A few years ago, I was moderating a panel on mutual fund distribution while working for MINT, it so happened that all my panelists were men, yup it was a ‘manel’. Believe it or not, that was the first time I had heard the word and it took me a few seconds to put it in context. While the fact had been pointed out in shock, I wasn’t offended or embarrassed, just felt a bit out of sorts at the realization, like I had missed an inessential memo for the better part of my life. I let it go at that moment to settle into the event and discussion.
Later when I mentioned this faux pas to a close friend, her reaction was as trite as I had felt about the ‘shocking’ realization. You see, our childhood experiences belied the gender gap that the rest of the country or world for that matter has stared into. In our micro world, there was no difference between a girl and boy, we were brought up to focus on strengths and merit alone. To our naïve minds that is all that should have mattered.
The reality however, stands in stark contrast. Gender disparity, where men have head start and undue advantages along the way, is a global issue. It doesn’t help that according to a recent WEF survey India is ranked 112th among 153 countries on the WEF Gender Gap Index. Women may be at the forefront of Indian political system, but any leverage we have as professionals ends there.
Women are significantly less present in the workforce than men, the gap widens with seniority. According to the WEF Gender Gap Report 2020, 36% of senior management in the private and public sector are women. Women as corporate leaders and part of corporate boardrooms are even fewer. Globally, this representation stands at 18%-22%, whereas for India it’s a paltry 13.8%.
The numbers are telling and we can keep adding the statistics which will show beyond doubt that when it comes to professional outings, women are missing.
Experientially, I know this to be true when I speak to a lot of the women around me. The reasons are obvious, it’s a task to juggle the multiple roles thrust upon us.
The expectation even now is that women need to take care of the home. Unfortunately, most women are guilty of accepting this role way too easily rather than giving their own identities a real chance.
Taking care of your family, home, children and so on is a privilege that we are blessed to have, but that isn’t enough. In my experience, all women realise that sooner or later and the later it is the worse it gets.
Searching for identity
For a few years now, to whoever cares to listen, I shout out the word IDENTITY.
For women, being someone’s mother, sister, wife, daughter too often becomes their primary identity.
IT SHOULDN’T. Here I am talking not to the men, but to all the women reading this blog.
I know you love your family and family truly comes first. However, if you never spend time building your own identity, separate from your family, separate from your husband and children, you will never know yourself, your ability and what you are capable of achieving.
When you decide to discover this identity is your choice, but make it a priority before regret starts to set in.
I also believe that women are emotionally and mentally far stronger than their male counterparts, which really gives us the edge. It’s more a biological facet than anything else. Use this strength that you have to your advantage.
Yes, it is about financial independence and financial freedom, but it is also about knowing that you are a person with talents, talents that are exclusive to you, talents that help you find your unique identity.
Don’t be afraid and don’t be shy.
The first impediment I see, is this belief that if the lady of the house is working there is no one to fill in. Managing multiple roles is hard, especially when you are expected to excel at all. God forbid, I spend too much time in the office and forget about dinner, my work and its potential will never be enough on its own.
It’s a real problem, not just in the way society considers working women and their role, but also in the way women themselves feel guilty about not fulfilling each role to their 100% potential.
Serena Williams has shown us that a loving and caring mother can also be an ace tennis competitor and player on a global turf. It doesn’t take away from her motherhood, rather adds to it. If managing your profession is getting difficult along with the kitchen and school and family responsibilities, then outsource some of it. It means that at times, the food is not to everyone’s liking and at times school meetings and important announcements are missed and at times you have to hear the sharp words of a family elder on how you are shirking responsibility; but it also means that you are embracing who you are to the fullest. It means that your children, friends and family, see you first as an individual with great potential, rather than a multi-tasking woman trying to juggle her multiple roles. That second visual starts to get tiring very soon and you will burn out.
You are not goddess Saraswati with her multiple hands, do the things you are good at and outsource the rest.
It will also mean that you have a lot more time to spend sharing with and loving your family rather than simply ensuring that the daily household tasks are completed.
You have to rise first
Truth is that many women shy away from professional responsibility even before the merit begins to stand out. That’s why the ‘manels’ happen. They do this because of the expectation that society and patriarchy put on them.
If there is a support system that allows women to manage profession and home without judgement, you will see them shine without exception.
Jacinda Ardern has shown us the way. She is the premier of a country, with an infant to care for and yet she is logical, thorough and decisive as a professional.
You have to rise first, shrug off the ‘what will people say’ syndrome and drive forward. Learn to say ‘no’ when its needed most and push forward. Learn to enjoy yourself adorning the identity you were born for and fly forward.
The naysayers will simply bow and fall in line.
I was wrong
I was wrong to feel banal about the ‘manel’; it is a real problem. Not because the men didn’t merit the discussion, but because society overlooks very easily how many women deserve it. Simply because they accept that women are better suited to one cliched role and no more. Being a mother or a wife or a daughter shouldn’t stop you from being an astronaut, an artist, a banker, a manager, an engineer and a pilot par excellence.
Choose your identity first and let your gender role work its way around that. As you find that inner strength and excel at what you do best, the rest of the world will simply fall at your feet and stand by in awe of what you do.
As I write this, I am celebrating my big 40! I have been blessed with the ability to pursue my identity with my family right beside me. When I woke up this morning, I chose not to take any of it for granted.
I started with a strong morning run, with my best partner alongside. Then I got down to doing what I love most, writing this blog! Now, once the self is taken care of, I will spend the rest of my day with my children and family enjoying their company in the excitement of starting a brand-new decade!
Thank you for reading and remember, never back down from who you are truly meant to be, find your identity.