Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Of "Boardroom pinup girls", "global ponds" and women's day

On the occasion of Women's Day on March 8th, The Economic Times marked its "observance" of the day by inviting Padma Ravichander, Managing director Perot Systems, to write something up about the participation of women in higher management in industry. The original article can be found here.

Let me start by saying that I was hugely disappointed by the content and general writing of the article. I am in fact, so traumatized by the whole experience that I am going to proceed to dissect the article and tell you why I hated it so much. This is going to be a bit of an exhaustive ripping apart seeing that almost every line seems to bother me. Words in bold and with quotes around them are straight out of the article. Those that have quotes around them but are not in bold need you to imagine me making air quotes if I were saying all this out :)

I am really hoping I totally missed a big point here and that my whole understanding of the "message" is warped, because my trauma will continue if that is not the case .:)

So she writes this article and she decides to use for a title, "Boardroom pin-up girls making waves" . While it doesn't make any immediate sense to me, I am sure if I were top-brass management of a Fortune500 company, I would not want to be referred to as a "boardroom pin-up girl" whether or not I am "making waves". Even to just catch the reader's eye, this , I thought, was a rather poor choice of words.

It starts out painfully like a high school essay stating how women "hold seats on corporate boards, run major companies and are regularly featured on the covers of business magazines as prominent leaders and power brokers." and with the naivete of a high school essayist she asks "Who could have imagined this even half a century ago?" . Why do I get the feeling she thinks "half a century" amounts to 500 years back?

We are then treated to a whole bunch of illuminating statistics about how the percentage of women at the "top of the corporate ladder" is very low. She goes on to say that in IT however, " The demand for IT jobs particularly in India have ensured a greater population of women in the workplace than ever before ". Of course, if we had only half the jobs they would all go to men and women are just making up numbers here. Notice also, how a demand "have" ensured something....in The Economic Times no less!!! ( I am not going to be charitable to grammatical errors. With my not-so-admirable grammar skills , if I can catch such mistakes,come on, those editors are paid for correcting them!)

" Information Technology, world over is a relatively new industry and hence has enjoyed the luxury of greater gender neutrality than other industries where the organisational values, definitions of competencies and leadership are still predicated on traits that are stereotypically as-sociated with men tough, aggressive and decisive."

This long sentence left me in a fix. While the poor language and paucity of punctuations are besides the point (or may be the reason for the dilemma), I am not really able to make up my mind what it is trying to convey:
a) Gender neutrality is a luxury.
b) IT owes its gender neutrality ( even while the rest of the article shrieks about even IT not having enough women ) to the fact that it being a relatively new industry, helps it "concede" that women may in fact also be "tough aggresive and decisive".
c) The problem is somehow, more that concepts of competency and leadership are associated with traits such as "tough, aggressive and decisive" and less that they are infact "sterotypically male" .

While most women in IT, she observes, are at "entry-level" jobs, there is a "definitive trend" that they "can" become global leaders because IT jobs demand " for employees to work across countries and cultures and reach out to people across continents. " What about world peace?? This is the kind of writing (BS,if I may) I subscribe to when my answer to a question that demands a 500 word answer ends in about 50 and I need to fill up the space provided.

I gather the courage to read on. The next paragraph starts off promisingly with the question " So can women in IT make good global leaders and what is holding them back?" and I go "phew! May be she will redeem herself." But Alas! that was not to be. Ravichander is of the opinion that "Leadership is an inborn trait in women, whether they lead global teams across ponds or manage households discreetly by always ensuring that every member of the family or team is well nurtured and attended to. It is a quality that is fairly unique, yet very much a part of the DNA of a woman."

While I don't quite understand why someone would want to lead a "global team" across a "pond", it could be some IT jargon that I am unaware of. However, "inborn traits" such as "leadership" don't seem to ensure that every family in the world with a woman in it is well nurtured and I am not really sure how many times the household management is discreet or that every member is "attended to". A quality so "unique", a little less than half the world's population has it as "part of its DNA". ( why oh why can people not stop this abusive use of the concept of the DNA?!!) Is she also not putting in question the ability/involvement of a man as a caregiver or/and "discreet manager" of his household ?

She goes on to talk about the work culture in IT that leaves no minute unconnected and demands a "24/7 online-culture" of employees. How is the woman supposed to take care or her family and work? The solution according her is that " Both men and women need to join hands" and "look closely at our current management practices around meetings, deliverables, timings, work styles, success metrics, performance evaluation criteria and decide how we can change some of these practices across the organisation that would cater to needs of a gender diverse population collectively. "

Why is it a work-home balance struggle only for the woman? Not once does she consider suggesting that men share or should share the responsibility of the household. While evaluation of general work culture will help no doubt, how much impetus is going to come from a consumer-driven industry if it affects deliverables and time lines? How much good are sweeping statements in the vein of "re-evaluate work culture" going to do?

