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The Glass Ceiling in India and What You Can Do to Shatter It

The Glass Ceiling in India and What You Can Do to Shatter It

What is the Glass Ceiling?

In an age and time where we are looking at India as a potential superpower, with a tremendously fast growing economy, with the population of the fairer sex at 48.1% [Census 2012], can we afford to deliberately leave women out of this race to develop into a superpower?

The Federal Glass Ceiling Commission describes the term ‘glass ceiling’ as “the unseen, yet unbreakable barrier that keeps minorities and women from rising to the upper rungs of the corporate ladder, regardless of their qualifications or achievements.” The phenomenon is quite interesting to study the gender representation question in the professional arena in India. People dismiss the existence of a glass ceiling in India, or dissent it, but can one can really ignore it?

Sure, we have made progress since the first wave of feminism. Sure, some progress is better than no progress at all. However, the problem arises when we view this progress in a gendered perspective, which brings to the forefront the acute discrimination and disadvantages the female working population in India faces, in comparison to their male counterparts.

What is most disturbing is the fact that not even certain big organizations or companies, with a turnover of crores to boast of, are exempt from imposing a deliberate, yet intangible and unbreakable barrier on the progress of its female employees.

 “Women are excluded from informal organizational network and get no help from their colleagues in decision making process. Thus by restraining women from strategic decision making process male counterparts try to heckle intentionally and creates a barrier for promotion. So women are less popular in strategic decision maker role.” – Corporate Glass Ceiling: An Impact on Indian Women Employees, Sarmistha Nandy, et al.

Understanding the Glass Ceiling

The glass ceiling is most apparent when a female employee is one step below a managerial position, where female employees are deliberately left out of decision making processes.

According to the Federal Glass Ceiling Commission there are three classes of barriers for women in top level management. The foremost are the Societal Barriers, or the obstructions imposed on women by the norms of the society. The many ‘social conditions’ that make it difficult for a woman to progress in her career.

The next class of barriers is Internal Structural Barriers. These barriers include the corporate climates we are exposed to, today. Meaning, the many apparent, and disguised ways through which organisations restrict the growth of female employees.

The third class of barriers are the Government Barriers. These barriers would be the structural barriers imposed by the State itself, which hinder the progress of female employees. For example, lack of proper law enforcement on behalf of the government in case of discrimination against women at the workplace, ignorance and insufficient reporting on the existence of a glass ceiling.

How can You Help Shatter the Glass Ceiling in India?

The first shout out is to all the employers or prospective employers who are reading this post. Go out of your way to ensure you treat your employees equally, irrespective of their gender. Invest your trust in them, and reap a handsome Return On Investment. Recognize merit and celebrate it. Understand that basically, it all boils down to you, to a great extent. However, even if you are not an employer, your role as a female employee is no less significant. Here are five things you can do to help break the glass ceiling.

1.Plan Your Career Well

It is common knowledge and a widely used, (or hopefully misused) stereotype that in India, the priority for women is always marriage over a professional life. The social values only reinforce the stereotype. We know for a fact (all our employees at OBOlinx are women) that this is changing fast.

Understand that it is absolutely possible to balance both if you make the right choices (we will not get into any details about it, that in itself is a separate topic altogether). Employers usually entertain this bias because statistics is on their side as proof. They do have a mental block when it comes to hiring or promoting women who fall in the bracket of ‘marriageable’ category.

2. Work on your Skills

Groom yourself according to the profile you are looking to grow in. Acquire the required skill set, and keep working on yourself. Talent, grit and hard work are three things that have the potential to catapult you beyond that glass ceiling. Brush up your general knowledge and be aware about the affairs of the world, especially about the line you are working in. Without fail, read the newspaper every day.

We would also recommend spending some time in grooming yourself personally, and investing some time and resources for an appropriate wardrobe and a presentable appearance (don’t get us wrong, we do not mean ‘beauty’ in any way). The trick is to look the part you want to play, and it does work!

