What makes Women such lousy drivers?

|March 6, 2015 0
Who Says Men and Women are Equal! Women are always superior, as a Hollywood queen believed. Turns out that she has a lot of company in our tech industry too. And we are not saying this just because it’s W Day

Pratima H

VENUS:  An elementary school Maths problem:
Question: If a man is driving at 180 kmph around a Children’ park and he suddenly spots a woman with a baby stroller standing at the kerb, at what velocity should he apply the brake to save everyone from an accident?

Answer: Men are good drivers, he would be able to use the brakes very cleverly and stop just at a hair’s breadth from the rounding kerb.

Question: If a woman is driving at 180 kmph around a Children’ park and she suddenly spots a woman with a baby stroller standing at the kerb, at what velocity should she apply the brake to save everyone from an accident?

Answer: Your question is wrong. A woman would never be driving at that crazy a speed, the moment she knows it’s a kids’ neighbourhood (and trust me, every woman has a sixth sense about these things). But she will crawl along the kerb just the same at a smooth speed (matching that of the stroller eventually) and strike up a chat with the mother walking there. In barely two minutes, they would have helped each other with directions to some address, an oatmeal cupcake recipe and tricks to pack a travel suitcase efficiently.

That’s the bitter truth out there, friends! Admittedly, we women can never match up to the driving proficiency that men possess.

Tada! May be because we don’t need them!

Or in other words, there are four reasons women can never climb up the driving ladder that men occupy.

First, may be because we are happy and more savvy sitting in the navigator seat.

Second, possibly there are more tanks than cars in the world out there and that kind of turns us off.

Third, we will bore you to death by diligently and fastidiously stopping and observing each traffic signal and U-turn etiquette; and what makes it worse is the part that we cannot supply enough expletives on the road while bumping and criss-crossing. Traffic abuse is a major handicap area for females, and surely some empirical study is in the works to corroborate that.

The cat is out of the bag. Driving is tough. On the road as well as on professional, corporate circuits of our industry. If you had any doubts about the latter one, wait till you finish reading this page.

If Women Were Countries….

There would be no wars, only a couple of nations not talking to each other.

And yet there are not enough women out there and up above. Look at what the 2014 Catalyst ‘Census on Women Board Directors’ found – Women in India hold just 9.5 per cent of board seats in BSE 200 companies, despite the 2013 Companies Act which states that companies must have at least one woman on the board of directors. Another observation in Catalyst’s First Step: India Overview also showed that nearly 50 per cent of Indian women drop out of the corporate employment pipeline between junior and mid levels, compared to 29 per cent across Asia.

Recruitment players seem to echo this state of affairs. Rishi Das, CEO, HiRePro cites some surveys undertaken that list the female population in various industries as follows: IT Products: ~25 per cent, IT Services: ~35 per cent, ITeS: ~40 per cent, Captive BFSI: ~35 per cent, Domestic BFSI: ~30 per cent and Consumer Business & Retail: ~30 per cent.

Das is not disillusioned yet when he says that gender diversity is a major area of focus across most companies today and increasingly, companies are looking to create equal opportunities workplaces and increase proportion of diverse groups – mostly focused on gender – in their employee mix. “The situation is getting healthy, with respect to gender diversity, as compared to two decades or even 10 years back.”

Or maybe not.

Anuradha Roy, a seasoned IT honcho and GM, ERP at SAIL minces no words when she answers in the Negative. “No. there aren’t enough women in industry.” She asks us to ponder that when women constitute almost 50 per cent of the population, why the number of women in industry would be in the region of only 15-20 per cent?

“Industry sector-wise the percentages may vary but overall the ratio is very low. The reasons are many. In order of importance – gender bias, lower pay for female workers, social bias, unsafe working conditions for women, attitudes, home pressures of managing children (which is still looked upon as primarily a woman centric function).” She laments.Anuradha Roy

”It is only because she is a woman that she has not gone completely bananas.”
-Anuradha Roy, SAIL

Linda Price, Group Vice President, Gartner Executive Programs in Asia/Pacific takes the line of thought further. Until there is a mix of genders in the IT community that matches the mix in the general community, then, by definition, there are not enough women in the industry; she states.

