Understanding the gender confidence gap

Men tend to over-estimate their ability and performance, while women tend to downplay both (from a Cornell University study). Men are four times more likely than women to ask for a raise (Linda Babcock, author of Women Don’t Ask). Why do so many really smart, talented women come across as diffident at the workplace? Understanding the gender confidence gap:

I often attend gender conferences where women outnumber men roughly 20 to one. The gender world’s like that, I guess. Yet, even amongst us, there will always be the one who begins apologetically, “I didn’t come prepared,” and then go on to astound the room with her brilliance.

Women struggle to talk about themselves positively, says Aparna Jain, diversity and leadership coach and author of Own It and, more recently, Like a Girl. At her leadership workshops, she says, “There’s so much self-doubt. Women just want to be perfect.”

We talk of the gender pay gap readily enough. Perhaps we need to talk a bit more of the gender confidence gap.

Research bears testimony to it. Men tend to over-estimate their abilities and performance while women downplay both, finds a Cornell University study. “The ‘gender confidence gap’ is real and closing it is as much a lynchpin to addressing gender inequity as the many other forces that have contributed to it,” writes Margie Warrell in Forbes. Continue reading “Understanding the gender confidence gap”

Bringing up father

In Hindustan Times, I argue for the need fathers to take a far more meaningful role in bringing up their children by taking paternity leave. 

It was after his son Viggo was born that Swedish photographer, Johan Bavman, then on parental leave, began looking for information about stay-at-home-dads. He found nothing. What he did find was a study that asked children who they turned to when they needed to be comforted. Their mums, said the children. Dads came at fifth place — below the option of not going to anyone at all.

Sweden has among the world’s most generous parental leave policies — 480 days with 90 days earmarked for each parent, and the balance of 300 days to be worked out between the parents. Yet, says Bavman, who took nine months off for Viggo, only 14% of Sweden’s fathers choose to equally share parental leave.

In India to inaugurate his photo project on Swedish dads, already exhibited in 50 countries and now in India along with portraits of Indian dads, Bavman said: “I wanted to find out why these fathers had chosen to stay at home; what it had done for them and their relationship with their partners and children.”

Continue reading “Bringing up father”

The courage to speak up

Can we even begin to understand the courage and grit it takes for a woman to speak up against her sexual assault? In a climate that is changing, we still continue to shine a spotlight on the victim, not her predator. My column in Hindustan Times:

The complainant in one of India’s most high profile sexual harassment cases is telling me about the price of speaking up. A hostile work environment, mental stress, failing health, long and costly litigation and, despite it all, loss of a job, says the woman researcher who filed a complaint against RK Pachauri in February 2015 when he was still boss at TERI.

“Even today I worry about entering an office room and am scared to open my email,” she says.

Three years later, trial is yet to begin. But, says the researcher, “Sexual harassment by powerful bosses continues because we have a culture that turns a blind eye to it.”

Continue reading “The courage to speak up”

Beyond #MeToo, there’s #WeCount

In Hindustan Times, I argue that the goal of India’s #MeToo movement is not the taking down of a few predatory bosses but a new deal for women at work. 

The resignation of minister of state for external affairs, MJ Akbar, might seem like a victory for the #MeToo movement, but it’s far too premature for any celebration.

The former editor is accused by at least 20 women of a range of inappropriate behaviour from interviewing potential new recruits in his hotel room to sexual assault. He has denied the accusations and sent a criminal defamation notice to the first of his accusers, journalist Priya Ramani.

Akbar is not the only one to have been stung by India’s October Outing, which has, so far, been organic, volatile and apparently unstoppable.

In contrast to the government’s silence over its minister, the private sector has scrambled to act. A film company has folded up, comedy videos by offenders have been scrubbed from websites and media houses have launched inquiries, sent the editors who’ve been accused on leave and mandated sexual harassment workshops for employees.

Continue reading “Beyond #MeToo, there’s #WeCount”

What made India’s #MeToo possible

In Foreign Policy, I write on workplace sexual harassment from Bhanwari Devi to the resignation of M.J. Akbar, what’s changed over the years and which way India’s  #MeToo movement is likely to go. 

For close to two weeks now, many of India’s women, particularly in the English-language media and entertainment businesses, have taken to social media to call out sexual predators: bosses who had demanded sexual favors, men who had sent unsolicited explicit photographs, and stars who had interacted inappropriately with underage fans. Among those caught up in the torrent of accusations have been editors, directors, actors, writers, stand-up comedians, an image consultant, and a minister in the current government.

In some ways, the groundwork for this movement was laid in the 1990s. Early that decade, the state government of Rajasthan hired Bhanwari Devi, a social activist, to join an ongoing campaign against child marriage. Some locals, however, were not happy. In 1992, as “punishment” for her vocal condemnation of the marriage of a 9-month-old girl to a child from the same village, Devi says that she was raped by two men while three others held her down. The men denied the charges.

When the case came up for trial in a lower court in 1995, a judge ruled that “since the offenders were upper-caste men and included a Brahmin, the rape could not have taken place.” Devi, you see, was from a lower caste. The judge’s implication was that no upper caste man would “defile” himself by touching a lower-caste woman.