3. Manage your own finances

The glass ceiling was constructed not only by the professional realm, it was reinforced by the private social values which have long and strong roots embedded deeply in the Indian ‘culture’. Change happens a little bit at a time, and should always begin within you. Sarmistha Mazumder, in her article, Breaking the Glass Ceiling: The Indian Way, puts the importance of learning  how to manage your finances and budgeting, very succinctly.

She says,“Financial empowerment is an essential factor that contributes to women’s stand in family and society. This calls for a huge shift in social norms established over few centuries. Following the traditional norms, most women handover their salaries to their father or husbands to invest or spend. Often, it symbolizes the dependency in decision making. When you are trying to build an environment of equality, take equal responsibility to manage the financials for your family. Manage basics like tax calculation, tax exemptions, investments, loans or critical house hold expenses. It is not rocket science. There are several training programs available for the same. Also, in any leadership role, budget management is unavoidable.

4. Network

Networking is a prerequisite to be able to go higher on the corporate ladder. Break into all the “old boys/girls clubs”  or make a few of your own. Involve yourself in as many events as possible, talk and socialize. Get to know other people and talk about what you do and what your plans for the future are. This is also a great way to help you come out of your comfort zone if you have never been much of an extrovert. All the ice breaking you do is good practice for breaking the glass ceiling, we say!

5. Prioritize

There are many things you are ‘supposed’ to do, and many things that are ‘expected’ you will do, by dint of being a woman. However, understand that you can empower yourself to make choices and prioritize. Don’t let unreal or unimportant expectations be the death of your career ambitions. Ask for help from your family and friends if you think there is a personal task they can help you with. Do not hesitate to delegate. These changes may seem drastic if you haven’t ever been on this page, but believe us, you would be surprised to see all the help you receive – you just need to reach out!

Apart from these five tenets (if we may call them so!), another very important thing is to never shy away from speaking up if you feel you are being discriminated against, on the basis of your gender. If a colleague goes through it, motivate her to speak up and stand by her side. Remember this – glass can be shattered if one strikes at it hard enough and long enough!

Making the Glass Ceiling a Thing of the Past

The glass ceiling in India is a reality today, because of a culmination of factors – socio-cultural, legal, personal, and organizational, and cannot be attributed to any single factor. Hema Krishnan, in her interview at IIM – Bangalore on “Glass Ceiling in India : A Reality for Women?” speaks about how every woman is capable of accessing the top most rungs:

“Theoretically, every woman is capable of reaching the top of her organization. What sets women such as Indra Nooyi and Chanda Kochhar apart from the rest of the similarly talented women are: a high level of sustained self-confidence and emotional quotient, persistence and patience, the right mentors at various stages of their career, an extremely supportive family and a little bit of luck or opportunity.”

It is due to centuries of subjugation, discrimination and domination that the struggle to make one’s talent known and respected in the professional realm, is a big deal for women in India. It wouldn’t be untrue, neither would it be a fleeting statement if we said that it is not half as difficult for the men.
The carefully constructed social systems, which intended to keep women out of the public sphere and relegate them only to the private sphere, are dismantling – slowly, yet steadily. It is a process that cannot take place overnight. With persistence, the glass ceiling in India will disintegrate faster than we thought it would! There is hope.

5 Unconventional Career Tracks Women are Making it Big In

5 Unconventional Career Tracks Women are Making it Big In

Professional spaces today continue to be defined along gendered lines. This means that there are some employment sectors that continue to be dominated by persons of specific genders. For example, the gender balance in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields has traditionally favoured men. On the other hand, jobs such as those in Healthcare and Early Education seem to be dominated worldwide by women. These are sometimes patronisingly referred to as ‘pink-collar’ jobs.

Women over the last few decades have done a lot to overcome these barriers, and the struggle continues. Women making it big in men dominated fields also at times face varied degrees of sexism and this fact is well recorded. If it is not this, then it is the societal pressure on working women to get married, become mothers and shoulder much of the domestic burden, while at the same time taking care of their professional responsibilities. Despite resistance they have had to face, women are increasingly breaking gender stereotypes and making it big in these sectors. Our list of unconventional career tracks women have chosen and have succeeded in, covers a few of these.

