While we vehemently chase Gender Equality, life catches us off-guard and the penny drops. The two genders are actually NOT equal. They are very different. Biologically! Thus the tiring race to equality needs to make space for neutrality. Gender neutrality is as much about men as it is about women.
In this first of the four article series that I will be authoring, I intend to dwell on the “hidden in plain sight” issues. Consider the following in context of your respective workplaces –
- Air-Conditioner temperature
- Waiting queue in front of the ladies washroom
- Height of the podium for speaker/award sessions
- Workshops held by the gender diversity team
- Number of men employees using the office crèche (if you have one)
If you feel that the above five things are unrelated to each other, think again.
- Women have a slower metabolism than men and hence they get more uncomfortable in lower temperatures. AC set to a low temperature is a tell-tale sign of lesser number of women in the office. If there are enough women in the office then the inference is worse.
- While the drive to recruit women is in full fledge across corporates, the number of washroom stalls unfortunately remain the same. It takes high investment and higher commitment to proportionately increase the infra with recruitment.
- The podium side covers are designed with the perspective of an average Indian male height and thus when an average Indian women lands up to address the crowd, she gets almost hidden behind the mic.
- In most of the companies workshops of gender diversity are arranged only for female employees. This happens when equality is in focus and one gender is groomed to catch up with the other. Fact is that the two genders have to maintain a fine balance, give and take is imperative. Just working on the women side of the story will not usher in the era of equal opportunities any time soon.
- A father leaving office on time regularly is judged but a mother doing so is ok. Crèche is just one example. I know of men who attend their child’s parent’s teacher meeting at school by hiding it under sick leave. If privileges are restricted to one gender, the related responsibilities will continue to be tagged only to that gender.
The list can go on but by now you must have got the drift. Biases are far too deep seated and they blind us to see the obvious at times.
All of the above examples will be familiar to employees based at corporate headquarters of any mid to large sized organisation. In my book “We-Men@Work” I call the head offices as the tinder profiles of corporates thus if the so called “best foot forward” avatar of our corporates have so many matters that demand rethinking, one can only imagine what all can be unearthed if we drill a little deeper.
Let us now dwell on the most obvious edge that a company gets by practising Gender Neutrality.
I keep getting recruitment calls from many reputed companies for their “diversity” profile vacancy. Firstly diversity encompasses many other things than just two genders. Even if I were to ignore that fact for a moment, the hunt for women candidates at senior level is not practical to sustain in the long run due to a couple of reasons.
- The pool available at the very beginning is skewed (with around 70% male) which keeps dwindling at senior levels
- If merit takes a back seat while chasing diversity, the intent of equal opportunities will automatically get delayed one way or the other.
Instead, an honest approach of neutrality can ensure a level playing field for both the genders inspite of the biological differences. Efforts put in for gender neutral environment will create an ecosystem that nurtures merit based talent from the very beginning. In short the cost (time, money and compromise in talent quality) of “diversity” recruitment across levels comes down.
Reputation is nothing but word of mouth (WOM) and any true marketer knows that the most costly (and most ancient) yet the most effective medium (inspite of plethora of options) to sell a brand is WOM. Work culture is impossible to document. It is moulded by everyone at office and thrives only in WOM. The reputation of a nurturing office culture recruits faster than an army of job consultants.
Every day, every act, every thought and every word – makes or breaks the culture of our work space. Having said that, workplace and society cannot exist in two separate silos. So far, society has been calling the shots by heavily influencing the corporate culture. Can this equation be challenged by designing mindful workplace practices? Dwell on that.
More to follow in the next article.