As a society, we need to continue to encourage people to go beyond stereotypes and recognize the contributions that each individual, male or female, can make to the workplace and to relationships at home

I have been recently accosted and questioned by several male managers and employees and questioned on the focus on women in the workplace. One particular gentleman said, “Women are getting a lot of focus and attention? Why? They are not underprivileged. We are. They go on 6 months of maternity leave, and we are left holding difficult targets!”

In another organisation, the male population questioned the celebration of international women’s day.  In the last month or so, I have heard from a lot of HR managers how they do not want to do anything special for women on international women’s day as there will be opposition from the menfolk. Some more evolved said that they want to celebrate this as an inclusion day, as opposed to international women’s day…Good thought…but for the wrong reasons.

In a country where 48.5% of the population is women, and the education gap between men and women is narrowing, the employment and pay gap is still very high. Only 27% of women are employed while there is 62% wage gap for similar roles between men and women.

As per research by international bodies and think tanks, If women participated in the economy at par with men, India could increaseit’s GDP by 27% over a period of time. There is research to prove that an increase in women participation in the workforce across countries of Asia Pacific; they could add $4.5 trillion to their collective annual GDP by 2025a 12 percent increase over a business-as-usual GDP trajectory.And the increase in GDP benefits all.

Then why are men insecure about all the efforts being made to enhance women participation in the workforce. It’s important to understand and address these fears and doubts if we want to truly drive this agenda.

The first is the concept of toxic masculinity. Please do not get derailed by the toxicity of the phrase and bear with me. Toxic masculinity is defined as the practice, culture, and mindsets that legitimize justify and drive the dominant position of man over women. It’s not men that drive it, the entire society including women perpetuate this. The societal conditioning of Man being the breadwinner, and female being a caregiver is an outcome of this mindset. So to feel that it is ok for women to quit their careers, or be paid less or stay at home to nurture families arises out of here. When a mother-in-law constrains the daughter-in-law’s career aspiration, it stems from here. And when male managers feel threatened and marginalized due to efforts being made to drive gender equality in the workforce, it stems from here.

It is important to understand that this is not “mal-intent” or a malicious way of keeping female participation workforce low, It is a deep-rooted unconscious bias that needs to be first acknowledged and then addressed.

Well-meaning and well-intentioned policies divisively implemented, is another reason. So, in an interview with a plant HR head recently, he proudly proclaimed that while they have a Creche facility in the factory for women employees, he allows men too to sometimes drop their children there. Why should a Creche facility not be extended to all employees?Calling a policy “Work from home for women employees” further creates the divide.

Third, male employees too need their issues addressed. For instance, while it is ok for women to take a break from her career, a man taking a break raises so many questions and is almost considered taboo? Why are organizations not adopting longer paternity leaves? Why don’t organizations offer sabbaticals that allow men to take off too, to rejuvenate and unwind?

In a nutshell, we need to pause, and rethink our approach to diversity and inclusion, before the men Vs women battle devolves further. We need to do things right by both the genders and things will fall in place. Through the years, women have worked tirelessly to break the  glass ceiling and close the gender gap. If history can teach us anything, it is that women will continue to strive and make an immense impact. In the words of Grace Hopper, “A ship in port is safe; but that is not what ships are built for. Sail out to sea and do new things.” As a society, we need to continue to encourage people to go beyond stereotypes and recognize the contributions that each individual, male or female, can make to the workplace and to relationships at home.

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