Women, since time immemorial, have always had to fight for their rights. Our societies are based on specific norms, which give all the freedom and liberty to men to choose how they want to lead their lives. What comes naturally to men has always been a struggle for women.
For instance, while going out to work is a given for men, women have struggled to get the freedom to do this. But, thankfully, we live in times where jobs and women go hand in hand to a considerable extent. In most countries of the world, this is no longer an issue.
But what lies ahead? Once a woman starts working, how easy is it for her to move forward to progress in her work life? Does she get the same set of opportunities and facilities to move ahead as men, or are there barriers to progress?
Sadly her life ahead isn’t easy at all. Though women are stepping out in large numbers, and picking up their dream jobs, progressing in those jobs is not that easy. While every individual has to work hard and prove themselves to forge their path ahead, for women, it is much more complicated and challenging than for men. Several challenges, responsibilities, duties and barriers come in the way. These primarily arise when their personal life collides with the professional. Till they are young and unmarried, they get to compete on a level playing field, but after that, things become unfair. As a result, they can only rise to a point in their work lives. After that, even with the same effort, zeal and determination, women find it challenging to cope up and scale heights.
Men want to reign supreme, making the road ahead tricky and dangerous for women.
Let us see how. Let’s take the example of the corporate world. We observe that up to middle management positions, women find it relatively easy to progress and move up the corporate ladder. But after that, the going gets tough for various reasons, which are a mix of societal and professional barriers.
In the professional world, women face what is known as the glass ceiling, a term most of us are familiar with. The glass ceiling for women restricts their progress.
A glass ceiling is an invisible barrier that prevents women from rising beyond a level. It, in many ways, either brings their career to an end or makes progress slow and painful, which may lead to their eventually giving up on their dreams and aspirations. When a working woman cannot break this ceiling, she may give up out of sheer frustration, which is only natural.
But of course, there are exceptions. Some women can break this ceiling, shatter it and rise above it. However, they are still in the minority. The number is growing but still not by as much as it should.
So once these hard-working women break the ceiling, then what? Does their life become easy? Is life above the glass ceiling rosy? Well, apparently not!! Of course, with an increase in responsibility, life cannot be a cakewalk. There will be challenges, difficulties and struggles. But is the number of such challenges more for women than men?
The answer is a Yes!
The ones who rise above this ceiling face another roadblock, which goes by the name of a glass cliff. As the dictionary says, a cliff is a steep rock face, especially at the edge of a sea. So as the meaning goes, a cliff is not the best of places to be on, but sadly, that is where women find themselves once they have shattered the ceiling. This cliff makes their dreams seem only dreams.
So what exactly is a glass cliff?
The term glass cliff has been coined to refer to a situation where women or those in the minority find themselves when they ascend to a leadership position. The position is fraught with challenges, and the risk of failure is very high.
What has been observed is that these women are assigned leadership roles during periods of crisis and downturn when the risk of failure is the highest. They are given those positions where the likelihood of failure is very high. Since the prevailing culture is tilted towards the men who are in the majority, they all collude in a way to give these roles to the women who are in the minority. As a result, on the one hand, the organisation can tick the box of having a woman in that senior role; on the other, it is ensured that they fail. And if they succeed, the men and the organisation still win. So it is a win-win for them. It is like the outsider being tasked to ensure their failure while the insiders watch the fun from their safe spaces.
So what about these women on a glass cliff? How do they take to this state of affairs?
Well, to begin with, they are aware of their precarious position when they take up the role and so are under tremendous pressure from the very beginning. There is the pressure to succeed in the challenge and the pressure of knowing that your peers are waiting for you to fail. They are watching, knowing pretty well that you are likely to fail. How easy can that be for anyone? Would the men like to see themselves in that position? I guess not.
So under these trying circumstances, the woman takes on the role and many times succeeds! But what if she doesn’t, which is also a likelihood? She is then labelled a failure, with it being generalised that women cannot take on demanding roles.
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This phenomenon, in my opinion, is not typical only in the work environment; it is in every part of life. It is prevalent everywhere where a woman wants to go against the norms of society. She has to face such challenges, which increase the chances of her failure. They are a means to dissuade women from breaking the barriers and telling them to toe the line. It is something that, to my mind, is done to hold women back, to make them unsuccessful in anything they want to do, which is unconventional and against the norms. It is another way of enforcing patriarchal norms and culture. And mind you, it is not only the men who create these barriers but women themselves too.
The picture painted for her is bleak and discouraging from the time a woman expresses her desire to work. She is made to believe that no matter what, she will be responsible for running the house and raising the kids. This means that she will never be able to focus only on her career. She will have to carry both the burdens; of work and her home. She will have to balance both roles with little or no help from her spouse. With such high expectations, there is a lot of pressure on women. They have to succeed in both places. It is like the home, kids are a given, and working is an option. And whenever and wherever she falls short, it will be her responsibility.
Despite this, many women choose to work, taking on all the challenges that come their way. With time their responsibilities on both fronts increase, which they are expected to manage. Obviously, this isn’t easy, and many of them falter and make mistakes in some areas for which they are made to feel guilty and not worthy of the chance given to them.
Will a man ever have to face a similar situation? No, definitely not!
A man is facilitated and compensated to follow his dreams. A man gets all possible support and can single-mindedly focus on his career and take on challenges and opportunities that help him grow and prosper.
Owing to the double burden, women tend to restrict and contain themselves. They can’t run in the race with their hands and feet tied.
So many opt out, or if they continue, they end up messing up their physical and mental health.
Is this fair? No, not all!
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Society, people and the work culture need to change. It has to facilitate women to reach a level playing ground. They have to be given the opportunity to succeed. If the spouse needs to step up the game at home or at work, facilities like child care and flexible timings have to be provided.
Though we still have a lot of ground to cover, fortunately, things are looking up. On the homefront, couples are now flexible and adjusting enough to let both husband and wife pursue their dreams and passions. Responsibilities are being shared. But this is mainly in the big cities only.
As far as the work culture is concerned, organisations are striving towards a diverse and equitable culture, but a lot of ground needs to be covered. Mindsets need to be changed; cultures need to be redefined to be with the times.
Men have to accept that women, half the world population, cannot be relegated to the background. Instead, they must be a part of their homes, offices and every other place.