Weeks of marches and protests followed. And soon, a group of nonprofits came together under the name Vishakha. They petitioned the Supreme Court to create a legal framework for justice for women who had been sexually assaulted in the course of their work. In 1997, India’s highest court set specific guidelines that, for the first time, defined sexual harassment. The definition included not just physical contact but also sexually loaded remarks and comments.

Continue reading “What made India’s #MeToo possible”

My #MeToo moment goes back 30 years, and it still makes me angry

In The Print, I write about the current movement against workplace sexual harassment that for me has summoned up old ghosts and taken me back to my own #MeToo moment 30 years ago. Has nothing really changed? Or is it that a new generation of women journalists are telling predatory, entitled male bosses to back off?

My #MeToo moment goes back some 30 years. I was a young reporter in a new job in Mumbai and was visiting my parents who lived in Delhi. My new editor happened to be in town and the three of us – the New Editor, another journalist and I went out for dinner at a restaurant in Hauz Khas Village.

After dinner, in the car on the way back home, New Editor made his move in the back seat. I pushed him off but he kept coming back at me. I didn’t feel threatened or I would have yelled – there were two people in the front after all, the journalist and the driver, oblivious to what was happening. As New Editor, a tiny man with big hair, kept making ridiculous kissy faces, I had to fight the urge to laugh.

Back in Mumbai, I did speak about the incident, not that I was traumatised but as a ‘can you believe this ridiculous man?’ kind of way.

Word got around to New Editor who summoned me to his cabin. “You shouldn’t talk about it because people will think you are showing off,” was his gratuitous advice. I was not just angry but deeply insulted. Showing off about what? I left his cabin, walked straight to my desk and wrote out my resignation.

Continue reading “My #MeToo moment goes back 30 years, and it still makes me angry”

Motherhood Is Kicking Indian Women Out of Work

In Foreign Policy: A new act gives more maternity leave — and reinforces the same old patriarchal values.

American progressives often bemoan the country’s lack of maternity leave, but in India, the problem may be too much time off, not too little. As many as 12 million Indian women could lose their jobs next year thanks to a new law that mandates employers must allow 26 weeks paid time off after giving birth.

There have been worries about the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act since it was passed in March 2017, bumping paid leave up from the previous 12 weeks and making day care centers mandatory for companies with more than 50 employees. Continue reading “Motherhood Is Kicking Indian Women Out of Work”

Modern day heroes

In Hindustan Times: On any given day, there are up to 10 brain dead people in ICUs across India. One donor can save up to seven lives. Yet, five lakh people die every year because organs simply aren’t available

In the video on his mother’s phone, Arjun Shamat is dancing with his youngest sister; just another kid goofing off. Who could have known then that a few months later he would be dead? “He never left home without informing me,” says Raj Kumari, his mother, a domestic worker. But a friend called, “Let’s go for a ride”. A short while later, his father got the call: there’s been an accident.

In the hospital, Arjun, not yet 18, didn’t respond when his mother touched him or when his father, Ram Bahadur, called his name.

On the second day, the doctors at AIIMS told them Arjun was brain dead. He was on a ventilator, but once they switched it off, breath would cease. “He hadn’t even said goodbye,” says Raj Kumari.

Continue reading “Modern day heroes”

Why women are falling off the employment map

The murder of a woman in Alwar points to India’s most shockingly under-reported story on why nearly 200 lakh women have quit jobs.

All Usha Devi wanted was to give her kids a good education. The wife of a construction worker knew that her husband’s income was not enough to educate her children, Tanuja, 15, and Dheeraj, 10, and, so, she took a job at a plastic factory.

Not everyone was pleased. Incensed that she was ‘going against Rajput tradition’, her husband’s uncle, Mamraj Singh, objected and, when she refused to quit, hacked her to death on March 15. Mamraj Singh has since been arrested and the murder weapon, a sword, has been recovered. Meanwhile, at Alwar district, Rajput villagers are reportedly collecting funds for the children’s education. Continue reading “Why women are falling off the employment map”

Childcare should not only be a woman’s job

All over the world, the responsibility of bringing up children lies disproportionately with women. A 2015 report by McKinsey Global Institute found that 75% of unpaid care-work – cooking, cleaning, washing, caring for children and the elderly – is done by women.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern tweeted this past week that she and her partner Clarke Grayford will “join the many parents who wear two hats. I’ll be PM & a mum while Clarke will be ‘first man of fishing’ & stay at home dad”. The idea that a Head of State is going to experience what countless women in the free (and unfree) world go through is not new.

Benazir Bhutto, once disparagingly referred to as the ‘permanently pregnant prime minister’ — the acronym dovetailed neatly to the party she headed — had three children in and out of office. Her second child, a daughter, was born while she was Pakistan’s prime minister. Perhaps to prove that she was asking for no special concessions for being a woman, Bhutto, who delivered that child by Cesarean section, returned to work the very next day. Continue reading “Childcare should not only be a woman’s job”