“As IT moves rapidly from the back office to the front line, driving interactions with the customer, it is essential that the input from both genders is balanced. Without this, across industries, there is not adequate understanding of or monetising of the market.”

Unfortunately, not enough women make it beyond nine to 10 years of experience and research shows that only around nine to 10 per cent of the senior leadership workforce is women. “Women are faced with the eternal choice between career and family and most women prefer to focus on raising their children,” is what Shreya Krishnan, Head of Marketing and Communications at First Advantage puts forth.

Krishnan and others, have a lot of people nodding along here.

The way Shachi Irde, Executive Director, Catalyst India WRC assesses it, although the number of women in traditionally male-dominated roles in the workplace is growing, there are definitely not enough women in leadership positions.

“There are multiple reasons for the lack of women in senior positions in companies in India. Even when women and men are hired at similar levels, the pipeline of high-potential women starts to leak while going up the corporate ladder. It is important for organizations to look deeply into their retention strategies and pipeline-building mechanisms.”

But Das also points out at the changing shade of dark times. “Over 30 per cent of companies that we have surveyed indicate that over 40 per cent of entry level hires in 2014 were women. Work-from-home is becoming a perfectly acceptable concept and this will further promote the concept of women employability. Several companies are also looking at tapping the latent catchment of competent, highly educated stay-at-home moms.”

Also note the part about evolving urban infrastructure as Das highlights access as a major issue for women, especially with regard to travel to and from the workplace (for instance, the three sectors above which have over 35 per cent women on the workforce do very well on gender diversity largely because of employee-friendly conveniences such as employee transport and on site cafeterias).

Ask Swati Deodhar who is incidentally representing a Co-Founder role and is leading Sapience Analytics, and she gives some room for IT industry’s accommodative stance. “I feel IT industry perhaps has a higher percentage as compared to other industries. Mainly due to flexi time and good “work from home” policies which can be adopted by companies.”

Now consider this dimension of diversity.

Catalyst’s report ‘High Potentials Under High Pressure in India’s Technology Sector’ has found that high-potential women begin their careers on an equal footing with men when it comes to job level and responsibility, pay, and aspirations. However, on average, within 12 years, women make approximately Rs 3,80,000 less than men, receive fewer developmental opportunities, and bear more responsibility at home. Additionally, the report found that women and men received similar amounts of development through formal programs, but women received fewer of  the on-the-job experiences, or “hot jobs,” that really matter, such as international assignments and mission-critical roles, than men. Nearly four times as many women in dual-career marriages (19 per cent) as men (5 per cent) reported that they had assumed the role of “stay-at-home-partner” at some point in their career.Linda

”The more women there are in positions of power within organisations, the more flexibility and empathy will be forthcoming from the higher ranks.”
-Linda Price, Gartner

In fact, that rings a bell at what HiRePro has been spotting too. The primary reasons why the skew is still in favor of male populations are mostly psychological & socio-economic factors. All this operates when there is little doubt that women are as competent and committed as men are. So, as Das can offer best, these factors listed below alone could be the main reasons why the female population in the workplace is still low.

Like general reaction of Indian populace towards the concept of a working woman? Familial restrictions on the concept of girls pursuing education beyond a certain point and, further, working? Pressure put on women on home management – creating situations where it is difficult for them to juggle home and work. The Indian society still considers home management to be the responsibility of the woman of the house?

So women de-accelerate because of the passengers on board?

If Men Wore Heels….

There would be no men walking, for the sheer torture of trying to balance both feet and still appear poised.

