Work – Family Balance

If you are a woman, it doesn’t matter what you do for a living. You could be a commissioner of police or a CEO of a Billion Dollar corporate a la Indra Nooyi. There is only one question the humanity has for you.

How do you manage your family with high pressure job?

Needless to say, a man in power is never asked the same question, because it is assumed, and correctly so, that there would be a supportive woman who would take care of his family. Sorry, ‘her’ family. Because while the family might carry a man’s name, it is the responsibility of a woman to look after it and take a step back when it comes to her career/ individual growth.

What is surprising is that many people would like to believe that in todays ‘post-feminist’ world, (a.k.a where equality is totally achieved and we don’t need feminism ya all), it is a ‘choice’ that women make.

Right.

It is hardly a choice when opted for by overwhelming majority of one gender. It is hardly a choice when that same gender has been conditioned for centuries to focus on her role as a mother/ wife/ nurturer. And when the same conditioning continues even today in mainstream cultural dialogue.

Choice requires multiple options. Economic, structural, social, cultural, medical.. the list goes on. And in our society, majority of women just don’t have them.

Even women who have some structural advantages, find it difficult to act on them due to cultural pressure to be the primary nurturer and Gajar Ka Halwa maker of the family.

If you state this fairly obvious fact, you would be bombarded with angry responses, even from women. About how ‘it is her choice’ to stay home and look after her kids. Or that they happen to ‘ like’ to be there when their kids grow. Or that they are against the crass materialism and inhuman work-pressure. Or that their husbands just happen to earn more than they do and it makes sense for them to quit the job rather than their husbands. And how dare you challenge their legitimate ‘choice’?

Majority of these responses refuse to take into account the overwhelming cultural conditioning, economic factors and inherent sexism in our notions of parenting.

While feminism is about wide range of choices for women, no individual choice can exist in vacuum.

The decision to stay at home with kids or reject the pressure to be ‘powerful’ would be actually be a true choice when a significant number of men also ‘have’ to take that option, thus rendering it gender-neutral. It would be a true choice when women and men have similar options and similar parenting roles. It would be a true choice when there are no ‘mommy-tracks’ or gender wage gap. It would be a true choice when women choosing not to have kids are not looked down upon as aliens. It would be a true choice when rather than phony lip-service, mothers are actually compensated for the tremendous work they do by birthing the child.

Until then, whether we like to admit it or not, it is hardly a ‘choice’ women make in a ‘blissful post-patriachal vacuum.’

So this comes as a fresh breath when a powerful man decides to make the ‘choice’ to stay home to spend more quality time with his kids and blogs about the unfair expectation of women to worry about ‘family-work’ balance, while men never get asked about the same. Powerful men making this choice and recognising that this choice doesn’t exist in ideological vacuum, gives it legitimacy in our world full of dated notions of masculine identity and power.

It also reemphasises that kids have ‘parents’ and not just ‘mothers’.

It acknowledges that fathers also care about their kids and can sacrifice their careers for their kids.

Millions of women have to take this option every day. We definitely need more dads making this choice and being aware of the gendering of this concept. It would not only ease the pressure on women but also bring a healthier and balanced notions of parenting in our society.

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Mother’s Day #2 : Cost of Motherhood

Couple of years ago, one of my team members’ maternity leave got extended because of a medical complication. By the time she was back, it was appraisal time. I rated her in the top three since she was, well, in the top three of my team for the last four years that she worked here.

I was shocked when the HR rep. told me, confidentially of course, to rate her lower. The logic was, that she had missed out on several projects and the appraisals are based on one’s performance in the last 4 quarters. Since the department has allotted budgets, this way those teammates who had worked hard in the last 4 quarters would get better raise.

This is an MNC , BTW, routinely called one of the best places to work for in the world!! I told the rep. off curtly and lectured her about how it was illegal to discriminate against women because they have been pregnant. I still kick myself for not lodging a formal complaint against the HR rep.

One of my best friends who has spent 18 years in HR in different industries in Mumbai told me that this is not an unusual sentiment.

This incident has stayed with me since it forced me to examine what truly is the cost of motherhood. And I mean the cost in hardcore commercial terms that I have seen in corporate India over the last ten years. I work in an industry that is more liberal than most, has several women in senior positions, by nature encourages freelance options, is dominated by some of the world’s topmost MNCs.

But what I see is nothing short of blatant sexism when it comes to mothers.

A disclaimer : I am talking about upper middle class, educated, urban Indian women who go out to work in organized private workplaces and get paid monthly salaries.

Mothers account for most of the Gender Wage Gap.

The infamous ‘mommy track’ is around us all to see, especially in India.

Since employers believe that mothers do not prioritize their job, mothers are routinely neglected for plum projects. Assignments that are challenging and would ultimately result in promotions/ raises.

Most workplaces do not want to invest in employees who have demanding priorities, like kids.

Mentoring and opportunities that are critical to growth from middle to senior management are rare for women in general, but more so for women with kids.

The invisible social code dictates that women should be happy to have a ‘flexible job’ that allows them to ‘balance’ their family life, mainly kids.

Many women themselves say that they prefer it. But how much of it is ‘choice’?

In absence of real options it seems like a compulsion. If men truly contributed equally to kids’ growth, would mothers hesitate to seek professional growth? (Numbers from truly gender progressive countries like Sweden suggest women continue to grow professionally at all stages thanks to a responsible childcare and social attitudes towards equal parenting.)

This of course means huge gap in the salaries between men and women, typically in their late twenties/ early thirties. This is the time when missus is busy keeping work-life balance for ‘her’ kids, while husband is busy climbing the ladder.

And why don’t as many men want to spend time with their kids? Many of my freelancer colleagues are men, and care for their kids’ daily school-play- classes routine. And I believe them when they say that even on weekends and holidays it is almost always women who ‘choose’ to spend time with kids on activities.

Since men around the world do not have to bother about ‘work-life’ balance, is it any wonder that they get to be the leaders in workplaces??

The increasing gap of salaries between spouses also means that when required, it is the woman who drops off the job market since her husband is making more than her. Not to mention, has a better chance of professional growth in future. So it is always the woman who is stay at home parent, and even if it is her choice, the choice is drafted by the social code.

The cost ( or benefit!!)of motherhood can not be calculated only in terms of money, I understand that. Neither is success in corporate world the only parameter of growth. Hell, success in corporate life has virtually nothing to do with talent , we all know that. We also know the glass ceiling applies to all women, all over the world and not just mothers.

But mothers loose out more if they are ambitious and want to go up the ladder. And let us not talk about a few women who rule the boardrooms. They are exceptions that prove the rule: Corporates care very little to groom and mentor mothers for professional growth.

So I think the next time corporates celebrate mother’s day with silly gift hampers from Body Shop, we should all ask them to shut up and pull themselves really up, heh?