The world surely has come a long way since women first entered the workforce. There have been multiple and significant examples of women leading multimillion-dollar companies, breaking glass ceilings, achieving successes that turns heads. Women surely have succeeded in making their mark and proving their competency to the level that makes gender roles irrelevant. However, is it all just a story of a confetti covered floor of success or is there much more that women endure to realise their true worth themselves as well prove to the world around them. This article tries to take one through the various struggles that women face as a member of the workforce, as a leader and most importantly as a human being constantly trying to balance an irreconcilable equation.
At the very onset of their career, young women set out in a race with their peers constituting both male and female colleagues. The first few years are very important since it sets the tone for an employee. Newcomers are regarded as an energetic bunch and eagerness to learn is one of the qualities that are often sought in newbies. However, learning is a lengthy and tedious process and, in many cases, requires going the so-called "extra mile".
In the initial days, it is all about getting to know how things are run and understand the theory behind the practice. A very common problem that is often faced by freshers -- irrespective of gender-- is that veterans hardly have time to teach. The busy work schedules keep the seniors busy all day and often they are so engrossed in their own tasks that the only time they can allot to teaching juniors is often very late after office hours. Here comes the gender at play -- whereas male colleagues often have the liberty to stay late at night, perhaps even overnight, stricter hours might be imposed for a female. Such restrictions are not necessarily imposed just by families but the constant reporting of harassment to women in various forms make it extremely unsafe for young or even elderly women to travel alone at dark hours since not everyone has private transportation. It is seen that women often are early to enter the office in the morning with the aim to get extra work done earlier in the day to ensure their timely departure and safe return to home. This practice, however, is seldom recognised or praised, rather women are often labelled as "lazy" for leaving the office on time. Timely departure from office is a myth and for most women it is a more than a myth-it is a weakness, a vulnerability and an impediment to their success.
These problems typically arise due to women's late entry into the workforce, majority of the senior management positions of workplaces are held by male members who often fail to let alone understand, even recognise that such problems in Bangladesh exist. The true meaning of gender equality lies in making work and workplace comfortable for both the genders and ensuring that both genders have a fair shot at success, not by competing who stay longer at work or bonds over smoking breaks.
Moving on to mid-career struggles that women face, the first one is definitely to balance family with work. A myriad of obstacles is just in place to make the way as coarse as it can be. Firstly, there comes a time when women are faced with a societal pressure to get married at the right age irrespective of her own choice. Whether the marriage is by choice or by custom, it comes with its own set of expectations alongside the already heavy burden of work expectations. It may mean a change of career to a less heavy role or an even relaxed organisation to settle in. However, while such compromises should be handled equally by both partners, a lot more of compromises are expected from the women, particularly relating to career.
Amidst all this crises, a woman may be blessed with the precious gift of motherhood. Motherhood is a defining moment of any woman's life but alas even motherhood does make women struggle at work. Maternity leaves often lag women at work and it takes a considerable amount of time and extra effort to get back on time. It might also mean missing out informal chit-chat and getting no hint of the organisational politics at play. Then there is the constant emotional battle of leaving a young one home and going to work, spending so less awake hours with her little angel. Such emotional turmoil can hamper women's focus or concentration at work.
Women really undergo a lot of struggles to keep their career afloat. This, in no way, undermines the struggle of men. However, it is important to realise that for women to grow and give their best, an adaptive workplace culture catering to special needs is the best way to ensure optimum productivity. Supervisors and line managers should have direct and candid conversations about such developmental areas and try their best to create a level playing field for women.
It is really a positive sign that a lot of men sacrifice and take the back seat nowadays to see their loved ones achieve their dreams and targets. And while one's success should never come at the cost of another's, let man and woman be a team and not just competitors.
The writer, after finishing her undergrads from IBA, University of Dhaka, is currently working in a financial institution. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org