A Woman’s stereotypes when it comes to society and the endless laundry list of expectations is something that has ironically, only grown with evolution of civilizations. The balancing act and the ambition to catch up to erstwhile men-occupied heights, has only made the walk all the more challenging.

A woman’s family roles have a Domino effect on their work roles, even if it’s a Superwoman avatar we are talking about.

Price avers candidly here. “Competent women who are committed to their career have a lot of challenges to juggle – but they make it work. Otherwise they should be seeking their fulfilment elsewhere. Having said that, the more women there are in positions of power within organisations, the more flexibility and empathy will be forthcoming from the higher ranks. Ergo the challenges associated with family roles and working will be diminished.” She manages to stay upbeat and see the pot at the end of the rainbow.

But Roy dismisses the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ syndrome with a strong wave of hand. Lets’ face it………children want their mommies most, she asks unabashedly.

“Teacher scolded me…aww sweetie, tell mommy what happened’. ‘Mommmmmmy, I fell down, see my knee. See? See?! It’s all cut! Oh my baby, come, mommy will kiss and make it well’! Need I go on? Daddy is important too, always. But where warmth, cuddles, love and attention is concerned, children turn to their mothers. The question is, where does this leave the poor lady? She HAS to be in office on time, she HAS to meet her clients, be professional, and she has her deadlines like anyone else. Woe betide her if her deadlines are not met……’I knew it, bloody females….just can’t depend on them……why don’t you stay at home and cook?”

Isn’t that a part of the mosaic of reality we face every day? Is the woman herself to blame for adding darker colors to her already-hanging-by-the-thread life?

While her role as care giver in the family has remained more or less the same, the woman has taken on herself the onus of bringing home the jam (the bread and butter too in many cases!), Roy challenges some notions here.

“Like men, some women are sincere and some look for short cuts in their work. Either way, it is an undisputed fact that the stress levels for women are constantly rising. So are guilt levels because the expectations from her vis-à-vis family have not changed. It is only because she is a woman that she has not gone completely bananas!” Roy tosses in more candour.

Irde from Catalyst pauses when we ask of any inherent socio-psychological rocks/ghosts that women still carry on their backs? In an extremely male-dominated society, women still find it hard to raise their hand and ask for what they want in the workplace, she dusts off things lying under the carpet. “Oftentimes, women are afraid to ask for help for fear of appearing weak and ineffectual. Conversely, they may not actively advocate for recognition of their work for fear that it will be seen as self-serving. Women should be encouraged to speak up, raise their hands and have open conversations with their managers about their career progressions.

This part needs a pat as well as a good deep analysis. It’s indeed women who are the ones that hold the family together. But Shreya Krishnan, who heads Marketing and Communications for First Advantage India, hastens to question that this does not mean that they have to let it impact their work roles.

“Starting at the interview stages women are faced with questions like – Are you married? Are you planning children? Do you have children? These are standard questions women are asked and their male counterparts applying to the same position aren’t. This is also because of the large percentages of women who make that pick. Slowly, with the role of the husband/father improving, there should be a change in the way women are perceived. Family and career are equally important and this means being able to give what each vested entity desires and deserves, at the cost of personal time, but worth the balancing act!

Sujatha D, Senior General Manager, Robert Bosch Engineering and Business Solutions(RBEI) notes this as a constant battle or one can say a Day-to-Day challenge to strike that optimal Work-Life Balance. “While Women thrive to ensure that they give in their best for both – Office and Home; the stress does take its toll. Feeling of not being able to deliver on the home-front leads t regrets and falling short on expectations.”

That brings us to another challenge, while staying on the ground and yet looking up at ceilings.

If Women Constructed Glass….

There would be no ceilings, only solar panels.

Just the thought of having to still mention the oft-clichéd word ‘glass ceiling’ in a year like 2015 is exasperating and disappointing. But the elephant is still very much in the corner-rooms.

