The G Word!


By: Kalpana Tatavarti

Gender! I am willing to bet this ranks high on the list of controversial words of our century. And with the UN declaring that we need to rope women into the workplaces if we are to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, it has become increasingly critical and controversial in recent years.

I live bang in the middle of this dichotomy. My work is focused on creating inclusive workplaces. With gender being the biggest inclusion agenda for most organizations, I have been privy to some of the most challenging mindsets surrounding gender, which both men and women have internalized.

The G word!

The Gender division of roles, man as breadwinner and woman as caregiver, is so deeply entrenched in our mindsets, that a whole range of choices & decisions are impacted… in the choices women make about their ‘personal lives’ and ‘professional’ lives; and also in the choices men make available for themselves in their careers.

I come face to face with how these mindsets are limiting for gender-balanced workplaces. But they are so subtle and so nuanced that surfacing and discussing them is challenging.

I am convinced that it is imperative for women to be part of the economic activity of the world. With increasing research, we know now, that gender balanced workplaces make economic sense. Research by Mckinsey, Catalyst and a host of other bodies has shown that “the companies where women are most strongly represented at board or top-management levels are also the companies that perform best.”

India ranks a low 124 out of 136 nations on women’s economic participation. Interestingly, the number of women enrolling in college has grown many times but has not resulted in an equivalent increase in women in the workforce. One study estimates that India’s GDP can grow by more than a quarter if we can bring gender balance into the workplaces. We have to bring and keep women in the workplaces.

And ‘gender’ which defines what a man should be and what a woman should be, has to be de-constructed if this has to happen. IN the hundreds of groups of women and managers (men and woman) that I have worked with, I have come to realize that the work that we do is really about changing mindsets…and changing society.

It is necessary work.

Throughout this blog we will capture and discuss the experiences of men and women in this inclusion journey.

We need to have these conversations if societies, and organizations as microcosms of societies, are to adapt and achieve balanced economic growth.

As we move forward with this blog, are there any topics within gender inclusion that you would like us to pay particular attention to?

What do you believe are the most pertinent issues when discussing gender balanced work places?

21 thoughts on “The G Word!

  1. Great …look forward to your insights. Particularly useful would some trends specific to different populations sets across varied corporate environments.

  2. A much needed initiative. The challenge will be to make it broad based to enable you to capture all nuances.

    Adult mindset is a product of years of socialization process. As an Executive Coach, I have witnessed real time the struggle that both men and women go through to synchronize their mindset with the requirements of today’s world in general and their role in particular. I have also come across women whose self belief in their own capabilities is the biggest hurdle for their growth and development.

    Hence, I guess there is no simple one solution. It definitely calls for a multi modal approach that includes catching them young in schools and colleges. That possibly could be the CSR work for Interweave.

    Wishing you and the team all success!

    1. That s true Inba, this subject treads so many fields, that I did nt know where to start!
      Individual mindsets are a big part of the Inclusion agenda and the biggest opportunity for organizations to succeed in this.

  3. I like the concept of gender balancing and at current situation if we consider in india, we see that women who are well educated drive themselves away from workplaces just because they have other family responsibilities. Unless women are intrigued with interest to work none can help them. So there should be some awareness program how they manage their personal life, be it men or women.

  4. A very well written blog! Compliments!!

    Turning to the two questions at the end of the blog, my personal experience has been that both genders tend tip-toe around the issues that are raised, perhaps not wishing to offend the other, or come across as complaining (in the case of women), or be seen as patronising (in the case of men).

    In my organisation we launched an initiative called ‘Mixed Gender Talk’ – a session lasting a full day, with the support of two moderators, to facilitate open discussions on mindsets, motivators and above all inhibitors. The results of these workshops belied expectations.

    Possibly the core road-block revolves around the support systems – viz., policies, practices and infrastructure to aid creation and sustenance of gender balanced workplaces.

    A good initiative Kalpana! Hope you make an impact and a difference with your motivation and efforts!!

    1. Thanks Krishna!
      Yes both men and women tend to tip toe around this. Hence the blog!
      ‘Mixed Gender Talk’ is just what is required and I am glad to note more and more organizations are doing this.
      We offer something similar at Interweave, ‘Yin&Yang’ where employees can discuss this in a non threatening safe environment. Our experiences have also been phenomenal!

