10 years into my career, I joined a Global Conglomerate. The day I joined them, after completing my paperwork, the HR leader congratulated me. She congratulated me both for joining them and also becoming a part of their “Women’s Network Group.” I was mortified to know she felt I needed any help from some women’s group. I told her, “I don’t want to get anything by being a part of some women’s stuff at work. I want to compete and get things on merit”. She laughed and said, “You are not going to get anything, it is just a platform to share and learn from senior women leaders, who have travelled this path before you.” This was the first time for me to know about such a platform.
We continue to have such networks for women. Women were struggling then and they do so even after decades. A meritorious woman delivers twice as much, only to find she is not being recognized to be even half as good as a man whose performance is just average. She goes unrecognized even after proving herself repeatedly. So what have these women networks achieved? Nothing much, on the ground. I don’t blame them, it is not easy to change anyone’s mindset. If you are a fair person, you are and if you aren’t, you aren’t inspite of such initiatives. Irrespective of fair policies, an organization’s course is defined by who amongst these two categories is in “POWER”. In these circumstances, women’s networks have devised an easier neutral way to measure their success. They monitor and focus on the number of events organized for women.
It does not mean that organizations don’t have targets for achieving diversity numbers. They do earmark some vacancies exclusively for women. Trust Indian “jugaad” (innovative fix) to find a way around. Job posting goes live for WOMEN ONLY. There is no dearth of women candidates, especially for senior leadership roles, despite a contrary narrative. You get a lot of relevant applications, given our population. Somehow the hiring manager never okays anyone. This exercise goes on for 2-3 months. Then HR and the hiring manager together announce that it is difficult to get an appropriate woman candidate. Hence they declare the urgent need to choose a man as they have already lost 2-3 months. It may not happen 100% of the time but claiming that it happens 90% times won’t be an exaggeration. Two functions declaring it together adds a lot of weight and makes the scene look authentic. Have you noticed anyone giving up on financial targets in the same fashion? Just asking.
If you are new in the corporate, one feels that this whole exercise is genuine but when you see it happening repeatedly in different companies done by different people, you get the complete pattern. This is a design, more specifically for senior leadership roles. You may ask, why would HR participate in this plan if they have a diversity target? They have no option but to watch this whole play silently because their growth/promotions are based on the feedback given by these very businesses or functional Heads. They follow the royal norm “never complain, never explain”. I have witnessed a handful of HR people who highlighted such unfair practices but their life did not remain the same after that. It ended up in their resignation.
This whole exercise of 2-3 months, now officially excludes women out of merit-based competition. It ensures that leadership roles are RESERVED FOR MEN, who are a part of what is called the “Boys club”. I am not saying Boys club has only men, some limited number of women are included as an alibi. Although it is rampant against women, they are not the only ones to be at the receiving end of the Boys Club. You will also get to hear some stories of meritorious men who could not make their way into the club and were left behind.
Let us not forget to shout out to those highly professional men and women who build teams based on merit and provide equal opportunity for all irrespective of one’s background, gender, colour, race, religion or region. Kudos to them, for managing a fine balance against all the odds. You would inevitably see ample diversity in such thriving teams. They have diversity not because they hunted for it but they followed merit. These people can vouch for how diversity helps them to maximize their shared & individual success. They have a better team culture that is transparent and based on mutual trust & respect.
Despite this reality, being seen doing something for women reaches a feverish pitch in March. There is much hullabaloo about women. 7th March, International women’s day has become a big event to market your image on platforms like Linkedin. You see people eloquently speak about the need for gender parity and RAISE their hands too. Once done with the ritual, their ownership for fairness is over for the year. Next year they will raise their hands again!!
I had imagined we would have a muted or a bit of toned down hypocrisy this year, given the alarming situation of global job loss of women during Covid. I am not even speaking about women getting lesser wages or the increased violence against them during Covid time because those are different discussions. Even those people who blatantly led the discriminatory job reduction of women raised their hands with élan. It is no longer an unconscious bias. It is deliberate discrimination on display without any fear of repercussions.
Many women who have spent substantial years at work are indifferent to this yearly fuss. Some men too complain about it but their reason is different. They feel it is discrimination against them. They can’t bear to dedicate one day to women even when it is just a play-acting. So both these genders are not happy from within. There was no need to celebrate women’s day if merit and equality were followed in letter and spirit for the whole year. If we follow ethics, 7th March could easily change into the day to celebrate and recognize those professionals who contribute towards fair employment and career growth practices. Imagine, around 50% of the human population is facing unmistakable discrimination and people are still getting away with it by just raising their hands on 7th March. All sins washed!!
I am sure you are recalling the names of a lot of women who are in senior roles and are famous too. Yes, a handful of them come from the highly professional and honest setups that we celebrated a while back. But don’t forget most of these women who are visible in senior leadership in India come from family-led establishments. And it is not about a handful of them but a majority of women coming from all walks of life. If this is the status of as big a population as women, one can very well imagine what is happening with the rest of the diversity which has negligible voice and representation anywhere? When will their concerns get addressed?
Next time you decide to raise your hand, ask yourself, what is it for?