. It also quotes the "Equal Opportunities Commission "to state that only four per cent of important middle management posts are held by women in England and even fewer than two per cent hold the senior executive posts. Quoting from the 1990 Hansard Society Commission report, Christine substantiates the reason as to why the British women do not hold decision-making positions in her country. The reasons are interestingly universal. For instance, the report points out to a variety of reasons such as outdated attitudes towards womenís role in society, inadequate provision for the care of children or other dependents and a lack of flexibility of working hours in organisations. An year after the publication of this report, a newspaper conducted a survey on the findings of this report. The survey further reiterated that a majority of women expressed the view that there has been no significant change either in menís attitudes or discrimination in the workplace.
The book quotes Anita Roddick to say that women face enormous hurdles in business structures. The criteria for promotion are based on male values. Men find it difficult to accept the rise of women to top management positions perhaps because they have never learnt to deal with women other than as secretaries, wives, girl friends, mothers, daughters or as adjuncts to themselves.
Much of the business is undertaken in male gatherings, either formal or informal, and women are often excluded from such discussions. Interestingly, the British government is the only one that has refused to sign the Social Chapter of the Maastricht Treaty to which 12 countries are signatories. It proposes directives on workersí rights that would benefit five million UK women. The book further points out that the late eighties witnessed a boom in the economic growth in womenís opportunities in Japan. However, the bubble burst as women who had joined various companies for the first time old values were quickly re-asserted and women were excluded from policy-making roles and from promotion opportunities. Through the Glass Ceiling has dealt with the issue of senior management and development for women in such a manner that it is relevant universally, even though; the study is based on British women. Intended as a starting point for any woman in management, the six chapters deal with six major issues in this regard.
Chapter one argues that there is a female style of management and suggests ways in which this style has come about and how women can use it to their and their organisationís benefit. It elaborates that a womanís style and individuality is her strength. As women, what we need to get to the top and stay there is to go with, rather than suppress, our individuality. The second chapter identifies some of the areas of work where myth and ritual abound to guide women managers through as they take on a variety of roles. The third chapter deals with how men and women relate to each other at work and show how language and behaviour is interpreted differently by each gender. In the next chapter, King elaborates on the tricky issue of women working with women as secretaries or bosses. She concludes that this area is fraught with difficulties as well as benefits. This aspect is one on which honest discussion is often a taboo. The fifth chapter examines the complex issues of the boundary between home and work and of the challenges a woman manager faces. Chapter six, the last chapter, questions whether it is all worth the struggle. Christine and her network team discovered that some women were giving up the climb to the top because they were discouraged by the obstacles and tired of picking out the shards of the "Glass ceiling" which attach themselves as they try to "break through "it. She concludes that it is worth it and that the personal fulfilment, which comes from a responsible job, is indeed very satisfying.
This refers to the article, "Why big men remain little boys" by Thangamani (September. 23) in which the writer describes the way some men remain mamaís little boys even after growing up.
There is no doubt that no one can love any one more than oneís own mother. After all, she has kept the child inside her own body for nine long months and has fed and nurtured the child with immense patience and dedication. No one else in the whole world could possibly have done so. She loves the child without any strings attached, without any selfish purpose or motivation of any material gain whatsoever. It is but desirable that the sons should love and respect their mothers. A mother does deserve all the respect from her sons.
The problem arises when things get disproportionate and even after growing up, the sons continue clinging to their motherís little finger like small, sheltered little boys.
When the grown up son, who is supposed to behave in a balanced manner and perform his various responsibilities as a husband and father, still looks to his mother for her command in each and every thing, it gives rise to a lot of resentment, strife and unhappiness. The mother does not want to let go of her absolute control over her darling son and loses no opportunity to drum home the fact that his wife is "the outsider", "the intruder" in the house and has no say in any matter whatsoever. Her own word, whether right or wrong, is the law in the house.
