Breaking the Glass Ceiling And the Road Ahead

Women have, over the years, made inroads into sectors that were for long considered a male stronghold

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A week back when I visited my neighborhood gas station, I was pleasantly surprised to find several women on duty. They were carrying out their jobs of filling gas, swiping the card and giving receipt to customers, with the same finesse as their male counterparts. I thought to myself, “It’s so good to see more and more sectors opening up to women and encouraging gender diversity.”

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Women have, over the years, made inroads into sectors that were for long considered a male stronghold. It was unusual to find a woman driving a bus or a taxi, rising up to the ranks of a chief engineer in the merchant navy, being a standup comedian or a wine taster or a security guard…The list was endless!

As a woman I know how much courage and self-belief they must have had to muster to venture into these male bastions. To stand in the face of resistance from both your family and society and to be mocked at for your ambition can break down the most resolute of individuals and make them succumb to societal pressure. Yet, these women persisted to break the glass ceiling and paved the way for many more like them to continue shaking the social stigmas and age-old beliefs. Today we are very comfortable with the idea of women founding companies and holding key managerial positions in large organizations. And yet, it was not very long back that even this was unusual.

The ride was definitely not easy for them then. But has it become any easier now? Does a woman entrepreneur find it as simple to convince a venture capitalist to believe in and invest in her business, as her male twin would? Let alone a VC, would a bank lend them a loan as effortlessly? And does it come any easy for women who join the workforce of existing organizations? While we would love to believe that they do, the discrimination many a times begins right at the stage of short listing candidates. Many fear that a woman will come in with the emotional baggage of family responsibilities, particularly those with kids. No wonder many women who decide to take a break for maternity are forced to become stay-at-home moms forever. Once away for a break, the next prospective employer happens to view it as a mark of lack of seriousness and commitment to work. This despite the fact that several studies have indicated women to be more productive than their male counterparts.

As more and more organizations consciously try to bring gender diversity into the workplace, we could see some resolution to the above problem sooner than later. But what about the more grueling ones like gender pay gap? India ranks 112th on the overall Global Gender Gap Index and the gap doesn’t seem to be narrowing. While we may be trying to induct a lot more women into the workforce than earlier, are we doing enough to help them feel valued and stay motivated, by paying them at par?

One basic problem that lies at the core of the issue of unequal pay according to me is the perception that a ‘man’ is the primary breadwinner of the family and a woman only brings in supplemental income. Hence employers may be more generous towards their male employees when it comes to salaries and increments vis-a-vis their female employees, who are assumed to be on the job to pass time and make some money at the same time. But we live in a competitive world and as more and more women prove their worth and move up the career path to work alongside men in the same capacity, they wouldn’t just be comparing their paycheck with that of other women, and employers are increasingly waking up to that realization.

If we look at the unorganized sector, the situation appears worse. Women are routinely paid lesser, particularly in areas such as construction and agriculture. The excuse given there is the physical ability of women at carrying out such laborious tasks, and most women accept being paid lesser for their hard work.

So is pay-parity a distant dream?

With employers in the organized sector recognizing the need for fair pay, we could see the pay-gap narrowing in the coming decades. Many organizations already have and many others are putting in place objective salary slabs and scales basis gender agnostic factors like educational qualification and number of years of experience, among others. They are also making career paths more transparent to prevent any biases from creeping in. If things continue in this direction, the only variable factor would be performance bonus, and rightly so.

So, with the hope that women not only continue to break the glass-ceiling further, but also the other barriers on the road ahead, here is wishing all of you a very happy Women’s Day.