Whether you have been following my articles or not, I am sure you are well aware that the world of equal opportunities is not waiting just around the next corner to pleasantly surprise us. It is far-far away given the crawling pace of change.
If you thought that technology will play a pivotal role in expediting this change then I am sorry to burst your bubble but AI too is slowly but surely stereotyping genders. A machine-read 3.5Mn books and threw out what it thought about women and men. The top three adjectives for women it presented were beautiful, lovely and chaste while for men they are just, sound and righteous.
Since we all know the rule of “Garbage In, Garbage Out” this is not shocking at all but definitely it is a depressing piece of news. I need not tell you that AI will determine a lot of future technology breakthroughs.
Given these grim realities let us broadly divide the workplace into
1. The Senior Management. The handful few at the top of the pyramid who have the maximum power to influence. We need to acknowledge the fact that they have been brought up, both at home and at the workplace, when the pace of change was not as fast as it is today.
2. The Colleagues. The support system, our peers. The power to influence this group is maximum for any individual. Colleagues do not hold their guards high amongst themselves.
3. The Team. People who are closely associated with us and who can be positively impacted, if we walk the talk.
The good news is that the names in each of these buckets are dynamic and they keep graduating from one bucket to the other to finally reach the first one. So if we are already more than a decade into our professional lives then in another decade or so, we can hope to be a part of the first bracket.
Even if we are just starting off or are preparing to enter the professional world then too someday that’s where we will be – in the top bracket. When I say this, I am assuming that there are no potential issues and that we want to reach there eventually. Thus there is always hope but change is not a switch that will turn on once we land up in the first bucket. It has to start now irrespective of the bucket we are in.
What you cannot tell your team or point out to your boss, can easily be shared with your colleagues/friends. Giving directives to the team to behave in a certain way can be taken negatively as use of power and pointing out the nuances of gender coloured comments to boss does not come as easily to everyone as it comes to few of us. There is enough at stake with both these groups of people to drive the agenda of gender neutrality vehemently with them for a common office goer.
In contrast to this, everyone has a safe zone of office friends where we are comfortable sharing our thoughts without the fear of being judged. Even if we are judged, nothing major is at stake. In most of the cases, we don’t stand to gain or lose anything professionally directly from our office colleagues in terms of career progress though we might compete with them. The added benefit of influencing this group is that they are either a part of someone else’s team or our bosses to other teams.
While parents do harness the positive power of peer pressure intuitively, the term is generally used with a negative connotation. Learning from our previous experience of team management or by sheer self-observation we can discuss amongst our friends how women are wired naturally to shed tears for a wider range of emotions (like anger, distress, frustration etc), unlike men. Fear of facing that reaction should not discourage us from giving sharp actionable feedback to our women team members.
Restricting constructive feedback sessions for avoiding handling a crying colleague, in fact, denies her an opportunity to grow as a professional. There are multiple such examples which are more palatable coming from peers rather than the other bracket.
World-renowned psychiatrist Viktor Frankl said “Guilt is not collective”. In fact if you have read his book “Man’s search for meaning”, you would know that he has walked the talk. He said that only the person who is the perpetrator of the crime is guilty of that act. It cannot be extrapolated to her/his family, caste, creed or nationality.
Thus the first task is to realise that “Men” is a conveniently huge umbrella and bundling more than 50% of the population under it does not help the cause we are setting out to achieve. The same is true for the all-encompassing bracket of “Women”.
Every person we come across is unique and not a mixed reflection of people we have met in past. Thus every single person we meet gives us an opportunity to establish the language of a world of equal opportunities irrespective of their gender. Empathy for the other genders and their evolving roles in the society is the cornerstone of the much-needed change we envisage. No better place to start practising this empathy than our immediate friend circle.
Every thought, every act and every word is shaping the culture that we will hand over to our next generation hence we need to shape it with utmost care one instance at a time.
Nothing can escape the ripple effect rule so next time you are near that coffee machine or having lunch together, discuss the article you read on pay parity or the bad period cramps you are experiencing or the safety/hygiene issues that bother you as a manager of all girls sales team or the realities of handling a boss going through menopause or the fact of your partner being an equal parent(mother/father) in all respects or how you avoided being biased in an interview by not asking about a female candidate’s marriage plans or how it is natural for your colleague to leave work on time every day to pick up his child from the office crèche. The list can go on.
Each of these conversations built on the solid pillars of empathy and trust has the power of opening up minds that Diversity & Inclusion campaigns find tough to penetrate. Use your power to influence wisely and use it now. Start from your peers and make the pressure real!
Sanchita Ganguly is a marketing professional with experience across agencies and multiple leader brands. Her decade and a half long professional journey inspired her to author her debut book “We-Men@Work” that intends to trigger conversations around gender neutrality at workplaces.
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Views of the author are personal and do not necessarily represent the website’s views.
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The CSR Journal Team