Do we need to call it Womentoring?

Experts Column

Do we need to call it Womentoring?

Indira conceptualises, green lits and produces digital content including podcasts, webradio and original content and has been instrumental in ushering in a new era of content.

“I think my boss thinks I am working as a hobby, he doesn’t think I am actually building a career, so he never gives me the big assignments.”

“I am afraid to take the full 6 months of maternity leave, what if people think I am not serious about work.”

“I’ve said no to the office party for the 3rd time because I am just exhausted by the workload at home and work, my colleagues think I am boring”

“If I ask for a car drop back home after a late-night project, it's an unnecessary expense for the company. My male colleagues never ask, I don’t want to seem like I am special”

“I am doubling over in pain because of the period, but I don’t want to take off work because I don’t want my boss to think I am weak”

“There are no women in our top management, what chance do I have?’

While researching for this article I was shocked to find out that according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report, women’s participation in India’s workforce has plummeted from 37% to 18% in 13 years and we are now at the 149th  out of 153 countries, right at the bottom of the barrel. Another report says the Women’s labour force participation (LFPR) has tumbled from 42.4% in 2004-05 to 23.3% in 2018. What’s even more shocking is that this across the entire spectrum – both urban and rural working women and we haven’t measured the effect of the pandemic on women’s jobs yet.

What are we getting wrong? Even as more girls are completing their education and getting entry level jobs, they seem to simply fall off the map in the middle years. According to an article in Forbes, over 34% women in America earn MBA degrees but less than 2% make it to the C-suite.

Closer home, in a first ever pan-IIM survey on women in the workplace said, more than 65% women said representation in their top leadership was insignificant and they needed more role models to look up to.

There are challenges that women face, that most men simply don’t have to. It’s not to say one is better than the other. For most women, there is no let’s chill after work mode, it's a child after work. The second shift of taking care of home, children and elderly parents is also a woman’s primary responsibility. Hey, I even heard some people say, work for women is a hobby, just to keep themselves busy while kids are at school. There is also an assumption that women are not the primary earner, so they are easier to let go and of course to lessen the boss’s guilt of firing them. In many companies, paid maternity leave is considered a burden that they don’t want to take, so they don’t either hire women who are of the childbearing age or simply let them go. Imagine, if ViratKohli, India’s biggest cricketing icon, got slammed and shamed for taking paternity leave, how hard must it be for women. Just taking legitimate time off to take care of a new-born is looked at as a sign of weakness. This attitude needs to change.

Understand what truly works – flexible work timings, work location close to home, equal opportunities on all projects

Clearly something needs to be done. Just getting women into the workforce is not enough, understanding that their trajectory is going to be different from the traditional male workforce is important. The unconscious bias against women and lack of mentorship affects them deeply. Companies just don’t understand that the journey that working women take is NOT a linear line up to the top. There will be breaks in their growth but that doesn’t mean that they are incapable of making it all the way up.

Working women don’t need platitudes. What they need is systemic change in attitudes and processes. Organisations need to understand this and take extra effort to keep women in the workforce. Understand what truly works – flexible work timings, work location close to home, equal opportunities on all projects. 

Removing the stigma and biases attached to women working, gender sensitising the organisation and the male workforce, helping with the second shift will go a long way in keeping women back. More important, is having enough women role models at all levels.

No one makes it alone, least of all women. When there is no understanding of the unique situations that women face, when there is no representation of women at the highest level, the fight gets harder. We need to use every opportunity to tell women that you are unique, and your voice matters in the workforce.

Time to change the rules. It’s no longer mentoring. It’s time for womentoring.