Often when I talk about the obstacles that women face in the workplace, people brush it off as overreaction or probably even over sensitivity. It irks me at times but then I realize their views don't nullify what I face or might have faced at the workplace. Or, what millions of other women face every single day.
Now, before I proceed, let me just say, what I'm about to write is based on my 8 odd years in the industry, on what I have seen and heard. And yes, maybe I should add this disclaimer too - any reassemble to any person, dead or alive, is purely coincidental. Or, maybe not!
You know when you are a woman trying to make your mark or even just doing your day to day work, you need to work extra hard to be taken seriously. If you do well, most people attribute it to your looks or how well you gel with your superiors. Your aptitude, attitude and hard work are blatantly ignored. Everything you get is attributed to external appearance or sympathy. When I was a fresher, a woman, let's call her K, joined our project midway as a lead. We already had a male lead then, let's call him X, a veteran of sorts in the project. K was on-boarded because the project was expanding and needed two leads for taking care of things. K happened to be the one available who had experience in the domain as well. She was good too, really good.
When K joined, as is the norm, X had to give her the project tool specific knowledge transition, bring her up-to-speed, so to speak. But what he did was this.
He didn't tell her everything that she needed to know about the project. He avoided or cancelled sessions meant for that or conveniently missed telling her important things in the sessions which he reluctantly happened to take. He didn't even make an attempt to disguise his intentions or the lack of any thereof.
After a point of time, she realized what was happening too and confronted him. That's when he told her 'if I tell you everything then how will I hold on to my importance in the project'. Yes, in these very words and in front of the entire team.
Now my question to you is this, would he have been able to say the same thing if K was a he instead of she? Think about it.
I'll give you another example.
There was this team I worked in which had a balanced representation from both genders. Now the women would come in early; single women, mothers, and wives, sit and complete their work to leave early. The men, few of them, would come in late, go for those frequent cigarette and tea breaks and then stretch till late night to get their work done. Obviously as long as work was being done, it shouldn't have mattered. But it did. And do you know, which group was reprimanded?
Well, the women, of course. Don't ask me why because I surely don't see any logic in any of it. Apparently, they weren't staying late. Ridiculous, right?
A friend of mine wasn't taken into any project during her pregnancy because she couldn't give a commitment for an entire year at a stretch. She was ready. She was ready to commit till she would have to go on leave but no one was willing to take her. Apparently, pregnancy disqualified her and made her incapable of work. They wanted a commitment of a year from a woman who would be delivering a baby in 9 months time. Ridiculous don't you think?
So for no fault of hers, rather for the nonsense logic of some others, she was given a bad rating when she joined back. Why? Well, because she was not in any project for the better part of her pregnancy. Again, for no fault of hers. Fair? I think not.
This, my friends, is the kind of thing that people choose to ignore. This is the kind of nonsense that we face. Well, at least I was fortunate to have had a good experience at work during my pregnancy. But not all are so lucky.
The thing is, women do face issues at the work place. And when they fight back they are labelled emotional or called ridiculous names. It irks me because believe it or not, women are serious about their careers too. Remember, an honorable minister being called Aunty National by a newspaper? Would they have even dared to do it for a male leader? Never!
Closer home, you must have read about what one manager told me when I was promoted. He preferred my male counterpart to me and didn't hide his displeasure at the fact that I edged his favorite out on account of previous ratings, a deciding factor for promotions. He wouldn't have dared to express his displeasure had I been a male. I'm sure.
So, in subtle ways, these prejudices still exist. Every woman has to face it in one way or the other, doesn't happen in our imaginations, you know.
Well, tell you what, next time you hear jokes about women leaving early, think about a few things, will you? Ask yourself if you will be able to balance office, home, taking care of kids, family, food, washing and more, even with help? How will your life be if you are pressed for time for yourself? If your answers are 'no' and 'can't imagine' then please don't forward these jokes anymore.
You know my husband has worked in a team where all the team members were leads and all men. None of them ever tried to impose their authority on the other. They were peers and they knew it. That's being professional.
Now listen to this. The first day I came back to work, my peer tells me in front of the team that I'll be reporting to him. Do you think he would have done that had I been a guy? He wouldn't even have dared.
He did a few other things too, behaved in ways you would call unprofessional rather misbehaved, which I'll leave out for now. Maybe I'll write about that in the future but for now, let's just say he took me to be a fool. Maybe not having a high pitched voice gives people the impression that I'm ready to be bullied. Anyways.
Time and again, it is assumed that women would be submissive, wouldn't confront or point out mistakes. Well, more so if you are a woman back from maternity leave. Apparently, being on maternity leave makes you some kind of a dimwit. Apparently, you lose all your skills and probably even experience. The term long leave is thrown around as an insult.
Don't get me wrong, I have worked with some wonderful people during the course of my career. I had a manager once who let me confront the client developer directly on call. I was just a team member then, not even a lead but he respected me. This manager was from the client side and he appreciated everything I did. I have also had people who put faith in what I can do and my intent.
But having said that, there have been some bad experiences too. Every time something went awry, it reaffirmed my belief that as a woman these few individuals see me as someone they can trample upon. It was always by someone who thought it was okay to belittle me for being a woman.
But, sir, I'm no pushover. I may even be scared at a prospective confrontation, it's normal, but I'll never let anyone walk all over me. My parents, my education and my experience, have all taught me to be strong and not put up with nonsense. That's who I'll be whether you like it or not.
Well, I'm raring to go, work really hard and show people that I can balance my career, an infant and my writing too. Anyone who can't do all the three things simultaneously has no right to pull me down because I won't be.
Woman, proud and determined to do well. You don't scare me.