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When women internalise patriarchal values

Saundarya Rajesh | Updated on March 07, 2019 Published on March 07, 2019

Overcoming hurdles   -  BusinessLine

Besides sheer male domination, unconscious biases held by women and reinforced by society have halted their career march

Mridula (name changed) met us seeking a career opportunity. She was returning from a career break of 11 years. Just before her break, she had been promoted as Project Manager at the mid-sized software company where she was working. This was a big move for a young coder with just three years behind her. The day her promotion was announced, she had messaged the good news to John, her husband, as he was unreachable on his phone.

After about two hours, John called. Before Mridula could share her excitement, John pipped her to the post, “Guess what, Mridula! We are going to Germany! I have been chosen to head the onsite project.” It doesn’t require a PhD in women’s career choices to guess that Mridula decided to give up her job and follow her husband to Germany. But the reason she gave us? “Ultimately a man’s job is more important than a woman’s job, right?? The male has to always be the primary breadwinner.”

Women’s workforce participation, especially in India, is a composite of many factors. While passionate advocates will speak about initiatives that organisations can take, it is equally important to recognise the role played by unconscious biases, specifically those held by women themselves.

Did you know that 76 per cent of both men and women tend to think of men as being better suited for careers and women as more appropriate to be homemakers? Clearly, there is much to be gained if women rid themselves of biases that are directly impeding their own career journeys.

Unconscious biases

Biases can be both conscious and unconscious.Cultivated over years through accumulated learning, biases get deeply embedded within a person’s beliefs. They are almost impossible to notice and may even come across as an individual’s value system. In truth, many biases manifest in such non-malicious ways that one doesn’t stop to think that they could be very detrimental to one’s own progress and that of one’s organisation. Here are a few biases that have specifically wreaked havoc in women’s careers and which stem from the women themselves:

* Exclusion bias — The thought that a woman cannot be a good mother/wife if she focuses on her career;

* Superwoman syndrome — The belief that a woman HAS to excel and be perfect at everything she does;

* Patriarchal bias — The assumption that gender roles dictated by patriarchy — such as that men are better at careers than women and that it is the man’s sole responsibility to be the breadwinner of the family — are sacrosanct;

* Gender inferiority bias — The notion that women are not as good as men in managing a career especially in functions such as sales or distribution;

* Identity adoption bias — The idea that for a woman to be successful in the male dominated work-world, she too has to adopt masculine style of behaviour.

The good news is that de-biasing is a relatively easy process, once you set your mind to it. The following quick three-step method has worked wonders in ridding workplaces of biases, especially those that women hold:

* Develop greater awareness about the field of bias. For example, current research states that gender is no longer a bipolar construct. Masculinity and femininity co-exist in all individuals within a continuum and everyone possesses both types of traits. The permission that one gives oneself to challenge deep-rooted gender schemas can cause transformative self-awareness.

* Prepare a list of biases that you seem to slip into more often than others. If you keep this list handy, say, as a display on your personal softboard, it serves as a reminder to guard yourself against those biases.

* Differentiate between a “bias” and a “value system”. Any dogma that is supposedly aimed at the good of all, while being unfair to some, is exactly that — unfair.

Mridula, to continue her tale, went on to restart her career at a very respected organisation and is today, one of their valued senior managers. She now recommends ‘Unconscious Bias’ training for all members of her team, especially the women. And her reason?? “I don’t a woman to hold herself back, just because she is playing to a script that was embedded in her psyche decades ago!”

The writer is a thought leader on Diversity and Inclusion and is the author of The 99 Day Diversity Challenge.

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Published on March 07, 2019
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