Documentary Filmmaking

Male film directors define the norm in our film industry, just as it is in the film industries of any other country.  No doubt, women filmmakers have left a mark on audience’s preferences, but there are too few of them. Of those who have entered the profession, not many of them go on to make a lot of movies.

Gladly, the scenario is much better in the Indian documentary filmmaking space. The commercial documentary filmmaking scene is itself nascent in India and women documentary makers have captured an equal share of the distribution pie. Some of the movies that got theatrical distribution over the last few years have been helmed by women filmmakers. To name few, Supermen of Malegaon, The Rat Race, Gulabi Gang, The World Before Her, When Hari Got Married, Katiyabaaz. It is perhaps something about the independence documentary filmmaking afford women, that they find themselves on the cutting edge. If commercial fiction film industry were to dismantle its oppressive glass ceilings, women filmmakers will enrich it, just as they have done for the documentary industry.

Public Transport

This year, the Indian Air Force inducted its first female fighter pilots. A proud moment as it was, countless women on the ground have been making equally remarkable headway into driving transport vehicles. Defeating that stereotype of women being poor drivers, thousands of women are taking up driving and owning their own taxis. Women-only taxi services (of which both the drivers and the customers are women) run in most of India’s major towns. These include Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and also the State of Goa.

The services offer not just a chance to be self-reliant to the women drivers, they also provide a secure ferrying service to its women customers who have found themselves not infrequently at the ends of harassment by male drivers. Many of these services are supported by NGOs that help train women, most in need of work. These women taxi services have struggled to scale up largely owing to the lack of investors’ interest, but for the good that they do both in terms of economy and security, it is important to give this sector some push. Apart from women-only taxi services, women have also occupied the driving seats of auto rickshaws and city transport buses.

Space/Defence Research and Development

Like mentioned earlier, STEM fields see women under-represented. However, it is interesting to note that women in India may be doing better than those in the US and the UK. As the Guardian piece notes, 30% of the programmers in India are women compared to around 21% in the US.

Amongst those in STEM fields, India’s women space scientists have recently been in news. One photo taken right after ISRO’s Mars Orbiter successfully entered Mars’ orbit became the defining moment of both the mission and women scientists in India and was published and republished several times.

While women make up only 21% the workforce at ISRO, the number is growing. Just like NASA is the largest employer of women STEM professionals in USA, ISRO will do well to perform this role here in India. Government sector has in fact made some strides in making space for women scientists.  Department of Science and Technology of the Central Government rolled out the Knowledge Involvement Research Advancement through Nurturing (KIRAN) Programme to induct more women scientist in research and development areas designed specifically to improve the gender balance (http://dst.gov.in/pressrelease/women-scientists). Another welcome news came in the form of the appointment of J. Manjula as the first women Director General at Defence Research and Development Organisation, leading one of its clusters.

Private Detective Work

This has to sound like one of the more unconventional job choices for women, largely because how pervasive the portrayal of a male sleuth is in popular culture. However, unconventional sounding doesn’t mean that women haven’t done well in the business.

A large proportion of the detective work in India involves investigating into marital problems. Women run a large number of the 3,500 private agencies in Delhi alone that carry out this work. While the exact number is not available, many female detectives have seen their share of spotlight. Bhavna Palival, Malathy B.E. (who is said to run the first women’s detective agency in South India) and Rajni Pandit are superstars of the detective scene in their own right and have been written about extensively by host of national and international newspapers, perhaps more than any male counterpart. Rajni Pandit also has some of her more dangerous cases including those of murders written about. Many of the women detectives claim they score better on men in investigating particularly matters related to love! This growing force has also come to be represented in our cinema recently such as in the Vidya Balan starrer ‘Bobby Jasoos’.

Mining Operations

Women-run cooperative societies have had a big impact in financially equipping rural women. A large amount of dairy production takes place through these cooperatives. Similarly, cooperatives like these are present in the garment, handicrafts and other sectors which have historically involved women in production. Today, important banking services to women are also carried out through a similar set up.

Still, women’s cooperatives’ managing mining operations is a feat in itself. While women do work in the production of minerals, commonly in the surface stone and sand mines, taking the management of the mines in their hands involved overcoming the strong and often violent quarry owners’ lobby.