Ask Sujata D and she asserts that it’s rather apparent that dimensions such as gender-based nepotism and ceilings do exist, but the degree/magnitude is surely diluting over time while Roy strongly maintains the need to talk about these ceilings and other walls.Shreya Krishnan

“Women are faced with questions like – Are you married? Are you planning children? Do you have children?”
-Shreya Krishnan, First Advantage India

“Of course we must! Gender based discrimination and glass ceilings are even more of a menace today than they were 10 years back. Why? Because 10 or more years back, women were just entering the workforce. In 10 to 15 years they have grown within their organizations to reach middle/senior level positions. Now men can no longer look upon the women in their offices/factories with the avuncular indulgence of yore (If it was ever ‘avuncular’ in the first place!). Now more than ever, the women represent a threat to the male ego in terms of position and thereby power.”

What’s intriguing and unfortunate to dig out is the part that even today, irrespective of their position in the hierarchy; women are first evaluated in terms of their looks, dress, and hair style. “Ability, competence etc come a distant second. A male CEO can be paunchy and balding and with a dozen chins jiggling under his face but nobody questions his competence. But a woman CEO is first automatically dismissed as less than able if she is rounded at the hips, wears glasses and doesn’t spend at-least 30 minutes before the mirror primping herself up. She has to work twice as hard to prove that her sex has no bearing on her abilities.” Roy quips.

Though there has been a substantial increase in terms of women joining the industry/corporate world in the recent years, the percentage of women in the top & mid ranks of corporate are still at an abysmal low, Sujatha D contends. “As paradoxical as it may seem, despite high induction of women & support provided by enterprises, only a few remain who climb up the corporate ladders.”

Irde is right here when she underlines the need to drive conversations around ‘unconscious gender bias’ in the workplace. “This refers to the automatic or unconscious judgment made by people based on memberships to particular groups, in this case gender. Most people are unaware that they even hold these biases, as they are hidden and unconsciously affect behavior, preferences and interactions. These biases then cascade throughout organizational systems to produce problems such as discriminatory behavior and gaps in pay and representation.”

She urges to make the picture larger and bigger. Sexism and ceilings are just two dimensions, but there are others, such as acceptance of women in the workplace, harassment of women, gender stereotypes, lack of role models, infrastructure challenges such as safety while travelling, and archaic labor laws that prevent women working at all hours.

This becomes remarkable when juxtaposed with a report Catalyst’s First Step: Women in the World, which hints that increasing the level of female employment to that of male employment in India could raise the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) by 27 per cent.

Look at how Fortune 500 companies with the highest representation of women board directors attained significantly higher financial performance, on average, than those with the lowest representation of women board directors, according to Catalyst’s report ‘The Bottom Line: Corporate Performance and Women’s Representation on Boards.

Turns out that it is not just a noble act but also a commercially-sound strategy to adopt a better stance towards women in senior roles.

A hopeful Swati maintains. “I have noticed that women are encouraged in this industry, primarily because they are perceived to be more stable and sincere, and don’t hop jobs. Ceilings, if any, are mostly self imposed by women themselves, due the balancing act between home and work that needs to be done, especially when the children are young.”

As to whether the ceiling still hangs in the air, Krishnan incidentally has faced the ceiling issue herself and she boldly observes that it is still a woman becoming a man in a man’s world, when we reach a point in time when the world recognizes men and women as different but equal is when we can stop talking about this, but that is not changing anytime soon.

Price suggests that the entry opportunities are available to women and now it is up to the women in the industry, and in education, to encourage women to enter the profession – and to thrive in it. “Data indicates that young women are not embracing the opportunities offered by pursuing a career in IT. University enrolments are declining. It is up to all of the women in the industry to play their part in addressing this “marketing” challenge.”

Price is reminded of one of her favourite books on this topic here “Nice Girls Don’t Get The Corner Office” and that’s where she reminds us that the behaviors that see “nice girls” recognised and promoted through the organisation may actually act against their ability to break through the “glass ceiling”.

