“In the nineteenth century, the central moral challenge was slavery. In the twentieth century, it was the battle against totalitarianism. We believe that in this century the paramount moral challenge will be the struggle for gender equality around the world.” – Nicholas D. Kristof, American journalist
Although we inhibit the 21st century of ‘equal opportunities’ for men and women, this is clearly just an ideal on a paper. The ugly truth is that there is a blatant, unspoken policy of gender-discrimination that plagues most workplaces, be it one part of a corporate jungle or one following the laidback principles of a newly established startup.
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The cue for ‘gender discrimination’ may be prohibited under Article 15 of our Constitution, but there is no real enforcement behind the clause. This discrimination extends to both men and women, although the majority of cases reported regarding gender discrimination have been filed by women. Women may be occupying top-notch positions of all kinds of professions today, but more often than not, you will hear them confessing that they are not made to feel as welcome as their male counterparts, or are termed off as ‘too bossy’ for issuing orders to her male co-workers.
Gender discrimination comes in various forms. It isn’t merely synonymous with a blasphemous cry against the opposite gender. It could be a subtle sexist joke passed at a female boss ‘being way out of her league’ or a male co-worker being mocked for ‘dressing like a girl’ by wearing tight pants or a colour that’s ‘universally’ associated with the female race. It could be by a female worker receiving half or one-third of the salary that is being paid to her male-counterpart, even if chances are that she holds more degrees and work experience to her name.
As a company, it is your responsibility to guarantee that the workspace is a discrimination-free zone, where work is administered based on merit and not biased towards any gender. Here’s how to deal with gender discrimination as an organisation to propagate gender-equality in your work-place.
Let’s bring it down to the basics. Do you, as an employer, knowingly or subconsciously look to hire specific genders for specific job-openings? For instance, do you automatically assume that the senior or ‘lead’ position will naturally tilt you in favour of a male employee and that of a junior or proportionately ‘supportive’ role be filled in by a female? Because that is called gender stereo-typing. It is the norms followed by a largely orthodox society that deems men as ‘leaders’ and women as ‘followers’. If you or your management has been basing the hiring process on what suits which gender, then it’s time to truly take a look in the mirror and realise that we have arrayed into the 21st Century and that a person’s capabilities are not directly proportional to their gender.
Many industries have been self-labelled ‘predominantly male’. Hence, when a woman does get the ‘opportunity’ to hold a position and showcase her talent here, more often than not she isn’t able to reach her maximum potential because of the company’s spoken or unspoken norm of a ‘Glass Ceiling’. A Glass Ceiling is an unacknowledged barrier to advancement in a profession, especially affecting women and members of minorities. The company must make sure that it does not orchestrate a Glass Ceiling in their policy and keep an active eye out and a bat ready for its chance return.
‘Equal pay for equal work’, though not a fundamental right, is a ‘constitutional goal’ under India’s Democratic System. However, this aims more for a more equal distribution of wealth among the various sections of society instead of making it more gender-specific. What India needs is to enforce a policy of ‘equal pay for men and women’, much like the one incorporated in the United States in 1975, which prohibits pay discrimination because of an employee’s gender. Although this is problem faced by individuals across the globe, it is exceptionally stark in a country like India, where, in most cases, a female employee is paid half or less than of what is being offered to her male counterpart, even if her skills and degrees supersede his.
Too often, the World War Three that happens within the cubicles occurs at the onslaught of the possibility of a promotion. In most cases, when a woman is promoted to a senior level over her male counterpart, the first conclusion her bitter rivals will state is that she is having an affair with the boss, or that she somehow used her sexuality to get to the top. Too often, men are picked because they won’t be as ‘emotionally inclined’ or ‘collectively influenced’ as women as a boss. It’s pretty simple really – promote someone if you think they deserve it, not because they’re wearing a tie or not.
You may think that your employees are too old to be attending a workshop, but unless they understand the concept of gender-equality, they really aren’t. You should hold a bi-annual workshop on educating the masses about gender-discrimination and the need for gender-equality in all aspects, and the workspace in particular. From the high-benchers to the interns, everybody should attend these workshops and understand the very concept of gender discrimination so they realise that they have been party to it, even subtly and make them realize how self-depreciating it can be.
It’s time to promote gender-equality in the world, one office at a time. So what’s your first step going to be?