Like I said in the beginning, the way it was written and the fact that,despite the style and content, it got published was a big disappointment. Successful women like Padma Ravichander should be able ,in the least, to not consider themselves "pin-up girls". It is most unfortunate that she should give an impression that

a) A happy family and a successful career are involved in a trade-off
b) The happiness of a family is solely the woman's responsibility
c) There is no part or involvement of the husband in the success of a woman's career.
d) Men in industry need to be understanding to their women colleagues because these poor women do not get the support from the very same men in their roles as husbands.

Maybe the next time they will find someone better to ghost-write ( yes I am the optimist and still want to believe she doesn't really think this way.) the article for her and definitely someone better to edit it.

As a side thought, I wonder if IT big shots hire publicists and if this is in fact the light in which she wants to be seen by the "global" market, because otherwise, that is one more job that needs to be filled in by someone new :)

Friday, March 02, 2007

Himmat karne waalon ki haar nahin hoti

In all this discussion about different languages, I have neglected the one kind of poetry that I grew up reading. There is something very different about hindi poetry and somehow inspirational thoughts always come out sounding most emphatic in hindi. Of course, rhyme and meter are two very important aspects and to me, hindi free verse, is a little lame :)
So to me, while urdu is the language to fall in love in, Hindi is the language to get out of the dumps, to feel determined to achieve and such like happy thoughts. Not that hindi poetry in other genres is not good, just that hindi poetry of this genre makes sense most in hindi (again a cultural thing I am guessing :))

Anyway, the point to that rather lame introduction was to write about this awesome poem that I first had to memorise for a poetry recitation competition in Class 2. It is one poem I remember to this day. I am not exactly sure who the poet is. Two not-so-different versions exist with one being credited to Suryakant Tripathi 'Nirala' and the other to Harivansh Rai Bachchan. My version may in fact be a mixture of both but this is the most popular version of the poem.
So here it is (trumpets blaring with celebratory drum roll.....)

P.S. I tried a translation but it was so eeyeeeeeeeww that i couldn't bear to put it up :)
I am just going to take the safe route for now and put up meanings of words instead .
But, the himmat is on and some day when I do succeed, the translation will be up!

lehron se dar kar nauka paar nahi hoti
himmat karne walon ki haar nahi hoti

(lehron=waves, dar=fear, nauka= boat, paar=cross, nahi= not,
himmat karne waale= courageous people, haar= defeat)

nanhi chinti jab dana lekar chalti hai
chadti deewaron par sau baar fisalti hai
mann ka vishwas ragon mein sahas banta hai
chad kar girna, gir kar chadna na akharta hai
akhir uski mehnat bekar nahi hoti
koshish karne waalon ki haar nahi hoti....

(nanhi chinti = small ant, dana=grain, chalti = walks, chadti deewar = climbs the wall, sau baar= hundered times, fisalti= slips,
mann ka vishwas= belief / determination, ragon = veins/ nerves, sahas= bravery/courage, banta= becomes, girna= fall, akharta= discourage,
akhir= finally, mehnat= hard work, bekar= useless,
koshish= attempt)

dubkiyan sindu mein gota khor lagaata hai
ja ja kar khali haath laut aata hai
milte na sehej hi moti pani mein
behta duna utsah issi heiraani mein
mutthi uski khali har baar nahi hoti
himmat karne walon ki haar nahi hoti....

(dubkiyan = dive, sindu = indus river, gota khor= person looking for pearls, khaali haath= empty handed, laut = return,
milte = get, sehaj = easily, moti= pearls, pani = water, behta = flows, duna= twice over/ double, utsah= enthusiasm ,
mutthi= fist, uski= his, khaali = empty, har baar= everytime)

asaflta ek chunati hai sweekar karo
kya kami reh gayi dekho aur sudhaar karo
jab tak na safal ho neend chain ki tyago tum
sangharshon ka maidaan chhod mat bhago tum
kuch kiye bina hi jai jai kaar nahi hoti
himmat karne walon ki haar nahi hoti....

Failure is a challenge, accept it,
See what went wrong and improve on it,
Don't rest till you succeed,
Don't give up your efforts,
Praise doesn't come free,
Courageous people never fail.