We came across two such examples of this. Around 4000 women came to control various stone quarries in the Pudakottai district of Tamil Nadu. These were the same quarries in which they had worked as bonded labourers. The result – the standard of living for the families improved in both dignity and income, and the State saw an increase in the revenues, which had been bleeding due to the misappropriation committed by former quarry owners. The more recent example is that of the sand mining operations carried out by the all women cooperatives in Andhra Pradesh at more than 300 locations. The women are responsible for dredging, mining and selling the produce and giving its share of the revenue to the State. Just like in the previous example, the women miners of AP are up against the strong sand mafia.

What is an excellent way of increasing the incomes (which went up from around Rs. 60 a day to over Rs. 360 a day) is also a strategy for dealing with illegal mining. The cooperatives are not just accountable in the ways individual male sand mine owners were not previously, but the mining operations are now equally conscious about sustainability and environmental concerns. What a remarkable change right at the ground-level where it matters the most!

We hope this post proves to be as enlightening for you as it was for us while we were working on it! We were just blown away by all the small, yet really significant examples of unconventional career tracks, women – amazingly strong and resilient – are making their way through, slowly, yet steadily! Shattering the glass ceilings one sector at a time. Know any such awesome women? Tag them here!

To Freeze or Not to Freeze – Egg Freezing Tactics and the Workspace

To Freeze or Not to Freeze – Egg Freezing Tactics and the Workspace

When in October 2014, the two biggest giants in the Silicon Valley, Apple and Facebook, announced elective egg freezing as a part of their benefits package, they took the world by a storm and sparked debates worldwide regarding the ethical concerns underlying this move. The announcement was welcomed by many and contested by many more. This benefit offered to the female employees, quite literally means the option to have their eggs frozen, to be able to postpone their pregnancy, thus offering them the advantage of attaining the much sought “work-life balance”. While the advantages are obvious – greater freedom for women to plan their careers and the choice to ‘preserve’ their fertility, in the form of frozen eggs, the disadvantages seem to be of a more sinister and covert nature.

This excerpt, from Frozen Progress: beyond the egg freezing debate, very powerfully opens up the space we hope to explore through this article:

It is the role of the private companies, Apple and Facebook – programmed like an organism to preserve itself above all – that makes the prospect of ‘egg-freezing for female employees’ ghoulish and Atwood-dystopia-seeming.  As if, in order to sublimate yourself entirely to the company, you offer up not only your identity (through corporate ‘personal branding’), your personal life (through working hours that would be illegal in much of Europe), but even submit your body to the corporation you serve.  “Delay having children to donate your best years to our brand” is the ethos behind the initiative, and one that has the corporation – not the lives of women and their families in all their humanness and complexity – as its primary concern.”

Egg Freezing – The Health Impact

The idea of giving women the option to freeze their eggs, is after all, not as altruistic as it sounds. For one reason, the success rates of the procedure are not very impressive the procedure, in itself is invasive and extremely complicated. “The process of egg retrieval involves weeks of self-delivered hormone injections to hyper-stimulate your ovaries, which can lead to nausea, bloating and discomfort, not to mention blood clots, organ failure, and hospitalization in rare cases. The surgery to remove your eggs involves a needle being inserted into your pelvis, with risk of internal bleeding and infection. Long-term impacts on women’s health are under-studied, but seem to include increased rates of breast, ovarian and endometrial cancer” [Jessica Cussins].

Egg Freezing – now an Option but soon an implicit Coercion ?

Secondly, the thought that the ‘brand’ you work for, or the organization has the right to control your body and your reproductive choices is discomforting and eerie. By reducing the reproductive choices of the female employees to “benefits”, there is a lack of comprehension regarding the loss of autonomy of the female employees over their bodies as well as their reproductive choices. One may argue, that the employee has the right to say no to the procedure. However, it won’t be long before the recruitment decisions for female employees begin to be influenced by willingness to undergo the procedure.

