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Why do women fall behind in the corporate world today? Or do they?

Source | LinkedIn : By Abaneeta Chakraborty

Much has been written about biases against women in the corporate world and the starkly low proportions of women in leadership roles. There seems to be a general feeling that women find it very difficult to climb the ladder of success and sometimes, even struggle to stay in the workforce. I initiated multiple discussions with my batchmates who are in fairly senior positions across industries and prominent corporate houses in India. All these women seem to be well poised to become leaders of tomorrow. I wanted to know from them, how were they treated? Have they been victimised? How difficult has it been for them and women in their teams who have gone the family way? Was it easier for single women? What is really going on?

Rekha is a senior journalist at a prominent news agency. She thinks that she works with an equal opportunities player. Just as no favours are extended to her and her team members for being women, tasking levels are also equivalently high. Whether it is terrorist bombing, Mumbai floods, visits to top policymakers, she has been chosen for roles that were the so-called ‘man’s domain’. “I have been pushed and shelved and I too have done the same to my fellow journalists while at work. I have also been pulled up equally badly when something went wrong and no one cared about my being a woman to ensure that the communication was more nuanced. I have faced cut-throat competition intellectually and hence even led teams with men senior to me. In fact, the only time I regretted being a woman was when my male colleague chased a senior state official to the washroom!”

Megha is vice president at a well-known MNC back office. She heads a technology team supporting one of the world’s largest wealth management units. “In the midst of our monthly ‘lean-in’ meeting, I found my mind drifting. Were we not sounding too much like victims? Someone asked if I have been talked down at or stopped while I was trying to make a point. The truth is, I never was. Also, the firm did enough and more to make life simple for women who go the family way. “After becoming mothers, women feel the need to slow down for a while and it is natural. As a manager, I knew we were tracked more closely for the retention of high potential women in the team. We did much so that they do not leave the workforce due to any such event. Telecommuting, flexi work hours and multiple such arrangements were in place and there was not much desired in that domain at all. What then, was this about? Why do so many women regularly complain about being left behind?”

Paro, associate director at a well-known tax and audit firm is a mother, lives in a nuclear family and has little to call a ‘support system’ except for her unpredictable domestic help. I asked her if she thought single women have an advantage over married ones in the corporate world. To my surprise, she responded differently. She cited the case of a lady board member during whose appointment, her multitasking skills were taken into consideration; she was a mother of two young adults and had managed a travelling job with elan in the last 25 years at the firm. Her firm has a “diversity council”, chaired by another lady. The job of the council is to track women with high potential and ensure that their career graph is smooth. The team sensitises managers and works closely with them to make sure that their needs are taken care of and they do not fall out of the workforce due to any personal reasons.

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