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Think about it, if cis male leaders are simply called “leaders”, why are women called “women leaders”? Women make up roughly half of the population worldwide. Yet, UN data shows from 2019 shows no signs of gender equality in workplaces. Women hold only 28% of the managerial positions, which has remained consistent since 1995. The numbers appear to be even lower in India, with only 190 out of every 1000 executive positions held by women. Clearly, women’s empowerment has a long way to go in the workforce. But what is the cause?
Research indicates multiple deeply rooted social, psychological, cultural and organisational factors. For example, the social role theory suggests that women and men behave according to their social roles, where women are perceived as caring, non-confrontational and nurturing. These perceived characteristics are undesirable in the corporate world. On the other hand, men are viewed as competitive and autonomous – the corporate goldmine. This inherent discrimination appears to be one of the potential causes. Not only does this impede women’s vertical growth in an organisation, but it also contributes to the glaring gender pay gap in the corporate sector.
Whether it is during the hiring process or performance reviews, preconceived expectations lead to a stunning lack of gender equality in workplaces. For instance, corporate women often come face-to-face with the motherhood conundrum. There is an unspoken, deeply ingrained expectation that all women will bow out of their organisational roles in favour of motherhood and domestic roles. This means women are less likely to be hired and often lose out to male counterparts when being handed critical projects or top managerial roles.
In India, this begins with questioning a female candidate’s marital status during the hiring process. Plenty of anecdotal evidence suggests that most women face intrusive and sexist questions that have very little to do with the role. It is assumed that while cis male candidates’ lives will remain unchanged after marriage, married women will put their domestic responsibilities first, making them unreliable resources. This also plays against the unspoken expectations of employees putting in extra hours as a sign of “dedication” to the company. Very little importance or consideration is given to the importance of an employee’s work-life balance, and naturally, women often bear the brunt.
Beyond the outright gender discrimination, there are instances of microaggression that women in a workplace often face. Microaggressions are verbal and nonverbal derogatory behaviours that are intentionally or unintentionally sexist. Whether it is poorly thought-out workplace communication, or a female colleague being interrupted during a meeting, microaggressions only chip away a person’s confidence by reinforcing the idea that their contributions are less valuable.
It should be no surprise, then, that undervalued employees are less likely to covet, contribute, or continue in work environments that are both overtly and covertly toxic.
Recent years have seen a drastic rise in women in entrepreneurial roles, with women-led and women-powered companies taking centre stage. While this is admittedly a small percentage, it does show that we can push for a reevaluation of the perception of women’s roles in society. There needs to first be a large-scale unlearning of ideas and long-held beliefs. This can only be achieved through continued education and awareness building.
Meanwhile, there are laws that protect women from discrimination in the workplace. The Equal Remuneration Act of 1976 ensures that women receive equal pay for equal work in the workplace. It also states that women cannot be discriminated against during the hiring process. It is now a matter of strictly enforcing it. In another instance, the Maternity Benefit Act (1961) protects and enforces the maternity benefits of working women. Many workplaces also go a step further to offer daycare services to their employees.
The global conversation has now shifted toward equal parental leaves for all their employees. Many countries around the world offer paternal leave to their male employees with varying benefits. In India, currently, only men working in the government sector are entitled to 15 days of paternity leave. Normalising parental leaves for all genders can help reduce the pressures of childrearing that women face. It can also promote better work-life balance for all employees.
Centuries of bias, unfortunately, can have no overnight solution. However, awareness and open dialogue have definitely brought the need for gender sensitisation into the light. The corporate sector is taking proactive steps to improve gender equality in the workplace. Gender sensitivity training and stricter policies against discrimination are being implemented. However, there is a long way to go before we even dent the glass ceiling that shades the world.