The workplace has undergone tremendous changes in modern times. Considering the large number of job applicants in India, it has been challenging to secure the aspired ‘permanent’ job in the government sector that operates on fixed working hours, lucrative retirement benefits, and enabling provisions for women employees.
On the other hand, globalisation and digital technological advancements have brought global companies and private investment in the Indian job market.
The corporate culture and work culture, particularly the information technology sector, have percolated down to even small and medium organisations and concerns. The economics of the private employer, the scarcity of white-collar jobs, a large educated workforce, lack of job security and the masculinity of the existing work culture norms have contributed to the myth of the ideal worker or the ideal employee in private sector workplaces in India.
This concept of the ideal worker or employee is similar to that of western industrialised nations. Such an employee is one who has no other engagement beyond the work and workplace and prioritises the same above everything else. Such an employee is available 24×7 on email or phone and even physically. The ideal employee is one who can travel at short notice any time, does not need to take leave for the sake of children and works till late hours.
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This masculine standard of the workplace as a battlefield or as a game-like arena goes perfectly with championing the so-called manly qualities of aggression, rivalry and numbing of all human feelings and sensitivities in contra-distinction standards of empathy, work-life balance and emotional intelligence. Therefore, the ideal worker’s masculine standard is set, and when women enter the workplace, they have to conform to the same.
Motherhood, on the other hand, brings with it the responsibility of child care. The societal assumption of a ‘good mother’ is certainly one who is completely preoccupied with the child’s needs. Therefore such an individual cannot be an ideal employee. Even today, in interviews, many private sectors ask questions relating to the women applicant’s possible pregnancy. Such women are avoided as job applicants. ‘Keep your personal matters outside the workplace‘ is very much the motto. Therefore the bias exists right from the beginning.
Amid such biases, when women choose to enter the private sector workplace, they generally meet financial compulsions, find the fulfilment of their academic careers, or both. The majority of such women resort to an expensive child care provider’s services, the expenses of which are borne by her.
However, even after the same, she has to take care of the household chores, arrange the child care provider, leave the child to the school bus, make the breakfast of the male member who is to go to the office. The public transport and the pressure to reach on time may leave her stressed and to her ignoring and skipping basic nutritional requirements.
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In general, the family structure is such that married women in India largely ignore their nutritional requirements, whether homemakers or working. Even when she reaches home from the office, she has to look after her child’s homework. Most of the times in public transport, she is seen communicating with the child’s tutor who has arrived or the other mothers’ of her child’s classmates enquiring about the homework.
Most working mothers do not take leave or time out for their own personal recreation or needs or even for personal health check-ups. This leave is very carefully saved up in case of an emergency related to the child’s sickness or the absence of the child care provider. So, in general, they take a lot fewer leaves than other employees. When they do, the same is viewed with bias, even if she may be perfectly competent, responsible and productive. Any provision for leave or flexibility is viewed with bias and discrimination. This leads to women opting for more part-time or gig employment where the salaries and perks are much lower. However, in organisations that offer such leave or flexibility, the working mother is viewed as inferior to her male colleagues because of her situation’s domesticity.
Ironically women who can conform to the toxic standards of the ideal worker without any complaint are viewed as ‘raven mothers‘ a term used to denote selfishness, and are forever to be blamed in case of the failure of the child to reach any societal or academic standard in contradistinction to the stereotypical ‘good mother’ who is selfless.
The pandemic has further added to the burden of working mothers. While the government has taken the step to formalise workplace flexibility in the ‘New Guidelines for Other Service Providers’ and the ‘Draft Model Standing Orders for Service Sector 2020’, work from home facilities has brought its own share of the burden to working mothers.
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For one, the pandemic has added additional housework burden with lack of maids and increased sanitisation. Secondly, the closure of schools has increased school anxiety with uncertainty and online classes. Thirdly, the loss of jobs or decreased income of the male spouse has pushed the women to balance the family, cut down expenses, and put her career in the back seat.
It is pertinent to note that those particularly in the higher income bracket who have managed still face bias even in the online schedules. It goes without saying that in video and zoom calls, children’s presence is ridiculed and viewed as a sign of incompetence.
The reality of the worker’s home life has to be accepted in the new workplace of the future. The male standard of the ideal worker and a good mother may be a contradiction. However, a successful employee who is a productive, intelligent, and responsible and equally caring mother raising the future citizens of this country cannot be a contradiction.
We need a workplace that accepts the employee’s reality and makes provisions for work-life balance and flexibility. These are in no way inimical to the productivity or trust quotient of the employee. Work-life balance and flexibility provisions are required by all employees irrespective of gender or parenting status. The right not to be deprived of livelihood is fundamental to all citizens. The unrealistic expectation of the ideal worker has to be done away with.
Cooper Marianne, (2020, October,1) . Mothers’ careers are at Extraordinary Risk right now. The Atlantic. URL:https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2020/10/pandemic-amplifying-bias-against-working-mothers/616565/
Tapti Bose is a lawyer based in Kolkata. Her areas of interest include women’s legal studies and women’s literature. You can find her on Facebook.
Featured Image Source: Times of India