The Women Entrepreneur team spoke to women from the tech, marketing, healthcare and design industry to tell us about the gender bias they have faced at work. Read on to know what they had to say and how we can challenge these biases.
“My office would sometimes feel like an extension of a boy’s club,” says Pallavi Singh, a Bangalore based illustrator. “We would end a team meeting having discussed the next key steps for a project. The next thing you know, the ‘boys’ would head out for a smoke break. By the time they are back, the work details have changed while the rest of the team (women) is left clueless. The irony is that the women were sometimes belittled for not keeping up with these changed plans.”
This incident might sound like a micro aggression, but women have to face such situations (in varying degrees) at the workplace on a daily basis.
At this point it feels rather banal to state that workplaces are biased against women. The bias can simply be explained as the propensity to favor one gender over the other for no realistic reasons. Across the globe we see work structures, corporate policies and behavior of co-workers geared against women. This not only hampers the overall economic growth of organizations and economies but also has a negative impact on women’s growth & wellbeing.
Other than being supported by the lived experience of various women such as Pallavi, the prevalence of gender based bias in workplaces is backed by numerous studies and surveys as well. According to the LinkedIn Opportunity Index 2021 Indian women faced the harshest gender bias across the entire APAC region. The survey concluded that 85 percent of Indian working women claim to have missed out on a raise, promotion, or work offer because of their gender.
STEM Still Remains Far From Gender Equal
“While appearing for an interview as a coder, the very thing I’m usually asked is if I plan to start a family anytime soon. My technical skills or my capability of handling worktakes a back seat and primary importance is given to my personal life choices,” adds Parmita Sharma, a Noida based techie.
The tech industry is notorious for itsrampant gender disparity. Women make up only 34 percent of India's IT workforce, with a majority of them under the age of 30. Factors such as lack of flexible work options, familial responsibilities and various other social pressures are the culprit for a lower number of women with lasting and lucrative career trajectories in the Indian IT segment.
It’s interesting to note that women make up close to 43 percent of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), graduates in India, which happens to be the highest proportion in the world. However, when it comes to STEM job roles, women only make up 14 percent of the workforce. MeghnaSathyanarayan, an experienced marketing professional explains it further, “Women are often pigeonholed into “soft skill” roles and pushed away from STEM roles. Women make up only 28% of the global workforce in STEM. What we need is a gender-equal mindset to break this bias and empower more women to build careers in STEM fields.”
A lot of this also has to do with perception which plays a key role in shaping people’s behavior towards women. The general populance still believes that women are intellectually inferior to men and it sometimes colours their actions too. Shuchita Sharma, a swallowing rehab consultant at a renowned Bangalore hospital narrates an irksome anecdote, which she says is a common everyday occurrence. “Women medical practitioners are often referred to as‘sister’ or ‘nurse’; and the male as doctor. It’s exasperating when you don’t receive similar respect even after having spent equal amount of years to attain the same educational qualification.”
The LinkedIn Opportunity Index 2021 also found that more than 50 percent respondents have experienced such forms of harassment or micro-aggression within the past year. Be it someone questioning their judgment owing to their gender or facing disparaging and/or sexual comments, women have had to face it all.
The Superwoman Tag!
Another factor that acts as a massive setback for women across the globe is household and caregiving responsibilities which are still considered a woman’s job. According to NSSO, 2019, unpaid care work is still primarily a female responsibility, with women spending an average of five hours per day on domestic work compared to 30 minutes spent by men.
The pandemic added fuel for this fire as gender parity was massively hit during 2020 and 2021. An increasing number of women had to step up to take care of a majority of household and caregiving responsibilities while also dealing with work. Not only did it lead to job losses but also impacted their general wellbeing and outlook towards their career.
Richa Kumar, Global Engagement Lead, Accenture puts it beautifully, “We want our women to be “superwomen” but we need to tell our tribe that being superwoman doesn’t mean doing it all. It’s okay to ask for help, it’s okay to delegate, it’s okay to take time for yourself. We want women to shine and shimmer and not fade in guilt.”
A key element in creating work spaces devoid of such bias will be the ability of organizations to understand the nuances of gender based bias. Things are more layered and complex than they might seem on the surface. Organizations and institutions must also focus on the next generation of talent and ensure gender equality at all career stages.
I would like to urge women to challenge all gender stereotypes, discrimination and work towards breaking the bias in every aspect of life.