Women and Work

Yes, women can have it all.

It’s funny how we are tuned to, even as little kids, show people what we would like them to see – it’s also funny how women tend to stage a picture-perfect family, even when they are nose-deep in a suppressive environment struggling to juggle between family and work. We want to help these women but how is anyone to know scenes behind the staged show?

Drawing an analogy to shopping (an activity I adore), while shopping for grapes, I’d never know if they’re soured out because they all look beautifully ripened from the outside, unless I bite into them. So, I would take a chance on each grape. I could do that with grapes, because well, they’re grapes. But can we do that with women who are disabled to reach out? Can we do that with boys who grow up believing that they are forced to become breadwinners of their future families while girls grow up believing that they can either must choose between a career and a home? Can we do that with women who are faced with the challenge of giving up their professional dreams but feel obliged to hold up the perfect family portrait? Can we just take a chance and hope that these women would one day have it all?

What we need is numbers. Hard facts and real numbers. Indisputable numbers. Numbers that prove that, while women can’t have it all perfect, women can definitely have it all content. Women can have it as much as men can. A professional woman must be compared to a professional man. Obviously, a professional woman cannot be compared to a stay-at-home woman. That would relay absurd results, and obviously the stay-at-home woman would win the hours-with-kids contest, while the professional women would climb up the career ladder.

Each role has its inherent pros and cons and while we don’t measure these with men, not only do we measure it with women but women measure it with women.  Women should realize that they need not choose between a home and a career. Women should realize that men never have to do that. Men just assume they can have both – so how do we convey this message across to women?

There is no such thing as a perfect mom, perfect wife, or perfect daughter.

Women have greater insecurities and have a greater tendency to be self-critical leading to lower self-confidence – despite being in top management roles. Ask a woman and a man to ask for a raise at work and women are likely to ask for a smaller raise as compared to a male peer; research has suggested that women perceive assertiveness will evoke incongruity evaluations, negative attributions, and subsequent “backlash”; hence, women hedge their assertiveness, using fewer competing tactics and obtain lower outcomes.

Women should learn from the data and numbers that it is achievable to have both – we’re not talking about ‘trying’ to have both here but actually having both. Not to perfection. Not being the perfect mom and the perfect employee. But being the content mom and the content employee. After all, do stay-at-home moms have it all? They only have one-half of the coin and may be happily so.

The question is not about requiring all women to work but about giving that liberty of choice whether to work. Its about bringing awareness to half the population of the world that they don’t solely carry the responsibility of being the playing the myriad roles at home and work to perfection. Its about spreading the message that the role of a woman is not merely to become a mom or a wife. It’s about granting women the right to choose their roles in life and satisfy them to the extent they can. Its about validating  that employed women can soar in their careers as well as their homes; which is the better bargain when we all know there is no such thing as a perfect mom, perfect wife, or perfect daughter.

We still use the phrase working woman but never working man.

A hundred odd years ago – the protests, campaigns, donations by non-government and non-profits were to get women to a vote or to get to school. To get women to pass high school. To get women political and civil liberties. A fifty odd years ago, the organizations strived for women to go to college. And then graduate college. Colleges were set up as ‘women’s colleges’ to encourage more participation from women. The standards were raised.

Women were seen as abled humans who turned out to be equal or smarter than most male counterparts in college. But work was still looked down upon as for women who need to work versus women who want to work. Decades ago, working women became a norm. Women, now educated, put it to use and went to work. But really, is it really a norm? We still use the phrase working woman but never working man.

Today women work as much as men; in almost as many professions as men; as well as men and in most cases exceed men in terms of their quality of work; lead organizations; and have roles higher than men. But have we achieved equality? Or anywhere close to equality? Even these women who are at the top, do they consider themselves equal to their male counterparts? The answer is a sad and resounding no. Women in CXO positions are subject to greater scrutiny and shareholder activism than their male counterparts. One explanation is attributed to the fact that these positions are traditionally perceived as those that must be occupied by aggressive, firm and assertive persons, that are gender conformed to men.

We need to bring forward awareness to convince women of their rights – not political, not civil, but the rights of having an employment of their choice.

An important challenge that these women face is the constant battle between work and home. These overachieving women – while they know they’re at the top in their career line, also feel less blessed when it comes to their personal life. They feel they’re less of a mother or a wife or a daughter as compared to other women, an idea we must change. The category of other women are those who work – but have chosen workplaces or careers that allow flexibility between work and home, compromising on their career ambitions.

The message to these women is that when compared to men, they have as much or much more.. If women choose either family or work, withdrawing from the other, then what happens to all the protests and campaigns and donations and lives that were spent on educating women, getting them rights, fighting for non-discrimination, ensuring equal work equal pay, ensuring job securities?

What is the point of all that when women today who have the opportunity to overcome all of these obstacles, simply withdraw, only because of the fear of not being able to do it all? To save women from going back to a hundred years back, we need this research. We need the numbers. We need the data. And most importantly, we need to bring forward awareness to convince women of their rights – not political, not civil, but the rights of having an employment of their choice. They need to feel like they have it all, and for that we need to show them research.

We need this effort to be done jointly to ensure women continue striving for competitive positions, leading organizations, and soaring high at the workplaces.

Ranjani Jagannath is currently pursuing her Masters in Law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and focuses her research on psychological impact of violence and discrimination against women. Battling through her own mental health struggles, she also launched whatwakesmeup.org to help people find meaning to wake up. Music, driving and Po (her little cavapoo) make up her top three favourite things.

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