Woman empowerment – Just a new buzzword

From Edward Bernays’ “Torches of Freedom” to Mary Barra (CEO of General Motors), empowered women have come a long way. They have had a long struggle in the business. It has been a tale of persistence and continuous struggle that earned women leadership roles in modern business. The number of women CEOs in the Fortune 500 is at an all-time high in 2017. Last year, it had just 21 women CEOs on the list, however, there are 11 more women CEOs working in the elitist club of the business. There are now 32 women CEOs working in Fortune 500. Moreover, a recent study says that Fortune 500 companies with the highest representation of women on boards financially outperform companies with the lowest representation of women on boards. These are the facts but from another world.

Corporate Gurus’ Opinion

Corporate sector has established some rules to run its operations worldwide. According to their charter, MNCs have to give a certain number of opportunities to the women. To create a positive word of mouth, we find seasoned professionals speaking about the importance of empowering women at workplace. They talk about it in various town hall meetings, seminars and mass media appearances. They share their experiences of having strong women in their teams and their positive impact on the business. They appreciate women’s ability to take critical decisions, their quality of developing a strong bond within the teams. Women are focused, emotionally intelligent and multitasking comes to them naturally. They too understand the business well and run it professionally. They are giving better results in all of the domains of the business, including the areas where they were not being welcomed before. With these arguments, “those seasoned professionals” suggest to empower women and to trust them more than the past.

Similarities in Women Empowerment and Movement of Socialism

This entire wave of glorifying women empowerment reminds is quite similar to the movement of Socialism. Supporting Socialism was in fashion in 1970s. Socialism was in the newspapers, televisions, seminars, politics, legislation, and in the movies. “Mazdoor” was the hero, in those days. However, this is one side of the picture. The other side of the picture depicts that the biggest beneficiary of this wave was none other than the capitalist. He would pull strings of all of the business variables and would earn biggest share from the blockbuster movies as a biggest investor. And “Mazdoor” would remain a “Mazdoor” after getting a couple of rights that would satisfy him but won’t earn him a comfortable life.

This is exactly what the case with Woman Empowerment is. Capitalist gets the biggest share. What socialism did to the Mazdoors of 70s, women empowerment is doing to the women of the 21st century. Just like socialist movement, woman empowerment too has become a buzzword. Speaking for it is more of a fashion. Mainstream cinema of Bollywood too has shifted its focus to women empowerment. Pink, Secret Superstar, Dangal, Toilet, Badrinath ki Dulhania and Inkaar are all about women empowerment. This has hit Pakistani industry too and the likes of Verna, Punjab Nahi Jaon Gi, Mehrunisa V Lub U and Dukhtar are portraying powerful roles of empowered women. Conditioning the society is at full swing but for the right reasons.

Corporate Culture and Women

“Culture eats strategies for breakfast”, they say. And culture has almost eaten this new buzzword already. Unstructured strategy is there, word of mouth is there, volunteers are there, and C-Level go-ahead too is there however a conducive environment and a supportive culture are missing.

What this culture misses out on women empowerment is the dilemma that it has about women’s role at home, in society, and in the office. There are just a few exceptions in corporate sector where women are “somehow” being given empowerment in its true sense and that too in the three major cities of Pakistan. However, women from rest of the cities struggle for the rights a corporate employee deserves. Empowerment or empowered roles are miles away from them.

The Society

In a male chauvinist world, working women continue to struggle in various parts of their professional lives. There are many that are not being considered as issue. Workplace harassment is something that most of the women face but never report and if they do, they face unnecessary criticism. There are fewer opportunities for them and the available ones are plagued with character assassination. Those who get promoted are not forgiven for performing well and are simply tagged as boss’ “favorite”. Equality is almost missing and equity is a word unknown to many in the society as well as in the corporate sector.

Beyond Corporate

In other sectors, working women’s life is even more miserable. Work-life balance does not exit. There are absolutely no or very few daycare centers. Flexible hours are not really flexible, even if they are being offered. “Work from home” doesn’t work. Maternity leaves are either unavailable or absolutely insufficient and paid leaves are hard to find. Organizations avoid hiring pregnant women even if they are better than others. Women with hijab are less likely to earn a job in most of the places. Women in the entire world are not being paid as much as males do, for doing similar tasks. Even in the US, women earn just 77 cents for each dollar that males earn in the same jobs and equal pay won’t occur until 2056. Women get one third of the important assignments as compared to men.

What to do…

From the women’s protest that initiated Russian revolution to the women’s protest in Iceland that happened in October 2016, working women of entire world are struggling for rights. The later one was against offering fewer wages to the woman. Working women of Iceland left the office at 2:48pm to get their protest registered. They were heard soon however, Pakistani women too are struggling for the same rights but the destination is far and away. Before ensuring women empowerment, equity should be ensured. And society too, has to provide a conducive environment. Only a man raised in an ‘unbiased environment’ would be able to exhibit it in the office.

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