Sprinting On The Sand: A Perspective On Gender Equality

Manoj Chigal

Being a student of the Socratic method, let me start with a few questions that have intrigued me over the years:

  • What is the right gender equality metrices for a company?
    • Equal proportion of women and men (50% each)
    • Women and men in the proportion of workforce available in the area for a certain skill type
    • Equal rate of promotion among both genders
    • Equal retention rates
    • Equal pay for doing the same job

  • Is it OK for Nadal to be paid more because spectators are willing to pay a higher ticket price to watch his games, compared to Ash Barty? Why men’s tennis is a five-setter game, but women tennis is max three sets?                                             
  • Is it sexist for a manager to say that he/she is providing special care to female team members?
  • Is it sexist to assume that women candidates will not take the roles at that remote branch?
  • Is it offensive to use the term “better half”?
  • Your newly hired female employee informed in the second month since joining that she is pregnant. Would you feel its unprofessional? From the other perspective: should the pregnant women feel obliged to communicate the same in the interview process? 

    Quite honestly, I don’t know the answers to these questions. I am just keen to have a dialogue that makes as go underneath the surface. I assure you that in the process, we will have lots of disagreements, some upset friends and colleagues, and hopefully a few moments of clarity.  

Your newly hired female employee informed in the second month since joining that she is pregnant. Would you feel its unprofessional?”

          Let’s look at a few post-pandemic data points on this topic:

  • Globally, 47% women participate in workforce compared to 74% men (Catalyst Research 2021)
  • 22% women provide full time unpaid care (childcare & housework) compared to only 1.5% men (Catalyst Research 2021)
  • Covid has increased the burden on women further. 66% have the primary responsibility for household tasks. (Deloitte 2021)
  • Leaky pipeline for career progression represented by 47 % of females at entry level dropping to 23 % at the executive level. Only 2.3 % of the CEOs of fortune 500 companies are women. (Mercer 2020)
  • According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2020, it will take another 100 years to achieve gender equality based on the current rate of progress.

It’s unlikely that you were surprised by any of the statistics above and that is not good news. And this is despite all large and small corporates keeping diversity and inclusion as one of their top agendas.

Question is, where are we going wrong?

Image: Courtesy Manoj’s daughter Shiesta

“According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2020, it will take another 100 years to achieve gender equality based on the current rate of progress.”

Let us start by looking at how we define Gender Equality. Gender Equality generally means “Both men and women are equal and accordingly they must be given equal opportunities and pay.”

Allow me to be provocative for a minute as I explore if it is right to consider them equals. Here are a few differences we must meditate on:

  • Women’s role in procreation is pivotal compared to the men’s tiny cameo in the process. They literally bear the accountability for taking the life form forward.
  • Women are expected to shoulder primary responsibility at home, even when they have a full-time job. Or even when they are the CEOs! This was unblushingly articulated by Indira Nooyi in her famous remark that she was expected to “Leave the crown in the garage”.

While discussing gender equality, it would be a mistake not to acknowledge the above differences. Generations after generation, women have been dealing with the ‘pregnancy penalty’ at workplace. Responsibility at home is the silent killer that we even refuse to acknowledge. Just because there are nannies, maids and cooks available in many households, does not mean that all the responsibilities are done. Someone still needs to worry about them, and not often its men.

Think of the corporate life as a race where men run on the hard surface while women are expected to sprint on the sand.

Perhaps a better definition of Gender Equality is:

“While deeply understanding differences between men and women, women are given a level playing field to ensure they have equal opportunities and pay”     

I have no silver bullets on this deeply nuanced topic. Here are a few ideas to ponder:

  • Males should focus on the gender equality in their wife’s workplaces more than their own: Instead of just focusing what you can do at your workplace, men must think about what you can do at home. Start shouldering more responsibilities at home to create a level playing field for your wife at her workplace. The key also is how we are raising our boys.   

On a personal note, I don’t claim to be a role model husband. I can look back and easily recall moments where I should have played a bigger role at home, should have woken up at night more often, or should have appreciated my wife’s efforts more. Now, I try to do better.

  • Make honest efforts to understand the unique situation of women: For the reasons rooted in biology (procreation) and culture (at home responsibility), women will continue to be at a disadvantaged position at the workplace unless we assertively work on fixing it. The fix is NOT to fill the workplace with a higher number of female colleagues, closing our eyes and waiting for the magic to happen. It won’t!   

The magic lies in the mundane. Magic lies in the day-to-day dialogue with your female collogues. Talking openly with colleagues, with your wives, your sisters, your daughters and listening intently with an open mind. Apply day-to-day care to promote the level playing field. It’s not a favor to women, it’s their right!

  • Go beyond the political correctness: Men speaking on this topic are generally scared of ‘saying the wrong thing’. I am afraid of how this article will be taken and got this read by many of my family members and friends before posting. 

A male colleague who once talked about providing extra care to female members in his team was quickly countered and tagged as sexist for assuming that female employees needed extra care. Could he have had the right intent? 

Healthy disagreement is a part of any good discourse. If we disagree on something, can we express it without judging the other person? Can we give each other a chance? Can we have an open chat, disagree and then commit. I am sure many of you will disagree with parts of this note, and I am eager to listen and learn from you.

Let’s go beyond the archaic gender equality mindset and metrices and make a real difference.  Let’s have a dialogue, this is our only chance to avoid women from having to sprint on the sand. What do you think?

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