I was in a focus group discussion that was called by a premium association body in India. The forum was to discuss inclusive growth around disability. For some strange reason, there were more women than men around the old teak table. Tea, biscuits and introductions flowed and crunched. Layered deep inside is also our inhibition and fear of bringing the differently-abled into our workforce; how would I manage? Will they deliver? Am I doing the right thing for society and organization? Where should I draw the line?
As discussions were doing the rounds on policies and processes on inclusivity, the topic suddenly drifted to gender diversity. I’m not sure at what point disability morphed into gender discrimination, but my attention was caught by observations and comments from some of them around the table.
Women wearing soft chiffons, smart blazers, platinum jewellery, pearls and perfumes, earthen hues, pastel shades, with burgundy steaks and blonde highlighters were talking about how special policies for women were not appreciated by women themselves. How stupid it was to have a policy for the safety of women employees working after 8 pm, whereas any employee, irrespective of gender, could potentially be in danger. They spoke very knowingly of how these policies made women feel they are taking advantage of the system. They were very confident when they said that it was senseless and archaic to give special consideration to women when they want to be treated as equals. Their confidence in the opinion, that women do not need the protection through policies, organizational systems, was very obvious and clear; the moisturized mild scorn on their faces and the slight twist in the corners of their painted and glossed lips while speaking about extended leave for maternity, leadership coaching for women and the like, said it all.
The feeling around the table was that women had to learn to fend off problems and that there was nothing needed to help them in the maze of the corporate world. After all, men never asked for it.
Do I think that I am equal to a man, or do I think that I am superior? What caught me by surprise was the fact that all the women in the meeting were in seats of power as CEOs, Founders of organizations and Heads of functions, and they were in favour of the opinion that there was no need of any special benefits or policies for women, as the field had to be level-playing and equal for all.
Career blocking, pressure for sexual favours, rape, pregnancy, child-feeding, dowry deaths, harassment by in-laws, an unfair share of housework. Yes, it is a level playing field, I suppose.