Asking a girl child about what ‘dance’ she prefers to learn than what game she’d like to play may seem to be a very mundane question.
Expecting a young rural Indian girl to give in to her parents’ demand for marriage instead of pursuing her dreams of becoming an engineer is quite the norm.
Assuming a new mother will not be ambitious enough to undertake travel-related work is a given in Indian corporate culture.
The truth is we are guilty of bias and prejudice.
Assuming that a girl will not want to want to wield a bat or dunk a basketball or soar high in a fighter jet is akin to tossing dreams away even before they sprout – a reality that is quite difficult for a lot of us to admit, no matter how much we avoid it.
The bias against women is deep-rooted in our society.
That was the prime topic of discussion when Deepa Vijayaraghavan, Director, PMO at PayPal, hosted the Women in Product, Chennai, and a motley group of like-minded individuals on a balmy evening last Friday.
Jhansi Karthikeyan, an educator from a famous school in the city, says, “In some ways, it is the patriarchal society that we live in that makes us biased against the feminine gender, and it must be addressed in the formative years of a child.”
“Let us admit it, we are guilty of it at a subconscious level. And, what is more worrying is that we aren’t ready to accept it,” says Padmini Janaki, Senior Manager, Change Healthcare, as-a-matter-of-factly.
But, the good news is that things are changing, albeit at a slow pace. The balance is slowly shifting and more people are becoming aware of it.
“It isn’t any more about looking beyond glass doors, instead it is about shattering glass doors. In many Indian homes, it is the womenfolk who are taking a lot of key decisions that are executed by men,” remarks Vinoth Kumar, CEO, Paperflite.
But, it begs the question, what are we doing about removing the gender bias?
Deepa explains the solution to it lies in being more vocal about it. “Unless we speak about gender biases openly, we cannot remove it,” she describes.
Jhansi feels it is important to be proactive about it by educating children in schools. It could even mean small things such as asking “Why?” when a stranger asks them their names or accosts them.
It awakens an inner thought process in them that they have the power within themselves to thwart it.
She states that simple proactive measures could include raising our voice when we are a witness to an untoward incident, a concept called ‘Bystander Intervention’. It enables victims and the society to draw strength from each other and learn to fight back. “Don’t be afraid to be called a feminist,” declares Jhansi.
Rekha chimes in saying at a corporate level, it is not just about having grandiose Human Resource policies, but showing it in action on the ground.
She recalls an incident during an official conference call when a baby’s wails prompted the moderator to take a quick break before reassembling to let the mother attend to her responsibilities. Such small gestures by corporate leaders uplift the spirit of employees.
Padmini feels companies should recognize women for their skills and ambitions as much as men, so that it sends the right signals to all employees.
“A lot of women in our country don’t know what it takes to have a dream; that has to change at the grassroots level,” signs off Vinoth.