Women at work

Updated: May 1 2005, 06:16am hrs
Please please everybody
There are no concessions for women either at work or at home

Is gender a casualty or a badge of honour that one uses to ones advantage in life Awards are given lauding women as a species for their achievements, success and victories in their careers. Women SFE spoke with, without exception, said that being a woman at a job never struck them as an oddity. Neither did they let it bother their colleagues. At the end of the day, you have to deliver. There are no concessions on that front by being a woman or a man.

Shereen Bhan is a familiar face on CNBC. She is producer, anchor and correspondent at CNBC-TV18. She was one among the 20 women leaders feted by FICCI in its Honouring the Honorable awards given out recently. Based in Delhi, Bhan has been keeping bizarre hours at her TV job. When I began working eight years ago in the electronic media, I started at the crack of dawn, around 4.30 in the working and worked past midnight. That strategy still works for me.

Bhans gender has neither bothered her at work nor affected her team, she feels. I think being a woman, one tends to go beyond the professional and get personal. I am told I have a tendency to mother people. For instance, I worry about their safety when my team goes home very late and am anxious as to how they will report early the next day and be able to meet deadlines. I think a male boss would not worry as such. Being a woman also means one is more organised. At least that is the general perception about women. But I have worked with male bosses who have been equally so.

Bhan has never reported to a woman boss. But being one herself now, she feels the job is akin to a double-edged sword. One has to be professional and humane and sympathetic as well and hope no one takes advantage of it. The team has to work as a satisfied cohesive whole. But since the electronic media has an open work culture, gender bias does not exist. Nobody treats me differently because I am a woman. The perception that women have it easier compared to a male is not right, says Bhan. I have got to where I am in my job due hard work and merit. I think a lot of it depends on how you project yourself. You can be friendly, have fun and yet people around must realise that there is a fine line they cannot transgress.

Delhi is a good city to work and live, believes Bhan. But that may be because she never takes the autorickshaw or clambers on to the dreaded DTC bus. She agrees. I drive to work and so dont face the travails of a working woman who has to take public transport. When I had a flat tyre at an unearthly hour while going home, I had to change it myself and I was a bit worried. But Delhi unlike other cities has wide roads and lots of greenery. Driving through Lutyens Delhi is beautiful. There is an old world charm still left about Delhi unlike many other cities.

A boss in office and a wife at home. A dual role that Bhan confesses she finds at times difficult to cope with. Managing a home is very, very difficult, she says echoing a generation of working womens thoughts. There is no particular time that one gets home. Weekends are spent doing household chores. Half the time my husband and I order food from outside. It is a different question, that were I not to be working, I would not be caught dead in the kitchen. The downside, says Bhan, is that as a working woman who keeps bizarre work hours, there is no time for family and friends. No one invites you to functions simply because they have realised that you never make it.

It makes the going much easier when there is a good support system, avers Bhan. If you dont have one, you will be left running around paying the bills, fetching that bread and keeping track of the erring maid. Men do tend to forget these basic things. A woman has to do so because of design and not by choice, certainly. I hate to come to a dirty home and so I have to ensure that there is someone to clean up the house and have things going smoothly. In between these rigorous schedules of home and office, the individual gets pushed back further and further. I dont remember the last time I spent time with myself doing what I like, she laughs. I am always going somewhere and coming back. I envy people who are able to find time for themselves.

The working womens woes are the same, more so when they are very high up on the career ladder. Archana Shiroor, country head, HR, Yes Bank, laughs outright when quizzed about the women boss tag. The way I look at it is, as a professional you do a job and thats it. The fact that you are a woman is merely incidental. The crux, feels Shiroor, is for any woman who leans on her gender at her workplace to realise that if you dont know what you are talking about, nothing is going to help.

As a boss you should add value to your colleagues work. If you bring value to your job and give the empathy factor expected of you as a woman, then things become far easier for you and others at the workplace. Since HR calls for an Emotional Quotient, you find more women in this field.

