Women at the Workplace – Stuck between the Past and the Present while Pushing for the Future
The challenge facing women at the workplace today has become deeper and more pernicious. Women are facing the burden of disproportionately unfair pressures.
We live in a period of immense importance in the fight for gender equality. The Suffragettes delivered, after years of struggle, the political rights of women to vote; their counterparts during and after World War 2 ensured that women could access careers and gain economic independence. In the 70-odd years that have passed, women have become closer than ever before to being equal partners in the workplace.
The challenge facing women at the workplace today has become deeper and more pernicious. Women are facing the burden of disproportionately unfair pressures. They are stuck between the past and the present, as they move mountains every single day to be consummate professionals while handling and managing the household. New technology and changing corporate cultures, however, are poised to change that – making women in the workforce equal partners in enterprise.
Companies are valuing what working women are bringing to the workplace
The business case for why there should be more women in the workforce is a settled issue. Economists at S&P Global have found that if women stayed in the workforce at the same rate that women in Norway do, the US economy would be USD 1.6 trillion larger – an increase of 5-10% on their nominal GDP growth rate. For India, sources estimate that an equal number of men and women in the workplace would lead to an incredible INR 47,00,000 crore increase in the country’s GDP.
At the company level, workplaces with greater diversity have been found to be more innovative and tend to grow better, while retaining top talent. McKinsey’s research has found that companies with greater gender diversity have 15% better financial returns than their respective national industry medians. This has caused companies to introspect, attempting to find ways to encourage women to join the workforce.
Caught between the past and the present …
However, women are still underrepresented at every level in the corporate world, in spite of company commitment to gender diversity being at an all-time high. Women in the workforce are caught between the pressures to manage households, while having to engage with their own ambitions and dreams of professional achievement. Even as society continues evolving against the coercive power of gender roles, women in society are largely held responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of the household. Balancing their ambitions towards professional advancement with their perceived domestic duties creates an unwelcome situation where the working woman in India today has to make sacrifices at either work or home, or of their happiness and well-being.
This unwelcome situation was encapsulated by Anne-Marie Slaughter in 2012, when she said in a piece for The Atlantic that “women who have managed to be both mothers and top professionals are superhuman, rich, or self-employed”. The immense pressure that women feel, caught between a desire to excel and a perceived obligation towards family and home, is probably amongst the greatest barrier for equal opportunity for all women.
… but the future’s coming to the rescue
In the face of these pressures in society, working women of today’s workforce are demanding greater flexibility and support from their employers. Various different stakeholders are attempting different solutions in trying to ease the burden on women. On the one hand, the government in India has regulated for mandatory crèches for women. On the other, various new-age companies are offering greater flexibility and more relaxed timings, allowing women to make easier choices and fewer sacrifices.
However, the biggest help has been through technology. Mobile communication devices like cellphones, laptops, and such are helping people work from wherever they are, meaning that they are no longer physically restrained to be inside the office to work. Working from home is an accessible option for women from all walks of life. These devices also help mothers stay in touch with and monitor near-and-dear ones, when required.
There are other technologies in the offing that are helping women save time and become more effective as both career-oriented professionals and caring mothers. There are already products in the market that help women monitor and track little children from wherever they are, helping them find the peace and focus they do their job well. A combination of IoT, telematics, AR, and VR could help working women balance their work and life more capably. Hopefully, society will become more even-handed in how it treats women at workplaces, not subjecting them to the work-life dilemma. But even if it does, the extra burden is likely to be lightened by these and other technologies in the future.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house
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