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Gender equality should start at the breakfast table: Manisha Girotra

We should leave behind a more equal world, not just one of driverless cars, robots and voice-powered machines

Published: Aug 13, 2017 07:54:45 AM IST
Updated: Aug 10, 2017 05:57:46 PM IST

Gender equality should start at the breakfast table: Manisha Girotra
Illustration: Chaitanya Dinesh Surpur
Our generation is blessed to live in a time when Artificial Intelligence, cloud computing and other technologies are helping us transform human health, work practices, lifestyles and moving us to a more egalitarian way of existence. However, even as there is rapid change in every sphere of life, there is still a large gap in one area: Gender equality.  

Countries like China and India are way behind when it comes to achieving gender equality. Of the world’s 1.3 billion poor people, 70 percent are women. The woman population produces 50 percent of the world’s food supply, but receives just 10 percent of the world’s earnings. So, at a macro level, a precondition for reducing poverty and promoting growth is gender equality. In India itself, if the number of women in the workforce were to increase to as many as working men, the country’s GDP will increase by up to 25 percent.  

At a micro level, women still fight for their basic rights. Today, however, women in India are challenging every traditional male bastion, be it the armed forces, airlines (as pilots) or as scientists. A lot of these women have made it to where they have despite the system and not because of it.
If I were to go back 25 years, when I started my career in banking, it was a challenging task. Women were entering the traditionally male-dominated sector of financial services. Most male bankers viewed their female colleagues as a temporary phenomenon—building resume value to find a good husband and moving on.

My first few errands, armed with a gold medal from the Delhi School of Economics, included fetching pizzas for my seniors, labelling tables and chairs for inventory checks, and keeping stock of stationery. Blessed with the middle-class learning that no task is too small or lowly, I took on every job as a challenge and was delighted with the ability to just participate in whatever I was asked to do.

Along the way, I encountered repeated objectification and trivialisation. It all seemed a bit too daunting at times; it did not seem fair at most times, but despite the ecosystem trying to impose its will on me, my passion to make it big never diminished. I knew that, at some level, the ecosystem was itself feeling challenged and confused with the wave of young and brave women threatening its well-defined world.

Even after I had my child, the verdict [of many others] was that it was the end of my professional journey. Back then, there were no daycare facilities, so I took my daughter and her nanny to a hotel near my workplace and rushed in-between my work to tend to her. When my daughter was young and my work travel made me miss the odd parent-teacher meet, another toddler’s birthday party or a cupcake baking play date, I was termed the “bad mother”.  My husband, on the other hand, was applauded and glorified for making the odd appearance at a party or school event.

Therein lies the basic issue. As we break generations of feudal mindsets, as organisations strive to make workplaces more gender neutral, and as women themselves juggle their multiple roles as homemakers, mothers and professionals, we need to force our thinking to be genuinely egalitarian. The best individual contribution we can all make is to think of women and men as equals.

A girl’s education and aspirations must be given as much credence as a boy’s, and a woman’s career deemed as important as a man’s. Gender equality should start at the breakfast table. We must acknowledge that only the weak need to crush a woman and her dreams and hopes to feel powerful.

If we strive to change these mindsets at home, I think we will all witness sea change at work too. A more empathetic home environment, work infrastructure and society will help women thrive and achieve.

We can then proudly tell our children that we are leaving behind a more equal world for them; not just a world of driverless cars, robots and voice-powered machines.

Let’s not just amplify our human intelligence with artificial intelligence; let’s evolve human intelligence also to help civilisation flourish like never before. Gender equality is not a woman’s issue, it is a human issue. It affects us all.

(The writer is chief executive officer of Moelis India)

(This story appears in the 18 August, 2017 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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