Some men never learn. On Friday, during a Mumbai-bound flight, a passenger refused to fly saying he would not endanger his life as the plane was piloted by a woman. A woman at the helm is no longer just an idea. It’s fact. Sexism, however, exists everywhere and continues to be visible at the workplace in India.
Despite women being an equal member of the workforce in the media, corporate, engineering, artistic and academic worlds, there are some men who prefer to slot them in gender-specific roles. HT talks to five women bosses on the challenges of dealing with men — across the table — and the impossibility of a certain type of Indian male to accept that it is not a novelty for women to be calling the shots.
She calls the shots, but often people ask to meet her ‘superior’
Anupama Karkera, 28,
relationship leader with a leading bank
I am one of the youngest relationship leaders in this bank. That combined with the large sums of money that I handle for the bank, I think, has a lot more to do with the biases I face than because of my gender. However more often than not, I’ve had to deal with people balking when they deal with me.
My job involves me to give loans and credit to traders and manufacturers in hardware businesses and pharmaceuticals. Many of them have a stereotypical image of what they think women should do and how they should be. Sometimes they ask me how old I am, other times they ask me if they can speak to my superior. I have a hard time explaining that if they want that Rs 4 crore loan, they have to speak to me. And it’s only when I begin to explain the intricacies in the procedure that they begin to listen to me.
Even within the bank, I have to face certain biases. Firstly, most men don’t understand that I am where I am because I am very good at my job.
Secondly, that I mean business and will not fall prey to sub-standardness… Of course I am often a victim to a lot of malicious gossip, but I let my work speak for itself.
I’m often asked how I deal with this. Honestly, I don’t really pay much attention to it or I bury myself in work. That’s when men start being a little bit less conscious about my gender and start to respect me for the work I do. As for the men who start rumours about me, all I can say is that I’ll have the last laugh. Only because I’m better than them.
As told to Ruchira Hoon
She’s learnt on the job that being polite helps
Mukesh Jaglan, 22, traffic cop at Vijay Chowk (recent news reports said that women traffic cops were being harassed and teased by citizens while on the job)
Being a woman, I do face some minor problems on the job on a day-to-day basis but nothing major, at least nothing that I cannot handle on my own.
For the last one year I have been posted at Vijay Chowk in Connaught Place. Till now, I have not faced any major problems. As it is a sensitive area, I have to be alert all the time. Delhiites are a little tricky to handle. When we stop them, they sometimes do try to throw their weight around by telling us that they know some important person or are related to some minister. But I manage to handle them.
What I have learnt on the job is that being polite helps. I ask them politely to move away from a particular spot — and that changes the demeanour of people we stop and I find that things do not get out of hand.
Most of them do cooperate, but if they try to be difficult, I sternly tell them to move on or otherwise I seek assistance from my other colleagues. Our work is well divided so we do not tire themselves and are alert throughout our shifts.
When I am in my uniform, I know I have a job to do no matter what. I have learnt to adapt to whatever circumstances I face on a daily basis. We have been trained to handle almost all sort of situations.
My family is supportive and do not have problems with my erratic shifts. They help me in everyway possible as my family wanted me to join police services.
As told to Karan Chaudhary
Takes hard decisions but clients say she does the ‘soft stuff’
Sudeshna Chatterjee, 38, partner, Kaimal Chatterjee and Associates, an architecture firm
It is amazing that someone would not board a flight because the pilot is a woman. But why am I not surprised? A year ago, I had my son. The year of pregnancy taught me a lot. I was negotiating on behalf of my team for a large project. We were clearly the frontrunners but ultimately the project was given to someone else because it was thought that as a mother I wouldn’t give the project time.
That I became a mother late, in fact, was because I knew it would be challenging to take a year out in this cut-throat and a largely-male architecture world.
Architecture is considered part of the engineering course. Another male bastion. And women would be among the top five in my year. I and my other girl students would always have to put up with snide remarks by male classmates who said we get more marks because of our gender.
Among my immediate associates I’ve been lucky. My male colleagues do not give me a hard time, they know me well. The chain of command is anyway clear and I take the lead.
But there’s a difference. My male partner delegates work. I end up doing more.
For projects, I take the design lead and my partner takes the lead in construction. Even though it is design that solves the on-site problems, clients say that I’m the one taking care of the ‘soft stuff’, and he, the ‘hard stuff’. Whenever we pitch for new projects, it’s a fact that I take my male associates along even though it is me, and not they who are doing the presentation.
Their presence helps. If they chip in and endorse what I say, it seems to assure the client.
As told to Paramita Ghosh
The gender difference is obvious when women have a baby
Pearl Uppal, 36, CEO, Fashion and You,
E-commerce retail portal
I’ve been a woman in a man’s world right from the day I walked into engineering college about two decades ago. In a batch of 75 people, I was the only girl who was attempting to study Mechanical Engineering, a course that is mainly male dominated. Of course, it was a little awkward at that point, but ever since then I’ve pretty much tried to excel at everything I have walked into or decided to pursue.
Today, when women are at the top in sectors like retail, banking, FMCG, and media, it’s hard to believe that gender bias would matter at all in a sector like aviation which primarily runs because of women.
You’ve got to be good at what you do, that is all that matters. And for men who think otherwise, it’s a pity that they are just not as good.
Luckily for me, I’ve rarely faced too much of a prejudice. But when I meet clients in retail and supply chain or logistic partners, the bias is very subtle. I’ll be asked questions like ‘how to do you handle your career inspite of being a woman’ or comments like ‘oh that’s awesome for a woman’. I always laugh it off and turn around and ask them “what part of you being a man, has to do with what you’ve achieved?”
Oddly, I’ve mostly had men reporting into me, at various points in my career. They are there because they are good at what they do. None of them has ever asked me if I’m competent at what I do. Maybe they’ve thought it to themselves, but I suppose because of my no-nonsense attitude, no one’s ever come and told me that to my face.
But I’ll tell you when the gender difference becomes obvious; it’s when women have their baby. Women automatically bring on the balancing act. But then again, women can handle different roles, they can be drawn to several things and their mind can be constantly multitasking.
As told to Ruchira Hoon
Question thrown her way — Are you capable?
Shrawanti Saha 33, Assistant Vice President with Infrastructure Development Finance Company (IDFC), a financial institution
It hurts me when I see men being preferred for promotions over me. I tell myself I’ll work my way up. During the beginning of my career I used to be faced with things like is she capable? Can she handle investments? I put it down more to my age than gender then.
I have felt that before people have spoken or met me, they’ve formed judgments. I don’t have a secretary to fix meetings for me; I make my calls myself. So when I call CEOs/MDs for appointments, they assume am a secretary, so they’ll ask, ‘who wants to meet? Oh, she must be yet another salesperson’. What can you do? Except go there and prove yourself.
In some cases, being a woman gives you an edge. If I spend 15 minutes just yapping with a potential client, seeing a woman in western formals, they are likely to give you the account.
Last year, there was an opening in a fund house. A male colleague, who went for an interview, came back and said they were only looking for women. But there are times when clients don’t open up because you’re a woman. I then have to send three men in my team to chat them up and build a rapport.
Some time ago I was on a conference call in Delhi, and the client didn’t seem keen to talk to me. He looked at me with apprehension and asked my colleague, bas ye hee aayein hain? Humne socha koi bade aadmi aayenge.
Another time, a channel partner asked my boss, can you address my team? He was going on leave so I volunteered. The guy looked at me and said, can you do it? Can you address all the questions my team will have?
As told to Shalini Singh