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Workplace Difficulties

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Women face greater challenges at the workplace. Do you agree or disagree? Write an essay, giving reasons to support your viewpoint.

A photograph recently caught my attention. It was a mother carrying her 18 month old daughter in one hand and a document in the other. What’s special about it? She is a member of the European Parliament, Licia Ronzulli, and this photograph was taken when she was addressing the parliament. This epitomizes modern motherhood, and takes multitasking to new dimensions. Just stringing together the two words “women” and “workplace” automatically conjures the third word in our mind- “Challenge”. But as work places are constantly evolving, what one perceives as a challenge is indeed changing.

A few decades ago nurse , receptionist or secretary was all a working woman could aspire to be. Any woman who dreamed beyond was ridiculed and her integrity was questioned. Corporates viewed women as weaker and less committed than male counterparts. “Lady Candidates Need Not Apply”- was the common last line in job advertisements. Those 5 words in a ‘TELCO’ advertisement sparked Sudha Murthy to send the famous postcard to JRD Tata in 1974 saying “I am surprised how a company such as Telco is discriminating on the basis of gender”. When I first walked through TML factory, I wondered how Sudha would have felt 37 years before, knowing that hers were the first feminine footsteps there. Did she possibly know then that she had taken a giant leap for her kind in TELCO?
I’m at the beginning of my career, and the challenges I’ve faced so far had little to do with my gender. I am from TAS, and I have worked with four Tata companies in my first year in the Group- Hospitality, Watches, Cars and IT. While policies towards women were similar in all those companies, some industries clearly attract much more women than the rest. Contrary to expectation, I found life easier in the companies which didn’t have too many women, because I was the privileged minority!

One of my projects begs mention here . I had to travel across 7 Chinese cities on a market research assignment. I literally had to back pack all alone with no support there. I was happy that the project had been given to me, considering the risks involved companies wouldn’t normally put a lady on such a project. I faced a lot of problems, but the worst was getting caught in the Beijing TeaScam. I somehow mustered the courage, fought back and managed to get the money back. After I returned and presented my findings, the appreciation was “It’s amazing that you could do so much, especially being a lonely woman traveler”. I was sent to a Naxal district in Jharkand for my community stint - I again enjoyed the fact that TAS didn’t deprive me of any experience for being a woman. In fact, I got my final job posting in Tata Daewoo in South Korea, because I just got married and my husband is working in Korea. Talk about woman friendly policies of TML! My experience with the group has been the right mix- Accomodative HR policies for women, along with challenging assignments which traditionally, women would have been deprived of. Clearly, the challenges are dwindling compared to yester years. Corporates are encouraging more women to apply, and slowly some sectors traditionally closed to women are opening up. Changing management principles talk about the creativity, diversity and distinct managerial style women bring in.

At the entry level, the challenges faced by women have drastically declined. However, the scenario is not the same as she ascends the corporate ladder. Numbers clearly indicate this- while a lot of women can be found in clerical, executive and entry level managerial roles, the numbers exponentially drop as we move to middle and upper management. This is the challenge now. And I would broadly classify them into three categories:

1. Work- LifeBalance: While the woman has to juggle to balance expectations of her children, husband and boss, I wouldn’t claim that this is a problem for women alone. Nowadays, men are also increasingly empathetic towards their working wife, and they are ready to share equally in household responsibilities. When both of them move up in their career in most cases, the wife has to step down or slow her pace. Also, many women cherish motherhood by taking a break of a year or more. After that, it is difficult to gain the momentum they had before their break; their male peers would have already jumped up 2-3 rungs by then. When she has a baby coughing at home, it is difficult to attend the conference call at 9 in the night. And that, in a very slow and unassuming way, slows her career pace. Working women don’t face challenges, working mothers do!

2. The Differential Treatment Syndrome: Most of the male bosses I had, would have more casual, friendly relationships with guys reporting to them, and would think twice before smiling or would take a step back before talking to me! With the stringent work ethics rules, they feel it’s safer to be distant than being mistaken. Breaking that ice is a subtle challenge.

3. Over Exaggeration Syndrome: If I had failed in my China market research project, they would have stopped taking women altogether for such projects. If a man makes a mistake, it’s his own fault, if a woman makes a mistake- entire women hood shares the blame. Infact any achievement of a woman would be viewed by suspicion by men competing for the same role, and they wonder “if she got it just because she is a woman”. In B- Schools, guys believe that if you wore a skirt to an interview you would get selected. Discussions about women’s rights have led to an explosion of ideologies, but sometimes this over awareness and preferential treatment chains us. Even with equal performance abilities men simply dismiss it by saying that “we get it too easy”.

Women are not facing visible oppressive challenges like yester years, but more subtle, smaller perceptional issues. From ‘woman facing challenges at workplace’, we’ve evolved to ‘women accepting challenging roles at work place’ and we are scaling heights quite well.

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