An Article by Tanya Vasunia, Psychologist & Case Coordinator, Mpower

“My boss walked in and claimed that the new hire was hot and single… he didn’t even notice me sitting in the room and then when he finally realized I was privy to his comment, he made a joke about getting into trouble with HR and laughed it off saying it was the age of feminism. I felt so uncomfortable.. I have to ask you do think I am over-reacting …” (Sujata age 31. Please note the person’s name has been changed in order to maintain confidentiality and abide by an ethical code of conduct.)within the walls of my therapy room, I witnessed multiple women from all walks of life and all positions within companies ask the same question: Am I overreacting?

The truth is that women today face many more concerns in the workforce than ever-before. Previously, the prejudice and the discrimination was more obvious, however unfortunately with time, majority of society has learned to mask these ideologies and the corporate world, with the assistance of the legal world, has managed to subtly navigate their way through the red tape.

This makes it sometimes harder to identify when a woman is being discriminated against, and that in itself is extremely telling. This is an ideal example of modern sexism. Modern sexism is characterized by “beliefs that discrimination against women is a thing of the past, antagonism towards women who are making political and economic demands, and resentment about special favors for women. Notably, individuals espousing such views do not regard these notions as sexist or unfair and…conclude that, given the even playing field upon which the two sexes now compete, the continuing under-representation of women in certain roles (e.g., management positions…) must be a result of women’s own choices or inferiority as opposed to discrimination.” (Johnson, Havard Business Review, 2017)

While climbing the corporate ladder as an ambitious woman, many milestones like marriage, pregnancy, children’s graduations become obstacles. These obstacles involve carefully choreographed solutions which allow the women in question, to manage both the office and the personal front. The reality is that for a women today to announce a pregnancy is actually very stressful – not because of the said pregnancy but because what this time off will mean for her career growth and progression. The fact that certain misconceptions regarding gender are so deep rooted that scientific research is unable to shatter the belief. Over the last decade there has been a plethora of research which clearly indicates there are virtually no differences in the capabilities of men and women when provided with an equal opportunity and void of exposure to gender stereotypes (Reilly, D., Neumann, D. L., Andrews, G. 2017). Even our language, whether colloquial or formal, lends to gender biases. For example, we always address a card as “Mr.& Mrs. Patel” the male gender being put first. Or for example we say “What’s up man?”… what’s up woman” has not caught on yet. At this point, I would like to clarify that the point of this article isn’t to discriminate against men but to bring to the reader’s awareness to how deeply the gender discrimination is woven into the fabric of our society, and how unconsciously it is re-enforced at so many levels.

All these factors directly and indirectly feed into the gender pay gap. Before paternity leave came into fashion, many employers justified their pay gap with the idea that because women procreate, they take more time off. This belief completely negates the fact that women may not necessarily procreate or that technically a man who has fathered a child is equally responsible for its nurturing. In India, the estimated gender pay gap is roughly 24%. The question here to ask is with that 24% could a working woman become financially independent? The answer is yes. This in turn would make her socially independent, which in turn would threaten our society’s patriarchal structure. This is one of the feasible hypotheses for the continuation of the gender pay gap.

Women are constantly made to question whether their feelings on matters are valid when the truth is all feelings no matter whom they belong to are valid. If a statement makes you feel uncomfortable, it by that very defining feature is inappropriate. Modern sexism uses this very principle to raise doubt and often insecurity within its victims. So the modern women has to break stereotypes surrounding capabilities by working hard, dodge unwanted sexual advances, work around minimizing biological differences like pregnancy and menstruation, all while getting home in time to cook a hot meal or take care of the kids or manage elders in the family. Simple right?

What remains the biggest tragedy within this saga is that men would not be able to excel within the workplace if they did not have the undivided support from their families and having a large part of their personal lives managed by their spouses. Yet women are held to the same standards without this unconditional positive regard. Perhaps we need to start changing the narrative, instead of preparing women to tackle these challenges in the workplace, help men understand their in-built patriarchal schemas and work on deconstructing them.