Retaining Women In Patriarchy

Written by Ms Bhavana Bindra – Director, Advisory Board Member, Speaker, Writer, Diversity Sponsor

Sustained efforts at bringing in women have yielded results for several organizations. Across industries, across levels, across geographies- organizations that have leaders setting the tone at the top have been able to move the needle in terms of gender representation.

The question however remains on retention for these women. Attrition of women in organizations may or may not have changed at the pace at which the women are coming in. The ‘leaky pipeline’ is referred as it is, ‘leaking’ more at certain levels compared to others.

Most organizations worth their mettle are able to fix the common reasons for ‘leaks’ with changes in the obvious- facilities and policies being the main. Introduction of child care facilities, providing flexi work hours, work from home options, part-time roles etc. all at the forefront of efforts by organizations looking to move the needle. To the credit of some organizations, in order to employ women in roles hitherto considered male bastions (e.g., heavy duty work on the shop floor), they actually make ergonomic changes to machinery and equipment, thus enabling it to be operated without any inherent gender biases in favour of one group. In fact, with regards to concerns for safety, providing official transportation to and from place of work especially in case of an unearthly hour of duty, is also not uncommon.

In fact, organizations which begin this journey as part of their diversity/ retention improvement agenda realize that these initiatives, when made available to both men and women, go a long way in creating goodwill among all employees. Thus, not only do they enable improved retention among women, but also make a difference to the men! The important point here is that organizations ensure that whatever may have been the motivation of introduction of such initiatives, it should benefit all employees equally. So whether its child care facilities of work-life integration policies, making them available for men and women is the key to achieving the desired results.

The presence of a positive bias in favour of one group, otherwise has the potency of creating a negative bias and hence resentment for the other In other words, while gender is the most visible form of diversity, the enabling facilities and policies should not be attributable to one gender to the exclusion of another.

The issue in my mind though is bigger than provision of facilities and policy changes. It is with regards to the invisible forces at play. In other words, an organization having ensured all of the above, may still have a slow and exhausting journey towards achieving the results that diversity of workforce has the potency to enable. The answer perhaps lies in our mindset or even our DNA! It is something we do not realize and many a times are unable to put our finger on, forget explain.

For a society that has sworn by patriarchy for centuries, its not easy to let go. In fact, the issue does not even rest with the patriarchs. The women are as much responsible for enabling the culture having been moulded thus. Why then do we blame a Manager for not being able to adjust to having women in his team? He has viewed them as daughters and wives (perhaps homemakers) who’s roles required them to be taken care of and being available for others and not necessarily to take charge and run the show on their own. When such a person is over-protective of his female team members (and maybe rightfully so in specific roles/ vocations/ locations), why then do we question him for being restrictive of women growth and development.

In fact, when such a person has to fill-in for an absence of a team member who needs to rush home for taking care of a sick child, why would we blame him for his resistance in giving the next important task at hand to the same woman employee. It would take a few men to perhaps ask for the same concession before the Manager starts seeing the changing reality. Well, there may several mothers today who would perhaps want to let their spouses take charge and continue with their day, and several fathers who would rather be available for the emergency at home. The point being, that change of deep-rooted beliefs and experiences takes its time to register and can be painful in the transition. Not everyone may be as understanding perhaps because they themselves may have never had the courage to ask for it.

Similarly, every time I heard of an organization that was looking to launch leadership programs designed especially for women, I would cringe at the thought of being treated specially! To me that represents a thinking that underlies an assumption of a set of needs being different from the rest. Well, if the education system has not made that distinction, why should the workplace. In fact, it is in these organizations that women start viewing gender-driven preferences as entitlements thus damaging the fabric of an important change that the corporate world is trying to usher in.

Organizations worth their mettle should ensure they have the women in focus- focus, that is very different from undue preferential treatment.

If people need time to drive the change, so do organizations. Being conscious of the need for change is already a move in the right direction. Movement requires displacement via distance travelled and not necessarily dislocation that leaves us in the lurch in an arena which ends up being more painful than productive.

The idea perhaps is to not run it like a race because DNAs don’t change overnight. The point is to be patient and let the journey be consistent and persevering, irrespective of leadership or business reality changes. What endures is what stays, and what stays is what brings transformation. What does not have the strength to survive is anyways not worth pursuing. Let’s give the diversity agenda our conviction and results will follow. Let’s not try and chase significant jumps on metrics as worthy of kudos, let’s give our people the time to understand, adjust and adopt!