Only 27% of India’s women work. For money, that is. Another 25% would like to work but don’t have the opportunity. So you’re a minority, but a very privileged minority. Not many women – not even successful actors – make the same kind of money as men. Stats say that Indian women not just get paid less but actually work 50 days MORE than men on average. So let’s not get carried away by those “Happy Women’s Day” gifs. There’s work to be done. By all of us. To make the workplace more equal, a place that has a lot more of ‘people like us”. Where a Kangana Ranaut doesn’t get slammed for ‘playing the woman card’ when they speak their mind. Where we don’t have to lean in or lean out but just lean back and be who we are. We’ve all overcome obstacles to get here, but that doesn’t mean that just because we stepped over the rocks we should leave them where we found them.

1. Say no to stereotypes

I’ve travelled on mofussil buses with a sharp pair of scissors to ward off prying toes. Left Bhopal in the midst of the Ayodhya riots in a train with the metal shutters down – to keep the stones out. I’ve drunk 30 cups of chai during ‘market visits’ in Hosur and Kanchipuram, and no, there were no toilets. I’ve been followed on Barakhambha Road at 5am. And followed from Jacob Javitz Center, New York at 7pm. I’ve presented to the Dean of Wharton all by myself before I was 30 – and got the deal too. Assembled a cast iron booth with no help in Brussels. Done 2am door deliveries of gifts at the Waldorf=Astoria. Learnt DHTML to help build a website. Written a book. I’ve also partied all night in Monte Carlo. And enjoyed the shows in Las Vegas. Please don’t assume that someone won’t or can’t do something just because of their gender.

I’d like to add that all of the above experiences were possible because of supportive colleagues. Thanks to Kanoj Sircar and Anirban Sengupta for braving the curfew and meeting me at the Delhi station. DeeVee Devarakonda for the presence of mind to duck into a bar to avoid the follower. And Shweta Jain for keeping her head on that long walk down Barakhambha Road. The much missed Sudha Kumar for letting me try so many cool things. And of course my husband, parents, and parents-in-law for never saying “Women don’t do that”.

2. Fight Casual Sexism on WhatsApp, Facebook and your office

Many instances of harassment in the workplace are allowed to continue because noone is quite clear that what is happening is wrong. Do read up and educate others on what’s ok and what’s not. Just Bing the Vishakha guidelines. But some quick ones – it’s not ok to date a person who is your senior in the corporate hierarchy or who has a reporting relationship with you. It doesn’t matter whether it is consensual or not. Jokes that are in poor taste are more than that – they’re illegal if they denigrate a gender or caste or race. So watch for those WhatsApp forwards. If you’re a parent or in the teaching profession pitting boys against girls is reinforcing stereotypes (“let’s see if the girls can beat the boys at math” or “girls can’t fight as well as boys”) might be well meaning but not helpful. Equally at fault are the “practice makes men perfect, but women are born that way” sort of stuff. Speak up when you see casual sexism happening. Yes, you won’t be popular. You might even be chucked out of your WhatsApp group.

All clued in? Take the Women’s Day Marketing Quiz #1

3. Family isn’t a women’s issue

Managing family matters – whether it is a sick child or aging parent – ought to be a priority for family members regardless of gender. Don’t assume automatically that it is the wife’s/daughter’s/sister’s responsibility. That women are more caring is a stereotype – some are, some aren’t, just like men. If you can’t show up for work often because you’re off taking care of personal emergencies people might consider you a tad, well, unreliable, and think of you as playing the ‘woman card’. We must change the assumption that only mothers have sick kids, not dads. Cooking, washing, domestic staff management are not women-only issues either and shouldn’t be allowed to scale down your career. The ‘cultural reasons’ cited to explain the huge pay gap between men and women are often these simple things.

4. Make Money

Let’s aim for equal pay for equal work. If you have data please escalate it and make a case for equitable pay. If you don’t, at least ensure you negotiate parity for yourself. Women often do not speak up and ask for more money. They need to work on that, just as organisations need to put in a process to address this gap and not take advantage of the non-squeaky wheel.

Often the problems in (3) happen because the woman is the person making less money. This could be because she has deliberately traded flexibility for money, or chosen a lesser paying career option or she or her parents chose a spouse who earned more than her. All of these happen in the best, most well-meaning way, but either you ensure that your family contributions are weighted into the economic equation or you strive for economic parity.

Here’s a recent piece on that which quotes Rekha Menon, Chair Man of Accenture. (Chairperson? Please ET?)


Take our Quick Quiz and see if you score a Perfect 10!
Take our Quick Quiz and see if you score a Perfect 10!

5. Be Nice

If you’re in a position of respect in your eco-system, make yourself available as a sounding board. Many in today’s workforce are the first to join the formal economy and don’t know how to respond to corporate stimuli. Things that sound obvious to those from more privileged backgrounds are a big learning for others. If you went to a school or college where you were encouraged to agree with the teachers and indeed do chores for them, it will take you a while to understand that it’s ok to counter your boss. If you were escorted to every destination by a parent or chaperon, it will be a while before you find your own way. If you were locked into your hostel room at 6pm because the powers-that-be suspected your self-control, you need advice on what’s appropriate self-regulated fun. Remember the boy or girl you used to be and try to help someone else find themselves.

Have a great 8th of March!
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