Mind over matter: an individualistic approach to a gender-neutral workplace
March 8, 2021 9:00 AM
For women (and men) to succeed in the workplace, the sole factor of consideration is capability and equal footing
An inclusive and equal workplace can only exist when both women and men are part of the conversation and action
By Nina Elavia Jaipuria
Some lessons you learn at home, some in school and others in the real world. As we grow and evolve so do our beliefs but what stays true to us are a few values that have set in our subconscious. One such value that has stayed with me through three decades of working in some of the most rewarding and challenging roles is that meritocracy is the key to professional success.
Growing up, I have been part of a high-achieving family where success was gender neutral. I inherited an inclination towards excellence and competence from my mother who has been a successful entrepreneur for over four decades to my grandmother who was the director of NABARD about 50 years ago. This in turn moulded me into a person who believes in merit being the numero uno factor determining every endeavour of my life, be it personal or professional. I have identified with it since childhood, be it in my academics, dance training and my corporate life.
I am a firm believer of the fact that gender doesn’t drive gender equality, equal opportunities and a conducive ecosystem does. For women (and men) to succeed in the workplace, the sole factor of consideration is capability and equal footing. The onus of creating such an environment thus, lies with not only women but also, men.
The opportunity to grow one’s professional career based solely on meritocracy, however, is one of privilege that many women do not get. As women continue to challenge gender-parity issues like pay gap, safety and glass ceiling barriers that prevent equality at the workplace, evolution of corporate structures and policies that promote gender neutrality is of key importance.
To my mind, there are three pillars to achieving a gender-neutral corporate world:
Everyone must drive this agenda, not only women: An inclusive and equal workplace can only exist when both women and men are part of the conversation and action. If we have to create a workplace that considers merit to be the key success factor, attitudes at the grassroot level need to change. When more men take on traditional gender roles characterised to women, it, in turn, starts reflecting in actions they’d take at the workplace that are equitable. Being part of the gender-neutral narrative at workplace can’t be in isolation but should in fact be a more holistic attitudinal shift.
Normalise flexibility: Flexibility is a requirement not only for women but for men as well. It is important to understand that for organisations to grow cohesively, policies that are traditionally focussed towards women like maternity breaks should also include paternity leaves which can be an enabler for women across the board, not just within your own organisation. There is a universal problem of women in the middle management losing out the battle between their biological and career clocks. I myself, took a break for three years after my daughter was born so I could be completely present during her formative years. But I was determined enough to find my way back to the corporate world after a hiatus and have never looked back since. The flexibility to manage both career and family responsibilities should be guilt free for women.
Equity doesn’t always mean equality: Different problems demand different solutions thus, while addressing issues with a gender-neutral lens, it’s important that we remain cognizant of the physiological and social disparities between the genders. From questioning active contribution of women who have been on maternity breaks to blaming efficiency of a female colleague who might be unable to attend a client meeting because of her child’s PTA meeting, the situations that women face are starkly different from their male counterparts. Thus, the nuances of these differences must be factored in as we take a gender-neutrality stance towards merit to take precedence above all else.
The bottom line is that as business dynamics continue to evolve, organisations also need to overcome traditional approaches and operate with merit as the sole contributing factor. It ultimately boils down to what each leader does to keep the playing field even. For instance, while I have had the privilege to work with great male bosses who have always encouraged me, a lot of function-heads in my team are women. This has been possible because of a ‘may the best person win’ mindset at the leadership level. With constant disruption in the market, a merit-focussed gender neutral workplace is the only way that an organisation can be prepared to put its best foot forward.
The author is head – Hindi Mass Entertainment and Kids TV Network, Viacom18.