Shiroor is trained in HR but still when it comes to managing a home and a career, she admits it is extremely difficult. Anyone who says its easy is fooling herself. Its a tightrope!. Having been a working woman for so long, one wonders whether Shiroor has found an easy way to manage both. It is possible if you have a good support system and also if you have a fairly organised job with fixed working hours. If one is organised oneself and willing to delegate work, things become easier still.

Minority report
There are fewer women than men in India. And for every five men who work, theres only one working woman in urban India

The Census figures (2001) outline that out of our total population of 1.02 billion, 402.51 million people work; of these, 275.46 million are men and 127.05 million women.

In the urban population, out of a total 284.99 million, 91.86 million people constitute the urban workforce. Here the female component is much lower; against 76.26 million working men, there are only 15.59 million working women. In other words, for every five men who work, there is only one woman who works in an income-generating activity in urban India.

The rural workforce is naturally much larger. Out of a total of 740.25 million rural inhabitants, 310.65 million constitute the rural workforce with 199.2 million being male and 111.46 million female.

In the classification of work into main and marginal, the second sex outnumbers the first in the latter section. Those who work for at least 183 days a year are classified in the main category and those who work less than 183 days a year in the marginal category. In the total workforce, of the 89.34 million marginal workers, 34.94 million are men and a far larger number, 54.4 million, are women.

In the urban workforce, the gender distribution of the marginal workers is more equitable; with 5.08 million men out of a total workforce of 8.36 million belonging to the marginal category and women in this group totalling 3.28 million. This would roughly mean 1.74 men for every woman.

The male-female ratio in information technology jobs will be 65 men to 35 women by the year 2005. Women already comprise 37% of the employees in IT-enabled service sector.

Sources: GoI Census 2001, Nasscom

Promises, promises
The first gender-sensitive budget is yet to actualise

As the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government starts its second year in office, those working for womens rights will no doubt be watching whether the promises held out by gender budgeting will become a reality.

Take any social indicator and women are low down the development ladder literacy (54% compared to 74% for men), limited access to skill development and training, or health. As for the latter, the less said the better, with 51.8% in the age-group 15-49 years anaemic, according to the National Family Health Survey, 1988-99.

Majority of working women in India are being sucked into the informal economy. Nevertheless, women have been marching aggressively and undaunted into the workforce at all levels. The BPO industry has been attracting young women in droves, despite the fact that these non-traditional areas have all-night working hours.

But as the number of women in the workforce grows, do they have a say when it comes to crucial decisions that affect their lives Heres the figures less than 8% of parliamentary seats, less than 6% Cabinet positions, less than 4% seats in high courts and the Supreme Court and less than 3% in administration and management.

So, heeding the collective voice of women, finance minister P Chidambaram did a first in Union Budget 2005-06: he went for gender budgeting and announced a total of Rs 14,379 crore for the purpose. Some departments are reported to have set up gender-specific cells already.

A relatively new concept, gender budgeting aims to bring gender equality in the allocation of public funds. While it does not seek to create separate budgets nor claim more money for women, its aim is to ensure fair and efficient distribution of resources.

But what do we have here Promises galore a law on sexual harassment in the workplace (a draft is ready and up for comments), 33% representation for women in Parliament (stuck in the mud), the informal sector Bill catering to womens special problems, like no toilet facilities at the workplace, poor wages, no minimum wages .

Yes, the Factories Act has been amended and women have been allowed to work night shifts. Adequate safeguards have been assured for their security. But what about implementation The government cant assure security during the day, how will they ensure it during the night, says Amarjeet Kaur, National Council member of the Communist Party of India.

The UPA goverment has not even regularised Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), which would have led to regularisation of thousands of anganwadi workers and helpers. So for me, gender budgeting, as far as Mr Chidambaram is concerned, is mere tokenism, says Kaur.

Some important schemes that would have actually helped women, especially working women, have seen budgetary cuts. Schemes for working womens hostels, girls hostels, for training and development, for welfare of working women, have seen budgetary cuts. The womens component of the Sampoorna Rozgar Yojana, which was just Rs 1,300 crore was not fully utilised and has been cut by Rs 200 crore at a time when womens need for employment is greatly increasing, says a statement by Brinda Karat of the All India Democratic Womens Association.