Egg Freezing – the Work-place Implications

It is rather strange that “work-life balance” is being touted as a reason to promote the practice of egg freezing, amongst employees. It is, in a way, utter dehumanization of the work space, and reinforces the very gender biases we have been struggling so hard to turn away from. There needs to be more conversation and dialogue on where men figure in the canvas of this debate. The concept of family planning in itself seems to be getting obliterated from the debate, without considering two very important factors – financial stability and availability of appropriate partners (men or women). “Surely what they meant to say was, ‘We want women at Apple to spend more of their lives working for us without a family to distract them,’” Jessica Cussins of the Center for Genetics and Society wrote in a Huffington Post editorial. By making the egg-freezing policy a formal part of the organization structure, there are overt implications to the fact that it is only if decisions regarding family and motherhood are postponed, that a woman will be able to succeed professionally. Where then, is the balance we are talking about? The egg-freezing policy does not invoke a sense of balance, but is lopsided in this argument, as it implies the exact opposite. By postponing biological reproductive decisions, and letting your profession take this decision on your behalf, the choice is not to seek balance, but to automate your body in order for your corporate or professional existence. I use the term ‘automation’, consciously and with responsibility. By allowing our profession to manipulate our corporeal existence, we are reduced to nothing but robots striving tirelessly to meet the demands of an increasingly global capitalistic world. The image this thought conjures up is extremely frightening and makes one cringe.

It is important to understand how a policy like egg freezing, will reconfigure the work space dynamics, and not in a positive way. Neelam Raaj, in her article “Egg-freezing perk will not make workplace more equal for women”, writes,

I do worry that if egg freezing is embraced by employers, women who wish to have a child when they are younger may be seen as less committed employees. For a woman to make an autonomous decision, a non-coercive social situation is required. If having a child earlier means that she will take a step back in her career, then a woman may not be exercising autonomy by delaying motherhood. Instead, she may feel like this is choosing the best of many bad options. Furthermore, offering an egg-freezing benefit does not do anything to help equalize workplace policies for women. There needs to be a strong policy to support women who choose to have children without freezing. There cannot be an underlying feeling of, `Hey, you have this egg-freezing benefit, why are you taking maternity leave now when we need you?‘”

The ‘choice’ being given to the female employees, about having their eggs frozen, is, in reality, what may be termed as a Hobson’s choice, or a choice which is actually not a choice but simply appears so. By giving a choice of postponing pregnancy, the implication is that motherhood and career cannot go hand in hand. It is important for both of these to be an option, because who is to decide against the choice women may want to make of having both satisfying careers as well as family lives? It is also important to understand the responsible role that responsible feminists and feminism need to play in this entire debate. Feminism and feminists have been long divided in their modes of thinking about and believing what true feminism entails. One could debate about the same until the cows come home, however, that is not the space we are exploring in this article. While we will not talk about what feminism is, we will definitely talk about what it isn’t, which is revoking any form of choice a woman has the absolute and autonomous right to. It is true that for a lot of women, the advantages of egg freezing is synonymous with freedom, it is equally true that for a lot of women the same choice is an infringement upon their freedom. The blurring of lines between the public and the private has always been a hot debate, in this case, however, the debate is particularly sensitive and should be treated with the sensitivity it deserves. Of course, right now the entire scenario could be said to be at a purely experimental stage, what we must be cautious regarding is the phenomenon gaining ‘cultural normalcy’.

Seema Mohapatra, a law professor from Barry University, in her paper ‘Using Egg Freezing to Extend the Biological Clock: Fertility Insurance or False Hope?’, published by the Harvard Law and Policy Review, explores the complex and seldom spoken about medico-ethical, legal and social complexities regarding the process of egg-freezing. Her work is especially important for us, to understand why much of the “advantage” or “benefit” being offered, is paradoxical. It is crucial for us to understand the phenomenon in all its social, cultural as well as scientific complexity. Let us make no mistake in acknowledging that this is a pathway one would be taking to create a Frankenstein’s Monster. The larger question to address here, is, are we aware of the implications of creating the monster? Innovation, freedom, equality, equity and are some of the ideals we believe will make the world of work a sustainable realm. In the present times, sustainability is the primary aim any organization is striving for. For an organization to be sustainable, it must first recognize every employee as a human being, before anything else, and by virtue of being human, the right to un-compromised and total dignity.