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.

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