This one is for the ladies.
There are a million reasons to love Tina Fey. She looks great, is quite funny and her self-deprecating humor still hits the spot on lazy nights of YouTube and 30 Rock reruns when there is nothing else to do. She writes well too. In the book Bossypants, Fey advises young women to shun lady-shaming at work.
“When faced with sexism or ageism or lookism or even really aggressive Buddhism, ask yourself the following question:’Is this person in between me and what I want to do?’ If the answer is no, ignore it and move on. Your energy is better used doing your work and outpacing people that way.” Wise words. I usually do not care much about feminism, or anything that smells like it. It is off-putting to give an issue that much mouth time when a lot of its essence can actually be implemented using that very mouth time. Fey seems to be riding on her SNL wave of female writer mania by doling out good, personal advice based on her own experience. I have to admit however, that it’s top quality. There are so many downers at the workplace that Friday never comes soon enough for almost everyone. Women claim to have bigger troubles than that. There is pay discrimination, horrible bosses, bad schedules, the pervert two cubicles over and hints of harassment here and there. Women are barely represented in corporate India’s boardrooms. A McKinsey study says that compared to 36% men, only 18% women in corporate want to rise to the top of the ladder. Studies indicate that women negotiate far less on a job offer compensation than men. Does the workplace contribute to this attitude? Are colleagues and culture creating an environment that makes women stick to what they are doing right now to avoid the eyes and judgement? Can this be holding them back?
Of course clear reasons have been established for the statistical results. There is a family to manage. There are kids to have and nurture. There is a balance to strike and after a point more responsibility tends to become a burden for many. I sincerely hope there are women out there for whom these roles take on priority due to personal choice and not due to an inherent implication that it is just-what-women-do. The question remains- apart from these roles that women feel they need to or want to fulfill, what holds them back? Is it the workplace itself? Is it a lack of drive?
The modern workplace is a pseudonym for subtle aggression. You need to push hard without looking desperate. That new assignment, that conference abroad, that big client and the big sales cut. Nothing comes easy by just being on the back-foot all the time. For those of us who have worked, many must have seen women work really hard at their jobs. How many have we seen shamelessly run after opportunities and try to grab the best piece of the pie, every single time? Very few. Most internalize the message of being good enough without going for the stars. When they could be jumping up to get the best opportunity, they lower their expectations at several steps, holding themselves back. When we hear of top women executives leaving for home at 5:30 in the evening to be home for the family, we say nah! only the ones at the top get this luxury, the journey is not worth it. Those same women executives would not have been in their place had they thought the same thing when they were young.
Companies talk big about the need for women in the workforce and a huge majority of them are actively hunting for qualified women today. Some say women bring nurturing to office and are nicer to work with. Personally I feel the argument seems to lack weight and women can be jerks as much as men. The point is even if no one was pushing for them to come up and do well, it is just fair for women to realize potential and push more vigorously to achieve what is possible- given they have the desire to achieve it. There will always be insecurities and trouble to get over, but opportunities won’t go on the back gear and wait. Lost chances are a shame and almost a waste of talent. When a crowd is asked a question at a college, we need a woman to raise her hand confidently and answer. If your heart does not say so, there is probably no need to start accommodating husbands and kids who do not exist currently. Times could not have been better- there are more and more young women joining the workforce today. There is little to lose in the 20s and if there is passion for work, then any factor that is detrimental due to personal attitude should be thrown out of the window. Women need to actively take charge, be comfortable in dreaming and being power hungry. If all that is going around you is talk, then drum it out and just keep going.
There is no doubt that if women want to rise and push for it, organizations and families should be right there, helping them out. Companies have the responsibility to promote good performance amongst all employees, and there is no doubt that they are one of the key stakeholders that need to chip in to make a huge impact. However, the protagonists of the story need to lead the way. There are completely helpless situations in life and sometimes nothing can be done about them individually. However, if you are not completely helpless but it just seems like a lot of trouble, then being a victim of your own fear or burden of conformism is sad. We cannot fight against discrimination while being busy relishing stories that talk about the first woman ever to do X and the second woman to do Y. There is a need to blend right in with the boy’s club at the top- so much so that they just say someone did X and someone did Y.
Kanika is a member of LSD. Her favorite excerpt from Bossypants is Fey planning to tell her daughter someday while showing her good pictures of herself – ‘You see? There was a time when people thought your mother was a sexy bitch.’