Stories of change: Breaking the glass ceiling and bringing gender equality
In recent times, we have seen homogeneity in terms of mixed gender culture within organizations. However, developing such co-working spaces is not enough to give proper equal representation at the workplace. Within organizational structures a massive women force is deployed at various levels. More often than not, they are misrepresented in terms of their work and achievements. Their work gets shadowed by the reigns of male chauvinism.
Women have to put up a fight to make their voices heard, sometimes, it is in the form of long struggle for representation in family and sometimes it is in the form of aggressively what women want.
My experience in the development sector has led me to work with women led organizations, but not all of these organizations had women as decision makers. In one of the organizations, control was with the male counter parts. However, when I joined Saral Designs, it had both male-female partnership at least at the topmost tier. I was sceptical in terms of the representation of women at other layers of the women at Saral. Over a period of time, that notion of misrepresentation faded.
Resonating with the Each for Equal theme of this year on the International Women’s Day, I have stories of two of the finest gems that I have been working with at Saral Designs, who display a persona that has passion, courage and unflinching faith in the work they are doing and to bring a change in lives of others.
Coming from a modest family in rural Maharashtra, Sunita started working for the first time when her husband fell sick. She had moved to Bombay in 2009. Her husband fell sick within two years of coming to Bombay. Due to differences with her husband in another year she moved back to her village.
However, a long struggle awaited her thereafter. As a child, Sunita faced discrimination in the hands of her parents where male child was preferred over female child. Her family was orthodox and did not believe in gender equality, thus were unsupportive of her move to come to the village and stay with them. She had three children to take care of by this time. However, she did not receive desired treatment from her family despite repeated requests. There was patriarchy and inequality rooted deep into the house and one fine day Sunita’s mother asked her to move out with three children.
Distraught and furious, she came to Mumbai with nowhere to go and three children to look after. She lived in a small setting, and looked for work. The impact of her mother’s words was such that she decided never to look back. Irrespective of the challenges that life threw at her, she was determined that her children should not suffer because of the domestic conditions thus, ensured a better living for them and took onus on herself. She joined work at a factory where she displayed exemplary leadership skills which were recognised by her coworkers and managers alike.
Since her factory setting got shifted to Gujarat, she could not leave the kids as coming from rural Maharashtra it was difficult for her to adjust to a completely new setup.
Moving forward, she was out of work when the company shifted to Gujarat. Saral Designs was newly established around that time. When we hired her, we were a small company that was manufacturing sanitary napkins and had hired women for packaging. Sunita tai was handling the part by managing 35-40 women. That was the time when we had massive orders for our product and she managed it so well that her leadership skills were recognised long with her efficiency of getting work done. It was one of the best decisions to onboard Sunitai tai with us. It’s been three years since she started working at Saral Designs and has shown exceptional skills in handling women to get to work, quality of sanitary pads, some bit of supply chain and what not. She has seen Saral flourish from the time we were a company with three- four permanent employees to a team of 40. It has been a great journey and we salute her spirit of not breaking down in the time of crisis and letting things fall.
Her job at Saral is supercritical which is why she owes respect from all the entire team.
On the contrary to Sunita Tai’s story, Rajani’s story is slightly different. Coming from defence background, Rajani never faced discrimination herself for being a girl child. Her family was supportive of her choice and even the bold act of riding a motorbike even at the time when girls were barely given education.
However, when she moved her academic to professional life, an incident that took place at her opened her eyes to the world outside and showed how discriminated the society is. It was in Haryana when she started working as a software instructor, that she realised, parents were willing to spend their lives’s savings for girl child’s marriage, but were unwilling to spend on their education. One of the parents even mentioned, “inki toh shaadi karni hai, padhai karke kya karegi?” (our daughter is supposed to be married off, what will she achieve by studying?), certainly it was culture shock for somebody coming from an open and equal environment.
Since then Rajani has been committed towards solving this problem of inequality at work place in her capacity as Human Resource manager wherever she has worked. As a mother of two daughters, she has always taught them to treat every individual equally irrespective of their gender, caste and class.
Rajani’s experience as HR at Saral Designs is varied and she always strives to bring something new to the plate by engaging in building inclusive culture.
I’m not at discretion here to compare both these experiences as both are exceptional in their own way and bring values to the organisation in their personal as well as professional capacity.
Both of them have displayed courage and passion towards the work they are doing and have broken the glass ceiling in their own way by thriving for a better working environment for other female colleagues. They are on the mission of creating an equal world for themselves and other female colleagues, by inculcating values of gender neutrality and co-creating a mixed gender workspace for all at Saral Designs.
Working in a gender neutral space in itself is an honour, but, having these inspiring women who keep us grounded and bring the best within teams is an extraordinary display of leadership and an example for the rest of team members.
Author: Shivali Bagayatkar
Head- Partnerships and Research, Saral Designs
Shivali is a Public Health professional with Masters degree in Sociology from Mumbai University. Her research work on menstrual hygiene has been recognised by Gates Open Research.
She has previously worked with Praja Foundation where she published reports on State of Malnutrition in Mumbai and State of Health of Mumbai. Prior to this, she has also worked in Society of Nutrition Education and Health Action (SNEHA).
Having worked in the development sector for over five years, Shivali brings wealth of knowledge and expertise on issues related to women and adolescent girls.