What You Missed: Our ‘Women & Work’ Discussion
Catch the audio recap of our discussion, here.
Panelist Genesia Alves perhaps said it best when she said, “You always feel one step short of getting there,” at Saturday’s discussion on women and work. Alves, who is also a contributor to The Swaddle, was speaking of the subtle competition to be the best working mother, the best juggler of career and family, the best woman at having it all.
But her words summed up the heart of the discussion. So many factors combine to weigh down women’s choices around family and career that progress in one realm – when it actually happens – may not feel like real progress because the numerous related changes needed to make that one work are absent.
A few things came out of this discussion:
Dr. Ritu Anand, deputy head of global HR for TCS, clearly identified where companies can be responsible in helping change norms and support working women. She sees two exit avenues for working women; the first is around marriage, at which point familial pressure and expectations often lead women to quit working. Companies can’t solve this problem, she said. But the second exit point for working women – upon parenthood – can be addressed by companies, who can provide the flexible work arrangements and childcare parents need.
Yet it’s not that simple, said Tina Trikha and Harini Sivasankaran. Tina quit as head of corporate strategy for an MNC, despite an offer of flextime, when her youngest child turned 5. There’s a visible ‘working mom’ tag after having a child, she said, a doubt of a woman’s performance and commitment. It’s a global problem, but particularly difficult to combat in India, where facetime – even when flextime is offered – is still valued so highly. Even when flextime is a true option, there’s still a possibility of being put on a ‘mommy track’: You’re expected to be grateful just to have the flextime option, she said, and not to chase the projects and responsibilities most interesting to you.
Harini, a corporate executive, said even when childcare is available, the weight of social expectations – and consequent guilt – can prevent women from taking advantage of it. The unspoken message is that “daycare is for less accomplished moms, for people who don’t have their lives sorted,” she said. As a result, many women stay home, feeling undervalued and that they’ve wasted an education, while working women are made to feel their children will grow up without values.
It’s a problem of attitude and modelling, Harini suggested, along with Anish Takkar, CEO of Greenlight Planet. Harini said she feels constantly made to justify her decision to work when colleagues ask her questions like who manages her home, or introduce her as ‘a new mother’ while introducing the rest of the team by their job titles. When she raised this issue with her male supervisor, he took it to heart and made a concerted effort to change the culture.
For Anish, his change of heart came after becoming a father himself. He and his wife, he said, were always planning to split parenting 50-50, but the obstacles in the way of that didn’t hit him until he tried. “In eight years, the number of men (in his company) who took more than 10 days leave after having a child was small,” he said. He took two months of paternity leave himself, and made a point to introduce that policy in his company as not just an option, but an expectation. “People understand the idea, but they don’t have the example,” he said. “Leaders have to model (a policy) or at least encourage it.”
That’s all very well and good, said Genesia, but it only scratches the top of the issue. Genesia, who quit a full-time position when she realized her help at home couldn’t fully care for her asthmatic daughter, suggested periods of personal leave to care for a dependent replace policies like maternity and (where it exists) paternity leave. It might also combat the stigma of ‘mom’ time so associated with maternity leave.
This kind of gender-neutral leave may be the future, Ritu said. She said the upcoming generation of workers expect to receive the same options, offers and benefits, which could drive this kind of change.
But it could also be as simple as tracking working women’s representation, she added, which costs companies little. Seeing the hard-and-fast data on retention of female employees can surprise even companies and teams considered woman- and family-friendly and can spur changes in the workplace.
But that wasn’t all. The discussion was much richer than can be captured in a single summary. In the coming weeks, we’ll be exploring each aspect of this issue more in a series of posts that combine the rest of our panelists’ experiences with statistics and commentary.
In the meantime, take our quick 20-question survey to contribute to the conversation — and be sure to share it! The more data we have, the more we can get to the root of this problem and make changes and improvements that give men and women a level playing field and unencumbered options, both at home and at work.