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Why Women Work- Conversations, Voices and Impressions.

A group of working women share their experiences with My Big Red Bag

We talk to a group of working women to find out why they work, and what makes their workday brighter

Women at Work

Spare a moment if you will, and watch this excerpt from a Radio Program in the 1950s- in which two psychologists attempt to give a woman a score out of 100 on how ‘determined a career woman she is’

Now look back at the last few days and ask yourself how many of these narratives do you notice unfolding in your own lives today?

  • A pitting of working women against  ‘non-working’ women; and the assumption that- of the two- only one choice is right.
  • A belief that a ‘yearning for romance’ or ‘family’  makes you a lesser career women, almost as a if a job in some ways is a placeholder for a more adult life.
  • A CONTINUOUS questioning and testing of your resolve to work at your job.

The boring truth is that women work for the same reason as men do – for money, for validation, for fulfilment, from a kind of societal conditioning and to fill the days of their lives.

They opt out of workforce for the same reasons too- because they are unhappy in their jobs, because they want to do something different, travel, reflect, because they have a family they want to take care of.

The only thing that differs at all is the social construct, which often makes it difficult for a man to opt out of the conventional workforce even if he would like to, and that precludes a woman from choosing her work over family even if that’s what is more likely to fulfill her. In every other words, our reasons to work (or not work) are the same as yours.  But wouldn’t that make an insipid tale?

Over the last few days we have been encouraging you to complete our survey on attitudes towards women at the workplace. We have also been asking some of the members of the MBRB family to answer a few specific questions about their work lives. And while we still need some more answers to really arrive upon any kind of conclusions (quickly, run to the survey now and answer it if you haven’t already), we thought – that today- around International Working Woman Day- would be a good time to share some of those responses with you.

How Many Hours In A Day Do You Work?

Pick a number, any number.  Khyati, an IT professional also trying to establish her design business, says she works at least 80 hours a week. Aparna of NineByThirty works as many as 20-22 hours a day close to a show, but then has periods of  relative quiet. Rupy- a freelance artist- often hones her art for 12 hours a day or more. As for us MBRBers, we begin work with our morning coffee and let it blend in and out of our lives till the last glass of wine at the end of the day. Our conventional work days from a past life were leaner in comparison and more concentrated, with perhaps fewer detours down Twitterverse. But the time we save on coffee breaks from those days, goes into thinking about how we want to see My Big Red Bag evolve. Working for oneself- in effect- means lesser hours on phone, but many many more hours on thought.

What is the one thing you like about your work?

Rupy- like us- seems to enjoy the flexibility that being a freelancer of sorts entails. Aparna loves the seclusion and isolation of working independently. One reader loves the people she works with-her team, while another enjoys the conversations she has with her colleagues. Perhaps our favourite answer is from Anushka Ravishankar who, with her typical candour, tells us that what she loves most about work is the actual work!

What is the one thing about your work that frustrates you most?

Everything- says a disgruntled reader. Managing the noise around the actual work says another- the politics, the hidden agendas, the drama.  A lot of our respondents complained about balancing the part of the work they loved with the parts that they didn’t love so much. Anushka- writer and book publisher says- “The lack of flexibility of both, time and space. It’s better than with most jobs, but it’s still a constraint I chafe at. Especially because it leaves me no time and mental space to write” . Rupy- a freelance artist complained about all the attendant activities of handling a business, marketing oneself and balancing accounts, all time that could have been spent painting instead.

If it wasn’t for the money what do you think you would be doing?

Sitting on a Tahitian beach with a bendy-strawed, fruit-flavoured cocktail of course! It is no secret that whether in the formal or informal sector, women routinely get paid less than their male counterparts. But perhaps we were fortunate enough to encounter a group of women with a deep-rooted love for their jobs, since none really wanted to change much about their work even for the money. As Khyati- someone who has been trying to bridge the divide between art and commerce with her dual jobs says- “I think about it a lot, and at times I feel I would let go of my IT work but on the inside I know it is an indispensable part of me. I am pretty sure I would be doing exactly the same thing I am doing today”

And now, some preliminary notes from the Women at Work Survey

Have you ever experienced any kind of sexism at work?

There is an underlying thread in all the responses we’ve received so far. Sexism exists- and the onus is on the woman employee to push back, to counter and to protest. The CEO of a start up tells us how she put her foot down when asked to do the ‘womanly’ thing- like bring in tea for guests – once too often. Another Senior Manager pointed out  instances when she and her women colleagues were expected to take notes and clear up things during seminar breaks, while the men escaped to smoke and converse. A MBA from a so-called premier institute narrated the story of a well-known organization that didn’t shortlist any women as HR managers for their manufacturing unit (an ostensibly ‘masculine’ preserve). A woman founder and CEO described sales calls where her all-women team lost projects because the client wanted a ‘more aggressive’ (read, male) team.  A seasoned IT professional expressed how it is almost an unwritten but accepted upon notion in her industry that women lack the technical acumen for particular roles, and how she is often proud of being the only woman in a specialized team of twenty men, but also cognizant of the ghosts of the other women who should have been there with her.

What can we do to make women feel more inclusive?

If you haven’t already, you MUST read Supriti’s interview, where she cites the building of women’s networks as the single most important way to create an inclusive environment for women at work.  Other suggestions by our respondents include a greater sensitisation of the male employees towards some of the challenges women face at work, provision of better day care options as well as flexible hours, along with hiring more women for senior management roles. But the most important step would perhaps be for the women who have succeeded in their careers to enable and support the newer entrants to the work force by just ensuring that they don’t have to face the same discrimination that they’ve fought against all their lives.

While we wait for more responses to come in before closing the survey, we leave you with the words of Dolly Parton, one of our favourite women for her ballsy attitude, big laughs, and an absolute refusal to conform.

They let you dream
Just to watch ‘em shatter
You’re just a step
On the boss-man’s ladder
But you got dreams
He’ll never take away
You’re in the same boat
With a lotta your friends
Waitin’ for the day your ship’ll come in
‘N’ the tide’s gonna turn
And it’s all gonna roll your way

Really, all we are trying to do is to work 9 to 5 (or 5 to 9). Give us half a chance and see for yourself .



2 Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Women @ Work: Girls Don’t Be So Abrasive! | My Big Red Bag
  2. Your Daily Read: The Gender Gap In The Tech Industry | My Big Red Bag

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