Are women happier at work?

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Are women happier at work?

Stay vigilant: Unless women become cautious, no amount of corporate or local security intervention is going to secure their lives PIC GETTY IMAGES

Manpreet Bawa accepted the offer of setting up a training division for a multinational firm in California months before America plunged into a recession. Two years on, her husband is yet to find a job and the burden of managing life in a new country rests on her shoulders. Cracks are appearing in her marriage as equations in the relationship change. She is in a Catch 22 situation. Neither can she return to India in the immediate future nor is she sure about where her personal life is headed. The only thing she is certain about is that she does not want to jeopardise her very successful career at any cost. As she argues, “At least one thing has to be right in your life. In my case, it is my job and I intend to maintain that. For the rest, there is only so much I can do.”

According to the International Labour Organisation’s report on Global Employment Trends for Women, more than 40 per cent (1.2 billion) of the global labour force is represented by women — 18.4 per cent (200 million) more than a decade ago. While 36.1 per cent of these women work in agriculture, 46.3 per cent are in services — driving employment trends, plugging gender gaps in labour force, participation and leading strong entrepreneurial initiatives. 

What are the challenges?
The big question according to Seema Khanna, president, Association for Social Welfare and Human Development, a Delhi-based NGO, is this: While women are doing much more than ever before, have they achieved gender equality? Are things better for them professionally and personally, more so since success is supposed to lead to higher self-esteem and happiness?

In a recent study undertaken by the Noida-based VV Giri National Labour Institute (VVGNLI) on ‘Working Women in Urban India: Concerns and Challenges’, Seema Khanna and Shashi Bala examined the psycho-social aspects of a working woman’s life in metropolitan centres. They covered education, media, aviation and hospitality sectors in the first phase. Nearly 200 interviews mapped the respondents’ career growth, pay scale, nature of job, challenges and personal life equations, analysing and probing challenges, insecurities and vulnerabilities in their new work schedules.
The survey tracked entry and middle levels of professional women between 20-40 years, though there were about 20 per cent from the senior bracket who were 40-plus. While the study  — a collaborative effort of the Association for Social Welfare and Human Development and the VVGNLI — looked at women in Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Kolkata.

Gain and pain
There are plans to elaborate on the study with more exhaustive surveys being worked out for other cities as also work sectors, to get a more in-depth understanding of the issues that working women face. The current survey has tackled equal remuneration, access to training, night work, promotions and maternity leave and protection from sexual harassment. Also, safe working conditions, gender friendly policies, flexible timings, crèche facility, existence of trade unions and addressing complaints and grievances have been highlighted.

According to Seema, “Women are putting to good use their education, experience and ambition to make it big in their professions. But parallel to this success are two things: concerns over safety and security and a not-so-smooth personal life.”
Women in the media, especially television, felt that if there was lesser gender bias in their profession it was not because men had evolved, rather because women were more visible, handling all functions of production, direction, conceptualisation and business development, besides anchoring. A few years ago, some wagging tongues may have attributed a lone woman’s success to sexual favours granted to the boss, but not today. “There will be women, just as men, who exploit their sexuality to skip rungs of the corporate ladder. But one can no longer make such politically incorrect accusations,” says Kaveri Tritha, anchor with a regional television channel.
The study pointed out that while women had the flexibility of coming in to work by noon, their return could be anywhere between 8 pm and 2 am, making them vulnerable to attacks from anti-social elements.

This also puts considerable strain on relationships. In some discussions, respondents shared concerns on condition of anonymity. Here are some findings: Balancing the home and work front as they took on leadership roles at work at a young age was ruffling feathers; the institution of marriage was taking a backseat, with the age of marriage having gone up from 22-24 to 28-34 years; and women were postponing having children. Husbands were increasingly insecure, with most arguments being around late working hours and the manner in which the woman was running the house and managing the children.

According to Bharti Vadhera (40), a twice-divorced advertising professional, “Men have always been uneasy about a woman’s economic independence. The only difference now is that women are no longer prepared to live with it. So while some end up asking for a divorce, many are moving back with parents, taking a transfer out of the city or living alone and/or getting involved in other serious relationships with married or single men.”

Watch out for predators
Safety was the paramount concern of all the working women interviewed. Most insisted that organisations ensure their safety, especially that of women working the late night shifts. Meera Menon, a retired principal who resides in Delhi, says, “Though making the city and workplace safer for women through responsive and innovative systems is the need of the hour, what about crime that emanates from familiar ranks in the lives of independent working women?”

A girl working for a BPO in Delhi, was raped by her team leader in August while being dropped home in the company cab. They both stayed in the same area. En route she felt thirsty and he offered her a glass of water laced with sedatives. She had no recollection of what happened subsequently but medical tests confirmed rape.

In another incident, a reality show aspirant killed a family friend who refused to fund his modelling portfolio. Both hailed from the same town in Punjab. She had a good job in Delhi and allowed her friend to stay with her until he found a place of his own. He moved out but kept returning for small sums of money. Just before the murder he had taken up a house in the same area as hers and was pestering her for a larger sum of money. On being denied, he attacked her, forced her to surrender her debit card and then, in fear of being exposed, strangled her to death.
 
While both these women lived alone, confident that they could manage independently, the fact is they were violated by people they knew and trusted. “So perhaps it is not just about employers and local police departments spreading a security net, it has also to do with women being vigilant themselves,” said Mayuri Shah, president of a Residents’ Welfare Association in Delhi. Unless women become cautious and learn to handle their independence, no amount of corporate or local security intervention is going to secure their lives.

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