It is disheartening to write about the continuing challenges women face at workplace year after year. The gravity of the issues deepen but the efforts to eliminate them don't. We are in 2017, but the ghosts of patriarchy still haunt us, and it's just that the paradigm has shifted from homes and kitchens to offices and board rooms.
Women have established themselves as strong, smart, technically competent and emotionally valiant individuals. However, the new age corporate women still face several obstacles in the workplace owing to their gender, and we are not just talking about sexual harassment and gender bias. There are several issues which women in corporate scenarios tackle with on a day-to-day basis and they are still not given much attention.
Let's take a look at some of the predominant challenges women face in their corporate lives today:
It is no news that women go through monthly menstruation cycles, which along with hormonal changes, bring excruciating pain, fatigue, and even nausea for at least some part of the five days. Menstruation pain, for women, is unbearable, when all you can think of is tearing your uterus out of your body, popping painkillers, curling with a hot water bottle and waiting for the torment to end.
Period pain makes it difficult for most women to concentrate on their work, yielding low productivity, at least on the first day. This is also the time when we curse our gender the most, since who on earth would want to watch your assigned leave days at office dwindle away every month.
Corporate organisations should be sensitised to women's health issues, and give them at least a day of optional, paid menstruation leave, as is done in Japan, China, South Korea, Indonesia, Taiwan and even certain organisations in the UK.
Inclusion of sanitary napkins in medical kits at offices
One other glaring demand from women employees, especially in the Indian corporate scenario, is the inclusion of sanitary napkins/ tampons in the office's medical kit. Most organisations do not see menstruation as a medical issue which requires immediate attention.
Gender pay gap/ equal pay for equal work:
The gender pay gap is the average difference between a man's and a woman's aggregate wages or salaries. A recent report by the Monster Salary Index (MSI) report on gender pay parity, released in a survey titled Women of India Inc, revealed that overall gender pay gap in 2016 in the country amounted to 25 percent. This means that working women in India are paid at least 25 percent less than their male counterparts.
Another recent global survey stated that women do not stand a chance to get equal pay for at least 151 years, which means women will only be equally paid as their male colleagues only by year 2168. The gender pay gap is expected to shrink by at least 50 percent by 2030.
Women in most scenarios earn less than men for doing jobs of equal value. The gender pay gap is reinforced by the segregation between the genders in the labour market. Jobs which require similar skills, qualifications or experience often tend to be poorly paid or undermined when they are dominated by women.
Work-life imbalance is one of the biggest issues faced by women in corporate world, particularly among working Indian women where they are wrought between their work and home. In India, a woman is required to prioritise her family, her children and household above everything else. In a society where the male is still considered the 'protector' of the family and the primary bread winner, he is lauded for working hard and spending extra hours at the workplace, is praised for his success outside his home, but women are often criticised for not prioritising their family before their work.
Work-life balance is a concept which includes proper prioritising of work and lifestyle. However, work-life balance is not just an issue for women. With changing global paradigms, it has become an issue for men too, particularly fathers.
Paid paternity leave
India is one of the 16 countries to provide longest paid maternity leaves to new mothers. According to the Maternity Benefit Act, female workers are entitled to a maximum of 12 weeks of maternity leave. Out of these 12 weeks, six weeks leave is post-natal leave. In case of miscarriage or medical termination of pregnancy, a worker is entitled to six weeks of paid maternity leave.
Though maternity leave is a good sign, India needs to move ahead and consider paid paternity leave too. Paternity leave is the time a father takes off work at the birth or adoption of a child to take care of the baby for the initial days. The onus of taking care of a newborn often falls on the mother. However, looking after an infant is a challenging task that requires participation of fathers too.