A friend called up yesterday. She wanted to talk about something important. (Just for the info, she is a fresher and works for a highly reputed IT company with a sprawling campus in Pune). She started talking about how her team of 15 had just two women and how the entire team was biased towards men. So much so that, the team (the men folk) would do all the generally office time pass activities like planning for a lunch out or a tea session without so much as asking the two girls. What was even more surprising was that the Manager of the team was also party to all of this. If this was not enough, one guy in the team abused my friend over some silly issue, asking her to “Get out” of the cubicle. When this matter was taken to the manager, he laughed it off as a joke gone bad! 

This is not a one off incident of the kind of bias women folk have to go through in their companies.  I have worked in IT companies before and I could sense this all the time. Usually, the bias depends on the number of women in your team. If it is equally balanced, then in all probabilities, you will not have to face the brunt directly. But, if it is not, you will face this… either in subtle forms (like not being invited to team gatherings) or in more crude ones (like the one with my friend) or worse, cases of exploitation and sexual harrassment by office colleagues.

Now, I am sure while reading this, a lot of you will be nodding your heads – Gender bias is soo common in companies (I will be talking about companies in India here) that if you have not faced this on your own, you would have definitely known someone who did.

While, the number of women passing out of Engineering colleges is increasing at a good rate, the gender ratio is still around 80:20 in favour of men. Thus, the number of women who get into companies is another 60% of that. The remaining either settle down into marital bliss or go for higher studies. The number is 14% as opposed to 1% in 1970. So, things have obviously improved and with women like Lalita Gupte, Kalpana Morparia, Anu Aga, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw and Simone Tata paving the way, the future definitely looks brighter!

Despite all this, the sad reality is that… Even though we have come all this way, the road ahead is not easy! We have come a long way, but we have a longer way to go. The time to sit and listen to these stories, as if they were fables, is long gone. We now need to sit back and take charge of the situation in hand. The question we need to ask here is that

What is it that we can do to make things better?

  • Make sure that your company has a policy against “Sexual Harrassment”. If they do not, you should bring it to the notice of the HR and explain to them the importance of having a law abiding policy, which in turn, makes this a criminal offense.
  • Before joining a company, try to understand their take on women in the corporate world. If their thoughts do not match yours, there is no point working for them anyway!
  • If you happen to work in a team dominated by men, make sure your manager knows your take on gender bias. If, however, you get a feeling that he does not appreciate it, you can always take this up with his manager or the HR. Make sure, they know that you cant be messed with. (On a lighter note, the girls in the team can get together and invite themselves to whatever little gathering the guys may be having. They may find it awkward a few times, but then will slowly get used it :))
  • Apart from the things you can do in your office area, you can create awareness amongst the people you meet every day – like friends and family. Try and personally take up the onus of educating a destitute girl child. There is nothing more satisfying than playing a small part in shaping the career of someone.

These are the few things that I could come up with. What is your take on this? Have you faced the glass-ceiling before? If you have, what did you do to overcome it?

To end this on a positive note, I would sincerely urge all my readers to take this up as a personal thing – Please do not let any kind of injustice happen in front of your eyes. If you see someone being victimised or someone being the bully, make sure you make it known to the concerned authorities. If you dont do it, nobody else will. After all, it is only with a small step that we can hope to build a better world!

I would also like you to put down your own ideas on What can be done? At the end of this, I will make a consolidated list of all the points and put them up here for people to read. That ways everyone can benefit out of our collective knowledge.

Some good articles on the topic:

Breaking through the glass ceiling: Women in Management
Breaking the glass ceiling
Breaking the Glass Ceiling – Reaching for the Top with Everyday Tools
Women still struggle to break through the glass ceiling