Monday, July 21, 2014

Office-Office: Diversity

The whole world has turned pink and red. It’s not valentine’s day and I don’t have conjunctivitis. Did the office finally develop a soul and decide to support breast cancer? I wonder. (It’s funny how the world loves talking about breasts but no one bothers when they are in trouble).

Turns out it’s Happy Woman’s Day.  What the? Why the pink and red? Because women love these colors no, says a new joinee eager to be pro-feminist. Correction some girls do. Women would rather wear red and not bump into a colleague. Some generous managers organize for Dairy Milk bought in bulk and get the peon to distribute it to all the “ladies”. Most get cake from Iyengar bakery (now fashionably called Aishwarya Bakery, Aishwarya being Iyengar’s daughter). Others take the women out for buffet lunches at three star hotels (like men pretend to be color-blind, women have to pretend to be quality/ class/ menu/ junta/ cutlery/ toilet hygiene unconscious).

Everyone gets to hear a badly prepared speech rife with political, social and other insensitivities (my favourite – being referred to as “Maadam”). And then, it’s over.

(Image courtesy:

The boss waits for the next day to begin before he can turn down the female staff’s request to work from home due to morning sickness. Project pressures, staff shortage, professionalism all form part of the rejection response. Reporting a leak in the office toilet is met with “You have a ladies toilet no? What more do you want?.” God forbid you ask for a cab to take you back home late at night from work. It is made very clear that 
  1. The company will not be “responsible” for anything that happens to you (although they are soley responsible for empanelling the cab company to transport you).
  2. There is a waiting time of 1 hour before you can board the cab. Why? Traffic. What with your boss taking umpteen chai, samosa, cigarette and soo-soo breaks, forget calling a cab, you are better off sleeping in office. One problem though. The AC will be switched off and so will the lights. 
  3. The cab charges will not be covered fully because you live too far away as per the office policy on cab reimbursements.

While you can wear what you want (flowers in the hair, chappal with trousers, or loud makeup), you better not ask for a raise or a promotion. You aren’t the primary bread winner no? See if I pay the man more, a whole family gets benefited. If I pay you more, you will only spend it on clothes, jewelry and makeup, explained one HR manager with 20+ years of experience spearheading the diversity initiative at a large firm. 

What about alcohol, cars, shoes, and gadgets that the man will spend the bulk of his salary on, while generously handing over Sodexo coupons to the wife for grocery shopping?

Can having a female CXO or Board member change this? Less than 30% of the top 100 listed Indian firms have female representation at the top. That is a painfully small proportion of all companies in this country. Among those that do, most have inducted family members – that way business goes on and the “ladies” can continue to go clothes and jewelry shopping. 

Maybe we should rephrase the question – Can having a female senior manager change this? Only 4% of senior managers are women in this country! Looks like the rest have either given up trying to change the male workplace in exchange for changing the male dominated home or simply started out on their own – yes, most likely in clothes and jewelry and other associated trinket-y business.

So much for encouraging diversity.