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Gender bender rules corporate world

Gender bias is an unspoken practice that continues to create roadblocks for women, writes Garima Pant.

india Updated: Feb 21, 2006 13:10 IST
Garima Pant
Garima Pant

It would be futile to deny any kind of gender bias in the business world, because we all know it exists and manifests itself.

In fact, why just the business world, women are still a disadvantaged community in homes, in schools and even in the corporate world, although the degree of discrimination may vary.

Perhaps the bias is not very evident at the junior level, but as you go up the ladder, you will find fewer women occupying the top slots.

The 'big boys' will hang out together, play golf and network their way through the muddle, but let a women try any of these strategies and she is immediately branded "fast" or "ambitious."

A case in point

Anita works for the super bazaar. When she was hired she was put on probation along with a few others and was asked to clean and pack up provisions.

After the probation period was over, she and a few other female colleagues were appointed cleaners while all the men in the unit were designated packers and assigned a higher pay scale.

Fortunately Anita is a member of the trade union. And, she learnt from them that the ILO Declaration on Equal Work for Work of Equal Value provides pay parity. She also knows that wage differentials cannot be based on gender. These can only be based on skill, effort, responsibility and working conditions.

She also realised that the Indian legislation, 'Equal Remuneration Act' does not fully correspond to the ILO principles. It does not allow employers to discriminate among employees doing similar jobs.

Anita protested to the management against this policy but to no avail. She could not persuade the trade union to take up her case either because her other female colleagues did not want to "antoganise the management and their male colleagues in the department, who were of course in a majority.

A gutsy girl, Anita, went ahead anyway and lodged a formal compliant with the Assistant Labour Commissioner who conducted a surprise raid at the super bazaar.

When he found that the allegations being made by Anita were correct he admonished the manager and asked them to pay equal wages to their female employees regardless of the difference in designation. Anita made her point and won the case.

(Contributed by CS Venkata Ratnam, Director, International Management Institute, New Delhi)

"I have been witness to instances where employers have been very categorical about not wanting women candidates for such and such a role, and I've often wondered, why? But I guess, some stereotypes just persist in our midst," rues Niti Prothi, HR Head, Copal Partners.

To this, Akila Jaikumar, Delivery Manager, Virtusa (India) Pvt Ltd adds, "The bias is so subtle, sometimes it exists only as an unspoken question in the mind of the executive on the selection panel."

This view, however, is vehemently denied by Kashmira Irani, Senior Vice President, Market Development, Kale Consultants.

"I haven't seen this kind of bias operating in my organisation. I feel that diversity adds to corporate culture and promotes a work environment that is healthy and productive," she elaborates.

"Even if such a bias exists it is because of social conditioning. Women in India are brought up in a conservative manner and are made to adhere to all kinds of rules and regulations, whereas men can do anything they like," charges Prothi.

This could be one reason why men don't often like reporting to female bosses, adds Jaikumar.

Prothi feels irritated when it is automatically assumed that the HR job is more suitable for women and a sales job for men.

"Gender should not be a hindrance," reasons Irani. "If a woman wants to be a super achiever, an excellent wife, mother, daughter, cook, teacher, professional... she can break all societal moulds. Eventually, she has to make a choice."

She accepts that these may be some of the issues that men don't necessarily have to deal with, since the roles expected from them are completely different, so the onus of shouldering double responsibility always lies with the woman, she adds.

"These days, daughters and sons are treated almost equal at home. But once they get married, everybody's expectations change where the girl is concerned," says Nidhi Khaitan Modi, Executive Director, Manya Education Pvt Ltd.

Therefore, "For change to happen it must happen at the family level," says Jaikumar. Meanwhile, organisations should also try to switch to some proactive, women-oriented policies.

After all, we have had precedents set by women such as Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Chairman and Managing Director, Biocon; Chanda Kochar, Executive Director of ICICI Bank and Vidya Chhabria, Chairman of Jumbo Group, who've secured places in the Fortune list of the world's most powerful women in business!

First Published: Feb 21, 2006 10:55 IST