– Jyotsna Joshi & Abhijeet Kumar Srivastava
“You have no right to judge someone on his religious preferences”, Shobha screamed. The usual chit-chat suddenly took an unpleasant turn. Everyone was taken aback… our lunch boxes lay untouched on the table, only to be shoved back into the bag as everyone left one by one.
We did not realize how the topic of religious practice cropped. Probably it was Rahul… or could very well be Amit. He is the one who blurts out things all the time. We were eating together while cribbing about having to finish the project before the deadline to make it to the Diwali event being organized by the HR team the following week. What an amazing life these HR people have I sighed.
I heard muffled sniffs behind me… Oh my god! Shobha was sobbing while I was lost in my thoughts. Though she was too ignorant of the rational thoughts shared by others, she was right. She should not have been cornered & grilled in the discussion about religious practice just because she was a staunch follower of her religion while others were inclined towards atheism.
Shobha had a vast experience of working with many reputed multinational companies as well as State and Central Government think tanks. Much to her chagrin, she was deployed at junior roles in Government dominated set-ups of Policy consultants, despite holding an MBA degree from ‘the’ best B-School in India. So much so that her nearly decade long work experience did not seem enough to earn her an opportunity to work with top bureaucrats and assist in shaping the policies of the state.
Our team at work comprised of people from diverse backgrounds and expectedly, the lunchtime conversations ranged from debates on being a vegetarian or a non-vegetarian to a critique against the capitalist orientations of present education, health & social welfare system.
“Had this been a well-managed employee-centric organization, they wouldn’t have dared to target me like that.” She said with a lump in her throat. I was not a party to the argument that broke out the other day, but her statement made even more sense to me.
Suddenly it dawned upon me that had there been thoughtful work policies in place, I would not have faced at least half of all the hardships that I had faced in my career so far.
A month passed but this nascent notion was buoying in my mind every now and then. I saw Shobha sipping onto hot coffee in one corner of the cafeteria, and I found my self sitting beside her the very next moment. Not sure what drew me… I guess my ebbing thoughts were hopeful of hitting the shore in her company.
I greeted her and complimented her on her new earrings. A smile broke out of her sullen face and soon we slipped into a deep conversation. She insinuated towards the not-so robust human resources policies in the Government affiliated entities. It was intriguing and I requested her to elaborate her statement. She elucidated it by referring to the incident from the previous month… which all of us were a part of, but no one could notice any objectionable discourse in it. She recalled how the topic of ‘Faith’ did not ring well to this crop of youth. These people in their 20s find atheism to be more comfortable and peaceful. It was a no brainer that they would leave no stone unturned to advocate ‘Atheism’. A few did agree to the existence of a ‘Superpower’ but were completely against calling it ‘God’.
She was recalling the agony she faced while defending her faith in front of a bunch of people who were not at all licensed to question it; when the Constitution of India itself gave herself a fundamental right to practice her religion peacefully.
She was right… and so are many other Shobhas’ in different organizations. They are wronged, cornered, and targeted ever so casually every other day. This has become the new ‘normal’.
Things get worse in organizations where the HR functions are not defined and structured elaborately.
In most Multi-National companies, on the other hand, such incidents are not at all tolerated. The employee to them is their key resource, whose productivity should not be hampered by any non-fruitful/sentiment hurting conversation. Such conversations are common in day-to-day activities, but the point is where to draw lines and let the other person know that boundary is being breached. The boundary of self-dignity, own morals, and self-confidence.
This discussion with her made me delve deeper into the experiences that most of the women go through, which are many times not so motivating, but no none gets to raise their voice against it.
Here are the reasons why:
– The organization is male-dominated or has most of the employees who are male: Most of the organizations do not represent the 50-50 Gender Ratio in their workforce. This is because even before they get to plan their career, they first must wade through the swamps of the generational ideology of conservatism, which propounds that women should base their work preferences around that of their family. This game of convenience eventually makes them pay a huge opportunity cost at every stage of their life. While in the early 20’s they have to choose between higher education or marriage; In the late 20’s they are rattled by the dilemma of whether to plan the family or pitch for the mid-management level position; and that’s not it… In the late 30’s they are at the end of their wit deciding between whether to take that promotion assume greater responsibilities at work, OR, taking full-time responsibility for their child’s education. Each choice comes at a cost, and it never ends.
– Women are not given an opportunity to lead despite having years of experience: In a typical 9 to 5 job, what is it that stops people from completing their tasks within those stipulated work hours? There are instances when the teams working on specific projects are asked to stay back after office hours and deliver something on an urgent basis. This gives an upper hand to people, often bachelors who are staying away from their families, to be at the forefront and complete the task after office hours. What about women who have families of their own to attend to after office hours? Even in the case of women who are not married, how safe is it to stay at the office till late hours? All this sways the top management towards men who tend to capitalize on such occasions and eventually get promoted to higher positions. Very recently, a close friend of mine, having nearly six years of valuable experience in the same organization was made to report to a man who was only a couple of years old in the company. Though both had the similar qualifications, years of loyalty and proven results lost to that mustache on the face.
– Networking implies going beyond party culture: After office team meets and casual events are a common culture within organizations to nurture team bonding. A couple of such lavish gatherings are sponsored by the employer, while many other occasional parties are arranged by employees themselves. Such team gatherings tend to involve other professionals working in the same field/domain and often external stakeholders. A colleague shared how she had to turn down a lucrative Business Analyst’s role at an FMCG company during campus placement just because the interviewer was more interested to know if she drinks. Evidently, this inquisitiveness on drinking preferences was rooted in the company’s policy of throwing parties regularly and expecting everyone to courtesy-drink, which, when not complied with, could result in being left out. With individualism on the rise such a culture has garnered wide acceptance even with women, many of whom still do not prefer such practices at public spaces. This is often seen as an impediment to their networking capabilities. Undeniably, there is a need for an inclusive work-culture that acknowledges the time commitments and workspace of women instead of judging them on the same scale as that of men. While reputed and listed private organizations have taken into account such practices that provision growth among all the sections of the workforce, traditional set-ups such as Government organizations still regard the ‘Human Resources’ department as the team dealing with holiday requests, performance appraisals, conducting of a seminar, or inviting guests for talks. Should they consider revising the policies to induce inclusive candor, protect and promote employee well-being, and taking measures to provide a conducive workplace for women folk, their potential could be harnessed and their productivity could bloom in a million colors of excellence and vibrance.
Jyotsna Joshi holds a Masters from Tata Institute of Social Sciences and works as a public policy consultant with the Planning Department of Government of Andhra Pradesh.
Abhijeet Kumar Srivastava is an experienced Tech professional working for a US Tech-Giant, who indulges in acute analysis of workplace dynamics