Workplaces are now going woke and expectedly, a lot of it is in contention
The thing about being of not-so-Gen-Z age in this age of Gen Z is that every day is an opportunity to learn something new. Whether you’re scrolling through Twitter or talking to someone IRL (in real life, for the less informed), you’re constantly being barraged with new information, ideas and ideologies. While it can be a bit infuriating at times, I like to look at the brighter side—I get to make a column from it!
A couple of weeks ago, on a raindrenched weekend in Delhi, I found myself at an intimate dinner party hosted by one of the city’s most dynamic young female entrepreneurs. Celebrating her PR firm’s fifth anniversary, Alankrita Khanna (name changed) was basking both in success and her Sabyasachi ensemble as she proudly listed the newest HR policies of her company, one of them being period leaves for female employees.
“What the hell is period leave?” Ayush Verma (name changed), one of the city’s top new architects, had asked this question more from a place of bewilderment than condescension but it was enough of a trigger for Alankrita to launch into a tirade.
“Menstruating women experience a lot of pain, making it extremely difficult to even get out of bed, let alone come to work. They more than deserve taking a period leave or two every month. If only men understood how difficult it is being a woman!”
Ayush was stunned into silence. So were the rest of the men at the party. It’s a particularly challenging time for cisheterosexual men everywhere. Wokedom has officially entered the workplace—bow down or bow out!
“I’m so glad women are fighting for their rights at the workplace—it was a long time coming!” Deepti Sharma (name changed), a legal consultant in Mumbai, is one of the fiercest young female rights activists in the country and never ceases to amaze me with her passion for the causes she believes in. “For far too long, women have worked in abysmal conditions, sacrificing their wellbeing just to make an honest living, without even getting paid enough. Not anymore!”
From time immemorial, or since the time women stepped out of domesticity and embraced their own dreams and ambitions, the gender dynamics at the workplace have been completely skewed in favour of the not-so-fair sex. From unequal pay to ‘women are too emotional for top management roles’ and many similar clichés, the list is endless. It’s anyway hard for a woman to break away from societal norms and get to work; that she has to face a zillion other problems while at the workplace is perhaps why the statistics
around participation of women at work aren’t too bright. From 36 percent in 2021—a number that wasn’t great to begin with—to 33 percent in 2022, the picture is only getting grimmer.
“Organisations have to wake up and smell the coffee—women need and deserve the same treatment as men at the workplace. Otherwise, the statistics just won’t improve!” Rakhi Bishnoi (name changed), entrepreneur and social media consultant for many bigwigs, has long been advocating for woke-er workplaces. “Increasing maternity leave from three to six months is just the first step, and setting up the Internal Complaints Committee as per the POSH guidelines is the second. But there are many other steps that need to be taken pronto!” What are those steps? In the words of Sarika Sharma (name changed), up-and-coming PR honcho in Mumbai, “Equal pay is paramount. So are equal opportunities across levels. Our gender can’t come in the way of being hired or promoted.”
As organisations go woke rather rapidly, are men and women finally on the same page?
“I’m all for women’s empowerment and equality but at the risk of getting cancelled, it’s not a level playing field. If women want equal pay, they should be willing to put in an equal number of hours, right?
You can’t get period leave every month when there’s no equivalent for men!” As a hot-and-happening entrepreneur from Mumbai, Karan Khanna (name changed) makes it to those 30-under-30 lists rather frequently. Naturally, then, you can trust him to know what men his age are feeling. “Feminism isn’t about being biased towards women, right?” Has the changing conversation around women at the workplace altered the way potential employers are looking at candidates? Naman Bhardwaj (name changed) runs a much talked about newage media brand in Delhi. According to him, it all boils down to return on investment. “When I’m hiring someone, I have to take into account their availability, right? A man when hired is not going to ask for period leave, won’t mind working late and won’t ask for a six-month maternity break. Hiring him makes a lot more sense, purely from a business point of view.”
Even though the glass ceiling for women now appears reachable, there’s no denying it continues to loom large. Till the time when women kept quiet about their struggles, things were hunky-dory. But in the post-#MeToo world, now that they aren’t shying away from speaking out, it’s only made things harder for them. Yes, harder, not easier. Not only are organisations and the men leading them more careful, they’re also more hesitant. “I don’t think I get what women want. Do we treat them as gentle beings and allow them a day off for menstruation or consider them on a par with men and treat them the same?” Ashok Mehta (name changed), HR head at a popular PR agency in Delhi, isn’t entirely sure about the growing wokeness of workplaces. “I can’t remember my mother ever asking for a day off because she had her period. What’s changed for women now?”
What has changed is the way women view themselves and the world around them. They’re no longer shy about camouflaging their conflicts or putting aside their problems. They’re being vocal now and asking to be heard, demanding solutions.
Is that too woke for you? Well, how about keeping quiet? Women have done it for ages, after all!
Who Am I?
Think of me as someone who knows the minds, hearts and bedrooms of the young Indian today. I have a social life across cities that allows me access to coveted parties, people and positions (pun absolutely intended!). Through this column, I aim to keep you abreast of how the young people of India go about their personal lives. I promise to keep it honest and to-the-point. No judgements, no prudishness.