At the end of the day, what do we have Only 8% of the total amount of budgetary support. And, of the Rs 25,000 crore of additional funds announced in the Budget, only one-sixth will be for women!

So, while gender budgeting may be considered the first sign of the rising voice of women, especially working women, a gender-just Budget is what those who hold up half the sky are still waiting for.

No gender divide
Female bosses often make very democratic leaders and are good team players

I would like to affirm that I have never felt the burden of being a woman. Being a woman provides us with special attributes such as compassion, sensitivity, multi-tasking and above all, the inner strength to excel.

With the right mix of skill, experience and resourcefulness, being at the helm can be one of the most rewarding experiences. Overcoming each obstacle spurs one ahead toward success.

When I set up Biocon, I faced credibility challenges: my youthful age, my gender and my unfamiliar business model. No bank wanted to lend to me, no professional wanted to work for me and it was a challenge to set up a business because women were considered high risk in the business world.

I think women have travelled a great distance since my early start-up days. Women, today have a lot of support, from the government as well as financial institutions. Women are good team players and female bosses often make very democratic leaders.

Giving high levels of responsibility is the biggest motivating factor for most people. Awards or cash rewards are important but cannot take the place of added responsibility, which takes the employee to an emotional crest. It is a primal human instinct to hanker after fame in any set-up and feel wanted by others. This needs to be addressed by any well-meaning entrepreneur. Knowledge does not have a gender divide. Women can use their instincts, intellects, thoughts and ideas to their advantage.

At Biocon, the underlying strategy was to match our business development goals to the mission of the company. Key catalysts or growth drivers are required at each stage of a companys growth. I believe that the vision is an evolving process. Things change so rapidly in the present day world. It would be detrimental to stick to a strategy resolutely. It is important to be able to change tack and change strategies in a responsive way.

It is also about taking calculated risks. An important ingredient to leave behind with ones leadership signature is to build strong fundamentals for your company.

For women especially, balancing home and work life may become difficult without adequate support from the family. While it is true that I was single when I built Biocon, the real growth came when I got married. My husband has played a vital role in our success today. A sense of self confidence, determination, hard work and business intelligence chart the way to the top.

The author is CMD, Biocon Limited

Safety & security
A Ficci study question how well equipped our cities are for working women

Though the number of women working in the service industry in India is increasing, their security continues to be a cause for concern, says a recent study Women in Service Industry conducted by FICCI Ladies Organisation (FLO) with the support of Hanns Seidel Foundation, Germany.

The study was conducted in five metros Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad and Kolkata.

The study raises the question of how well equipped our cities are in providing a conducive and supportive environment to attract and retain women in the growing service sector, says Namita Gautam, president, FLO.

The study recommends the following steps policy makers must consider:

Upgrading infrastructure: Ground level hassles continue to be a major impediment in the smooth running of the cities. Poor street lighting, unreliable transport and bad roads continue to be a cause of concern.

Change in attitude of enforcement agencies: Gender sensitisation from school level is an absolute must. This the only way in one can bring about a change in mindset so that women do not live in fear.

Though crimes against women are being reported much more than before, mere publicity is not the solution. Intensive awareness campaigns and discussions on how to handle crime against women are required.

Better police patrolling especially in cities like Delhi where there are more isolated stretches and winter evenings are longer.

Need for more accessible womens crime cell and better dissemination of information on help line facilities and legal rights.

Flexibility in work conditions: The workforce for the year 2000 has already been born and all predictions are that over the next decade more and women will be entering the job market. It means that employers will be forced to look more flexibly and creatively at utilising their abilities.

Women work in a way that is different to men. They use different processes and skills and often work out of a different value system. They are just effective, but go about it differently.

SFE recommendation: Sensistise lower level policemen and SHOs to womens safety issues. Turn this programme over to organisations known to have a philosophy untainted by patriarchal bias.