Incisively enough, she spots that women need to get smart about just this fact. “We don’t need to act as men to succeed – far from it. However, it will advantage us to look at our behaviors and interrogate them in terms of breaking through the glass ceiling.”

Now that’s a good time to talk about who (Men vs. Women) brings what to the table. Let’s draw the swords.

If Men Were Tea Bags….

Everyone in the world would be rather drinking coffee.

Think of words like empathy, compassion, democratic leadership, stress management and EQ, and you can bet your last buck, that there’s a feminie twang to such attributes. Always.

Women and childbirth. Women and work-home stress. The pain thresholds and endurance levels are just something that men can never match.

Of the many strengths that women bring to the table, EQ and humility are top ones, in Krishnan’s view. “They are proven to be better at managing stress and are also better with people management.”

Roy almost prays that ‘Empathy’ is such a uniquely female quality that they never lose this quality in their march towards emancipation!Yamuna

“At times, women are expected to put in more effort into their family because of which there could be a small lag created at work.”
-Yamuna Anandavalli, NTT DATA Global Delivery Services

 Yamuna Anandavalli, Vice President – Human Resources, NTT DATA Global Delivery Services dissects that the key strength of women is the ardent ability to efficiently multitask without losing focus.
“They have the capacity to view a problem holistically and come up with solutions keeping in mind all aspects of it as their minds can seamlessly switch between tasks. However, women also have to multitask at their homes – as efficient mothers, wives, daughters which are skills we admire about them.”

On Price’s list, women are natural nurturers and team builders. “In today’s world of decentralised and virtualised structures, this ability to build team across distance and cyber-geography is invaluable.” Sincerity, hard work and efficiency also pop up in Swati’s reckoning of women-only strengths. But the strong forte is flanked by some gaps or improvement areas since yore.

The gap inherent in this capability that Price spots is the reticence to “claim their own space” and develop their own brand. Consequently they are arriving at the game equipped with the winning play – however not well-equipped to trumpet this skill as an individual, but rather more prepared to delight in the achievements of the team and wait for someone in power to recognise and reward their contribution, she wonders.

Ditto, as appears from what Adaire Fox-Martin, SAP, points out when it comes to gaps. “When presented with a challenge women are generally (and this is a generalization) reticent to take that challenge on. Usually the first response that I receive to opportunities presented are all the reasons why she is not good enough/ strong enough/ skilled enough to take on the opportunity. Women still have a way to go in terms of building self-confidence and to fully realizing the value that many of their unique personal skills and attributes have in the workplace. My advice is always when you are presented with an opportunity, take the step up!”

Swati also emphasises that one thing that women can improve upon is to have the confidence to stand up and talk what is in their minds. “Very often in a group discussion, women feel intimidated and try to suppress their thoughts. So, just open up and realize that we do talk a lot of sense.”

Rama Sivaraman, Executive Vice President and Global Head of Operations, Polaris Consulting & Services Limited, argues that since women play many roles on the home and office front and there is constant pressure on time and this leaves very little time for networking.

Networking is a crucial spot to reckon with and Sujata D adds too that the ability for extensive as well as exhaustive Customer networking usually takes a back-seat due to the non-work/Home priorities. She doesn’t today have the bandwidth to be able to travel as frequently, network and build customer relationships.

Means what?

In short, we are driven and pulled back by not only factors external to us and arguably beyond control at times, but also and sadly due to factors screaming loud on our own remote controls. Women are gifted and cursed with a unique blend of factors, quintessentially ‘female’. That’s why men have and will for some time; rule the fast lanes out there. Unless, well, there’s always an ‘unless’ thankfully.

And while the knife is still there, let us twist it a bit. The fourth reason, lest you thought we forgot to mention it – Women falter at driving is because guys, we actually don’t mind pausing and asking for directions!

Please keep driving at 180 kmph nevertheless!

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