  5. Kalpana thanks for bringing the initiative and bringing the thought forward. Maybe it is my years of experience or just getting old but we have been talking on this topic for too long, I rem back in 2001 In Motorola and other technology companies we doing lots of work around diversity having conversations, creating policies and even having %s as recruitment targets but still the needle has not moved. Though technology world is far better than others industries the number of women leaders we have are far less than what we would have expected. After so many years there is still unconscious bias and issues of mindset.

    My suggestion is we get more agreesive and push the agenda on multiple fronts. From organisation point of view take affirmative actions and take risks with strong women talent even if there is so called ‘capability ‘ gap. Push the agenda not just at board level but at leadership and mid manager level. Push legislation to clear % or penalties leading to jail terms, amend our acts.

    Kalpana thanks for owning the agenda, this will help organisations, country and future generations.

    1. Raghu: That is a very passionate plea! We need more people owning this agenda like you!

      The Diversity Agenda is an easier one, of putting numbers and bringing in more women (which also we need to tread carefully/slowly); but what needs more work is the Inclusion Agenda. We have to create inclusive cultures in our organizations, schools and homes. Biases and stereotypes are very subtle yet powerful.

      I think it is healthy that in our country the driver for inclusion is the market forces rather than laws. But I agree with you that the momentum has to be more!

  6. That was good thought process Kalpana. I agree totally on participation of wimen at workplces. The very fact that we are as low as 124 IN my view is basically due to the general outlook of women themselves where most of them have a conservative approach towards life as compared to the western countries.
    Women participation need not necessarily be looked at as a mindset of either males or male dominated organizations but i feel its a mixture of both without any percent weightage towards any.
    I strongly feel it is the confidence level of the fairer sex and the acceptance part on the male mindsets working together could be area which should be looked at.
    Its just that both genders need to be pushed in the interest of economical growth and I am sure your hard work endeavour and per severence will see things through.

    1. True Sivaram! We call the multiple variables playing on this the three pointed triangle: Society/Culture, Systemic biases and the Internal Glass ceilings of women themselves.
      Happy to share, organizations are working on all three to a greater or lesser degree!

  7. Thank you Kalpana. This surely is a topic on which a lot of has been written, said and done so far and a lot more to be written, said and done in future. As you rightly put it, it is a matter of changing mindsets, set into place through decades and centuries.

    I believe that many of the current and past initiatives are talking TO working women, encouraging them to take a stance, realize what their belief systems are and renegotiate their roles with their husbands, their children, their in-laws or parents to share the household responsibilities, so women can reach their potential at workplace.

    For most part the husbands, children, in-laws and parents are not fully aware why these women who have come out of these training sessions are behaving differently (ie., negotiating with them on the household responsibilities which they believe strongly are the responsibilities of the woman). To be fair, them, they have not been trained or exposed to the reasoning behind re-negotiation. I think it is time to get the husbands, in-laws and parents included in the conversation at least till the point in time that the next generation kids are brought up by men and woman who already understands the importance of woman in work life.

    1. Malathi you are echoing what all working women feel!
      We need to rope in the entire eco system to support the economic participation of women; I happy to say some courageous organizations are involving the key stakeholders in the career aspirations of women!
      But it still seems to rest on the women themselves to do the re negotiating!

  8. I am glad that I chanced upon your post and happy to share a few thoughts.

    I see that as one gets more senior in the organization, there is a more direct perception of gender bias (aka, glass ceiling ?).
    I can say from personal experience that women have to perform twice as much to just stay at the same level, leave alone ascending to senior leadership roles. While women dropping off from the workforce to take up conservative family roles is huge, it is also very tough for women who want to stay employed and grow in careers, in the face of stereotypical ( and negative ) notions about their capabilities.

    I believe these issues are rooted in unconscious bias which is, perhaps, hard coded in our system. These lead to women losing important growth opportunities and feeling frustrated from being sidelined. And to have these conversations at work in an individual capacity, is very hard to say the least.
    What can we do to have this conversation at work in a good manner ?

    1. Indira: Thank you for your comment! This blog is precisely attempting to trigger those conversations. We have to all start talking about these openly. It is difficult to raise these conversations in the workplaces; though I find some organizations are beginning to have Dialogues. We also facilitate these Dialogues with experienced facilitators.

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