Councillors & cops: hear this
Make public institutions and public places gender-democratic

Three episodes in recent times have forced us to revisit some of our persisting concerns about problems of all working women, to varying degrees of intensity, cutting across socio-economic and cultural divides.

(a) The court martial of Indian Air Force Officer Anjali Gupta and her subsequent complaint of sexual harassment against her male colleagues and senior officers.

(b) The kidnapping of a Arpit, a 18-month old child in Delhi January this year by the maid while the mother was out to work.

(c) The rape of a college student in Mumbai in April, and the questions raised by the Shiv Sena on issues of morality of women who are in the wrong place at the wrong time in wrong clothes.

The points that one wants to reiterate through the above illustrations are:

(a) Social attitudes about womens proper place and roles are reflected within institutional setting and in public places.

(b) Women outside home i.e., at work or on the roads, on their way to work, or just relaxing and enjoying leisure outside the permissible and safe limits of the family and home are likely to be seen as transgressing the male space. Equally, they may be seen as neglecting their burden of love, their natural and primary vocation of nurturing and caring for the family.

(c) Such attitudes often make themselves manifest in violence against women, which is justified by projecting a woman outside the home as inviting and even enjoying male attention. Thus an inversion of the victim-aggressor relationship emerges so that a woman in the public space becomes the aggressor and the man an unsuspecting victim of her seductive and corrupting presence.

(d) Given that notions of womens proper place and roles are so well entrenched in our social consciousness and continually reinforced through the popular print and visual media, working women continue to bear the double burden of work at home and outside, and suffer violence at home and harassment at work.

(e) Since long congealed social attitudes take equally long to soften and dissolve and be replaced by democratic notions of gender relations, it is important as a necessary first step that public institutions and public places are made democratic. This in turn means that the laws and rules that govern these places are embedded in principles of equality and freedom. It also means that those responsible for their framing and implementation are deeply committed to these principles. Such conditions of freedom and equality require that special arrangements be made for those who are vulnerable in general and specific contexts.

These essential first steps may be identified as:

(i) Safe roads and public places. This is turn requires that the police is especially trained to discharge their duties in a way that women feel secure and not threatened by them.

(ii) Safe, secure and reliable public transport, since for most women, travelling to work and back home is perhaps the most arduous and dreaded daily experience of work.

(iii) Norms in the workplace that give equal worth to equal work done by everyone including women, equal responsibility at work and equal opportunities of capacity building and professional enhancement. Closely associated with this is putting in place a just and open mechanism of investigating and punishing cases of sexual harassment so that unlike Anjali Guptas case, the institution where a woman works does not fortify itself against her, nor close ranks questioning her motives.

(iv) Give special attention to what is taught in schools and how it is taught, and what values are disseminated through the public media. This would go a long way in assuring progressive democratisation of family and society, which would become spaces of sharing and bonding rather than spaces where violence can legitimately be carried out. This would go a long way in assuring that women have an equal right to explore and enhance their capacities and exercise the choice to chart out the course of their lives.

The author is senior fellow, Centre for Womens Development Studies, New Delhi

The best & the worst
Whats it like to be a working woman in these Indian cities


Sudipta Sengupta, head, marketing, Cafe Coffee Day

Best: The best thing about working in Mumbai is that you get your compensation upfront. Also if you do your job well and you get a pat on your back and the brickbats come quick, too. I find that people at the workplace are interested in their job, go about it in a professional manner and are interested in delivering. No other city has this level of professionalism.

Worst: The worst thing about the city is the travel. It is bizarre. I now understand why people are reluctant to leave the office in the evening!

Delyse Briganza, V-P, sales and marketing, The Orchid

Best: Mumbai is the best city to be in for a working woman. We are treated as equals here and the work culture is excellent. This is especially so in the hospitality sector, where I work. There is no discrimination here because one is a woman.

Worst: None. I havent faced any.


Haseena CM, 26, BPO executive, Thomson Financial

Best: The cosmopolitan culture and the freedom. There are plenty of avenues for entertainment, shopping and good eateries. And of course the pleasant weather. The city is a fashion hub and besides being an exciting city, the hospitality of people here is endearing.

