International Women’s Day 2023: How far have we evolved to say a big ‘No’ to Casual Sexism at workplace | Interview

Women represent half of the world’s population and, therefore, also half of its human resources.

International Women's Day 2023, International Womens Day 2023, womens day, women boss, jobs, workplace, women empowerment, gender equality, hiring
Nirmala Menon Founder & CEO Interweave Consulting

In recent years, India has seen an increase in women bosses across various industries. From corporate houses to startups, women are making their presence felt in leadership positions. However, there is still a long way to go before gender parity is achieved in the Indian workforce. Women bosses in India face various challenges, including societal biases, lack of mentorship, and work-life balance issues. Despite these obstacles, many women leaders are breaking the glass ceiling and inspiring others to follow in their footsteps. In an interview with Anindita Sen of Financial Express Online, Nirmala Menon – CEO & Founder of Interweave Consulting shares her views on hiring, women empowerment, women bosses in backdrop of International Women’s Day.

Q1: Do women bosses get equal amounts of respect as men? If not, then why?

It is still the norm for leadership attributes to default to stereotypes about masculine behaviour, leading to unconscious biases of women not being perceived as capable of tough leadership. Women have had to battle sexist comments, and microaggressions that undermine their authority and signal that it will be harder for them to advance. For example, they are far more likely than men in leadership to have colleagues imply that they aren’t qualified for their jobs or twice as likely as men leaders to be mistaken for someone more junior. 

Women leaders are also more likely to report that personal characteristics, such as their gender, their looks or parental status are areas of scrutiny and have often played a role in them being denied or passed over for a raise, promotion, or chance to get ahead.

Female leaders are still stuck in a “catch-22” situation where they need to be warm and nice (what society traditionally expects from women), as well as competent or tough (what organisations traditionally expect from leaders) holding women in a tight double-bind.

Q2: Are the workplaces following gender balance to provide a healthy and fair environment?

There are just too few organisations that can claim they are truly gender balanced. It is a journey that every organisation is on as the costs of not doing so can be heavy in an environment that is demanding it of organisations. The social, moral, legal arguments are all heavily skewed towards building better gender balance and providing a safe, fair and enabling work environment for all.

Q3: What is the progress report on women empowerment and gender equality? Why is it the need of the hour?

Women represent half of the world’s population and, therefore, also half of its human resources. They bring a different perspective to solving problems and represents a talent pool that has not been leveraged. Besides, equality is a basic human right that all businesses and governments have a moral obligation to uphold for sustainable and peaceful existence. No country can hope to achieve its economic potential if half its human resources are not participating in economic activity.

However, we are making very slow progress on this important agenda. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2022 predicts it will take another 132 years to close the global gender gap. 

That discrimination and inequality exists is obvious in the unequal gender opportunities reflected in social, economic and political dimensions across countries and in India. There is no country even today where women are dominant in any of these fields.

Q4: When will ‘Casual Sexism’ stop?

I wish I knew! But it’s not going away in a hurry!! Casual sexism is so deep rooted and systemic that many times, neither the victim nor the perpetrator recognises it. Yet the cumulative impact is devastating. Educating people on gender sensitive and respectful communication and encouraging the calling out of transgressions like sexist humour or jokes, derogatory comments or ‘overfamiliarity’ and objectification of women through comments about dress and physical appearance is a good start. The tone has to be set at the top and allyship to call out disrespect is critical. It must also be supported by not belittling the complainant as being too sensitive or not having a sense of humour or claiming that their complaints are just a way to get noticed or for fame or money.

While sexism mostly affects women, we must remember that boys and men who do not conform to stereotypical gender roles or behaviour are also equally targeted.

Q5: Hybrid work model suits for everyone but then why only women face the scrutiny of being getting the advantage?

While everyone accepts that hybrid work is the ideal new norm at work, they are equally aware that there are likely disadvantages to it, irrespective of gender. Given our socio-cultural context, it is easy to understand why more women opt for remote working than men. The scrutiny then is on the legacy template of an “always available” employee and to what extent the woman in question can and will commit to. Of course, unconscious biases of women will prioritise home over work continues to lurk in people’s minds further strengthening the scrutiny.

There’s a significant conversations among academics and gender-equality advocates that employers will – whether overtly or subconsciously – favour in-office employees.  However, by spending some time at work each week and ensuring consistent communication and visibility with the team and leaders, a large part of the possible challenges can be addressed.

Of course, we should remember that some women and possibly some men may still choose permanently remote options to accommodate their lifestyles even if it could impact their career prospects.

Q6: While hiring, women still face all the obligations. Is there any end of this discrimination?

Gender bias continues to influence hiring decisions globally. The research and data on this tells the story. Women are 25-46% more likely to get the job when there are blind interviews or auditions. Again women will often eliminate themselves from the process if they don’t meet 100% of the job requirements while men are confident in applying for a role if they tick 60% of the criteria.

Systemic changes in eliminating hiring biases and sensitising hiring managers on how unconscious biases play out in hiring situations is how we can begin eliminating this unfair discrimination.

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First published on: 07-03-2023 at 15:39 IST
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