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'Women must let go of too much work-life pressure'

March 08, 2011 17:13 IST

Prominent career women dish on the role of the fairer sex in the 21st century.

It was gender equality, women's empowerment and the challenges that are open to corporates today that were being discussed at this year's International Women's Day celebrations.

In an event titled 'Re-Inventing Opportunity -- Looking through a New Lens', held on March 5 in Mumbai, and organised by the Economic Times, various media persons and corporate entities participated to find out just where women stand today.

ICICI's Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer Chanda Kochhar; Writer and Columnist Shobhaa De; Future Brand CEO and MD Santosh Desai; and Founder of AZB and Partners Zia Mody were some of those who debated on the role that women play at the workplace in the 21st century, the challenges they face, and what the work-life balance means.

Zia Mody's final remark was that there "is nothing like a work-life balance." The most important thing, she said, for women is to derive pleasure from their work, rather than only experience the rigour and the struggle of being crushed by multiple responsibilities at both home and office. "It's important for women to realise that they need to take time out for themselves, and to relax, and just enjoy themselves."

There is also too much pressure to choose between work and family -- something most panelists observed. "It's evident that women are being hired generously at the entry level. Today, companies do want to take on women to be part of the environment," said Chanda Kocchar. "But what we aren't seeing is upward movement in the middle level and the upper management level," she added. "This is because although women enter the workplace, the responsibilities of marriage and home and family tend to keep them from going further once they reach that stage."

Kocchar went on to suggest that selection at any level must be merit-based. "What women need are not benefits and advantages, but a merit-based selection process that will allow them to automatically benefit from various opportunities," she said.

The CEO of ICICI recollected and shared her own experience making it to where she is. "Even though the organisation was extremely gender-neutral, I was living in a society that was not. I remember the reactions I got when we first visited factories to inspect the projects that we were funding. It was not easy for people to see a woman there," she says. "That was a time when most of these workplaces were not even equipped with a loo for women," she added further.

Kocchar said that it is important for women to receive the right mentoring at a time when the shift is taking place. "It is also important for women to take up the role of mentor to others once they reach there," added Zia Mody.

Shobha De said that times have changed drastically, and the things that we take for granted today will change tomorrow with our children. "For our children, it is taken for granted that their mothers and grandmothers are working, and this means there is a huge shift taking place." She also stressed on the importance of men taking paternity leave and sharing in the responsibility at home. On the issue of paternity leave, she said that things would be far easier if men got leave to spend time with their children. "An infant needs both parents," De said.

Santosh Desai added that more than the lack of opportunities, what women often face is anxiety. "There is an anxiety about not having done enough -- and too much pressure on women that they bring on themselves. This is what needs to change," he said.

Do you agree that while most corporates are gender-neutral, our society is not? Do you believe that women subject themselves to pressure or is it external circumstances that play a role? Share your views and experiences in this regard on the message board below.


Supriya Thanawala