Usually, this leads to the younger lady being pushed around and sometimes even being pushed out of the house on one pretext or the other. That is why, when a man suffers from the Oedipus complex and clings to his motherís petticoat strings even after growing up, it usually results in immense and stifling interference in the husband-wife relationship. It creates misunderstandings, chokes their communication channels and finally disrupts and destroys their married life absolutely. This is not a victory but rather a great defeat for a mother. A mother who really loves her son should help him to acquire the mandatory maturity. She feels happy and proud to see her son acquire autonomy. She would take it as a personal compliment when she sees him behave in a balanced manner. She wonít enslave him emotionally. She would let him grow up and become an independent human being. She certainly wonít constantly remind him of what she did for him. Didnít she do all that for just her maternal love?
Motherís love and wifeís love are two things apart. Both have their own significance and one must not transgress into the territory of the other. That is the secret of a happy equilibrium in a family. Though not that easy to achieve, it is, nevertheless, a must.
Amrit Pal Tiwana
"A mother has no legal right over her children"
The above article by Vimla Patil (September 23) is a warning and an eye-opener for all would-be mothers. Just as sex determination test an d female foeticide is an important issue, after going through the article I feel even the childrenís future in the hand of mothers is not protected. They face hurdles in terms of not only rights but in terms of day to day affairs like education and other official documents. The men in a male dominated society are vested with all rights but with no responsibilities, duties or services to their own children.
Whose physical, mental, risk oriented share is more in case of child birth? Right from the day of conception, to pregnancy,labor pains and right down to the delivery, breast feeding and rearing the child, the entire responsibility is that of the motherís. While the child is in the womb and even later on, there is no assistance given to a woman. She alone faces every aspect of child rearing and the man hardly and rarely helps. In case of any help it is again a big favor or an expression of his "greatness." When the would be mothers come to know, that they donít have any right, they will think a thousand times before becoming mothers.
All womenís help groups or associations must force the Government, to declare that the mother has every right to sign and write her name wherever fatherís name is to be written, with no condition at all. She should be given extra powers of withdrawing money from her husbandís bank account. The signatures of both, the man as well as the woman, while opening a bank account, should be taken. This way the woman will never be at the mercy of the man.
In every dispute her right should be first and husbandís later, so that she doesnít face any odds created by a male-dominated society.
Fighting against harassment at the workplace
In the context of Teena Singhís "Fighting against harassment at the workplace" ( September 30), it is fact that since time immemorial, gender has always played a significant role in the lives of human beings. In pre-historic times when Stone Age man went out to hunt or gather food, women stayed back to tend to the home and cattle; and perform domestic chores.
Thus was born the sexual division in labour. But today, the law makes no discrimination between the sexes. Yet, the gender bias prevails in an overt or covert form, and is a global phenomenon. Gender bias and sexual harassment manifests itself in several ways.
The offense of intruding on the privacy of a woman or outraging her modesty comes under the purview of Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code.
The offense is punishable by imprisonment of up to two years or a fine or both. Many times sexual harassment cases are booked both under sections 354 and 509 IPC.
In the absence of any one section which covers complaints of sexual harassment in the workplace, Section 509 is applied. According to it, all words gestures or acts which are intended to insult the modesty of a woman or intrude upon her privacy are punishable.
In some western countries where half the workforce consists of women, several companies have formulated a code of conduct for employees in offices, recognising the emotional and psychological upheavals it may cause to women employees. The Indian woman can only take resort to the law. But about the law, I feel that the present punishment meted out to offenders is no big deterrent for a crime which is widespread, and the ramifications of which are very large. Therefore, we need a new legislation to deal with such crimes and the other more insidious forms of abuse men use to subordinate women.
A separate labour court presided over by women to try all such cases should be set up. The judgements should be time-bound. Exemplary punishment should be meted out. Institutional funding to companies where such cases come to height should stop and there should be extensive publicity of these cases.
Ironically enough, however, it is seldom that women report cases of sexual harassment to the police at the workplace till after they are fired or leave their jobs. It, therefore, becomes difficult for the police to establish the truth, as the complaint could be an after-thought.
Most women harmed at the work place donít even murmur against gender abuse for fear of being stigmatised and also for fear of losing the job. They early approach the police. They go to women organizations but often drop charges before the culprit is booked, afraid of the media publicity which would inevitably follow.