Worst: The traffic and the high cost of living.

Sunitha Budhiraja, 50, vice-president (Corporate), UB Group

Best: The weather is good here. People are good and friendly, in the sense that they have more time for you here, than if you were in another city like Mumbai. Bangalore is more laidback than the other metros are, but the work culture is very professional. Irrespective of your gender, you are accepted across the board, by all. Being a woman does not make much difference.

Worst: The roads are bad in Bangalore.


R Sowmithri, 48, ed (Finance), El Forge Ltd

Best: I havent experienced any gender bias or chauvinism among the men here. They have professional regard for women and we are treated on par with men. We are recognised and respected for our position.

Worst: The only problem I face is difficulties at times in managing domestic responsibilities and professional duties.

R Radhika, 25, Software Engineer, Xansa

Best: In terms of safety for women in Chennai, I feel it is a much better city compared to most other metros. There are a number of hostels and PG facilities available in the city, making it easier and safer for women who work. In terms of career prospects the city fares well since a lot of software companies are opening up centres here. There are a number of quality training institutes, making it easier for working women to attend part time courses.

Worst: The only bad thing about Chennai is the water problem in the summer.


Bhuvana Ramalingam, 47, director, Communications, Isb

Best: One pleasant aspect is that one need not travel long distances for work or personal needs, compared to say Delhi, Mumbai or Chennai. Everything is easily accessible. The best part is that late nights are not bothersome as one feels safe in the city. People let you be. Also, Hyderabad has a big range of population covering the very traditional as well as the very modern. Though the modern ones are the wealthy ones, it still creates an area where you can feel free to be what you are without being ostracised.

Worst: The unpleasant part of working and living in Hyderabad is that the support services like plumbers and electricians work in a very old traditional, laidback Hyderbadi way. Thats the biggest pain. You have to keep chasing them to get your work done. In fact, it took me three months to get my sofa upholstered. Also, shopping choices could be better. The chilling-out places too are geared to the very young with none to cater to the mature taste.

Faheen Khatun, 33, ps to CMD of Vimta Laboratories

Best: Working in a metro has lot of advantages in terms of social security. Also because of better roads and communication systems I am still closer to my family. The best part here is that despite my religion, I am independent and have an identification which is quite unusual to my caste. Though the mindset amongst us is changing, we are getting a professional identity.

Worst: Life in a metro is unpredictable with the rising incidence of accidents and traffic jams. After becoming financially independent, life in a metro also offers some kind of compromises. Weekends are the days where there are get-togethers having missed the family for the entire week.


Kulpreet Kaur, 31, MD, Impact Public Relations Pvt Ltd

Best: Working in Delhi is like working globally. Delhi is full of opportunities and one just needs to know how to grab it. Professionalism is respected here. I feel Delhi is a safe place o work as against the opinion that it is unsafe.

Worst: Working late as a business women raise eyebrows of people around. As a women entrepreneur, I feel a lot of men try to hit on to you if they come to know you are single. People assume that if you are single, you are surely ready to mingle. This mindset needs to change in here.


Mariamma Sanu George, 38, planning and monitoring co-ordinator, Swiss Agency for Development and Co-operation CapaDck

Best: For travelling women executives, lack of long traffic jams is a relief. This means one can spend more time at work or with family.

Worst: A lone woman executive lunching out is looked down upon. In no other city does one find this complete lack of lunching out culture.

Sumi V Devan, 24, project executive, Grameen Padhona Kendram

Best: Travelling from city to adjacent villages is a relaxing experience, compared to other cities. Distances appear shorter. In this sense, it is a field workers dream city in day time.

Worst: Culturally, night mobility is almost denied to a woman executive. There are security issues, but moral taboo almost supersedes it.

Reported by Sulekha Nair in Mumbai; Sarita Varma in Thiruvananthapuram; Reema Jose in Bangalore; Srividhya in Chennai; Saikat Neogi in Delhi; Satya Naagesh Ayyagary & B V Mahalakshmi in Hyderabad