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Women's Voice - Women Led Development, Not Women's Development
Swapnalekha Basak
Founder CEO - plugH

When the pandemic set in, the "new normal" meant "Working from Home," staying locked indoors and battling with work, housework, kids, kids' school, elders, illness and all that follows. A lot seems to have happened from that time till now.

The Great Resignation

People in hordes reassessed their priorities in life leading to what they called "The Great Resignation" which is now getting termed as "The Great Reshuffle." As this panned out, more women than men gave up their jobs as they struggled to cope with the demands of housework, childcare and elder care. As someone rightly said that behind every successful woman there is a "Shanta" or / and "Kanta" the domestic helps whose support allows women to give their 100% to their careers. With the domestic helps no longer around, this was to happen. While the many people that I mentioned this to, just nodded in sad agreement, as if this was an inevitable eventuality. It necessarily did not have to be like this.

Hybrid Model of Workplace

Going to work every day seems to be something we will never get back to. A hybrid workplace model mixes in-office and remote work to offer flexibility to employees. The choice of this model has not come from organizations, it has emerged as a requirement, as an expectation from people as they discovered that they could deliver even from their homes. Hybrid Workforce models are now being discussed by leaders to give some grammar to the flexibility which seems to have been forced upon organizations. My organization plugH, runs communities of senior HR professionals, and I am seeing the struggle that they are going through dealing with such unprecedented situations. How much is enough when it comes to flexibility is the question that they are battling with. And as this happened country after country has begun declaring 4 day work weeks. The moot question is which way will Indian corporates go?!


Amid all this, the tech sector is reporting widespread moonlighting. Moonlighting means 'working two jobs at the same time, preferably doing one at night-time so that they aren't caught.' The Times of India reported that many multinational companies hired investigators to investigate their employees' work when in many instances, coding or information seemed to raise suspicions about having rival companies' information. Reportedly, many were found to have provided the same bank account for getting the extra income or freelancing money. Many organizations are now calling people back to work even where not required to keep a check on this as employees complain of organizations using "moonlighting" as an excuse to get back to old times. Trust therefore has taken a beating.

Who got it right?

Those organizations who have not been able to cope with their usual methods are the ones with a very "masculine" culture. But before we jump to any conclusions let us first get this masculinity bit right. I am taking the liberty to borrow a concept from the Hofstede's 6 dimensions of Culture of which one is Masculinity and Femininity. This is how the model defines Masculinity versus femininity - The "Masculinity" side of this dimension represents a preference in society for achievement, heroism, assertiveness, and material rewards for success. Society at large is more competitive. Its opposite, "Femininity", stands for a preference for cooperation, modesty, caring for the weak and quality of life. Society at large is more consensus oriented. In the business context, Masculinity versus Femininity is sometimes also related to as "tough versus tender" cultures.

All leaders who are considered great, the ones who have successfully steered their organization through these difficult times had one thing in common. In whatever they did during crisis they expressed empathy and compassion for the human side of the upheaval. They kept in touch with ailing employees, checked the welfare of those who were struggling with their family members' health, often parents and made it their business to 'care'. All of these you see are "Feminine" qualities. To care, nurture, empathise comes naturally to women.

As we move on, we are still unsure whether we will ever have the level of stability that we saw pre Covid 19 and the answer is an emphatic "No". In fact, the IPCC report which came in a few weeks back now cites Mental Health as the next fallout of the Climate Change crisis. Who could have ever thought about that?!

Uncertain times therefore need leaders to do things which comes naturally to women. On that count would it be wrong for me to claim that the world needs women led development and not women's development. The unfortunate bit is that the workplace culture everywhere has become so toxically masculine that many a times even women have unlearned being a woman to act tough as a leader.

What should be the way ahead?

Having established certain facts the question here is what needs to be done. I would say a couple of things comes to my mind and I am sure you would be able to think of many more.

  1. Gender Roles need re-definition

    When women were staying home then it would be fine for them to take on all caregiving roles (childcare as well as elder care). Not anymore! Men will need to shoulder the responsibilities at home equally with women, especially when the pandemic has proven that the current arrangement is clearly not working out. Each one of us must rethink these roles in our minds and respond to situations with this new lens.

  2. Leadership & Culture need redefinition

    Organizations must embrace values which are more feminine (preference for cooperation, modesty, caring for the weak and quality of life). This needs to be driven through by leadership behaviour, design of policies & processes. This (unlike how many people think) does not mean sacrificing profits. It just means profit along with caring for the planet and the people. For ages we have seen "Shubh laabh" written on all traditional shops and business establishments. Alas we have forgotten the tradition that the labh (profit) needs to be shubh (blessed). Its time to remind us of our age-old heritage

  3. Women need to lead the way

    We need more women to be comfortable in their own skin leading in their way because these difficult times have proven the value that this brings to the table. plugH runs a forum called "Bodhi Stree" where every 8th of the month we invite in successful women to share their journey and all have said how being a woman, and being the way they were, actually helped them to get unprecedented success. We need many more role models like these.

    The current model of leadership has been driven from the industrial age when human beings were just another kind of resource to be used and leveraged. The future can't be brought in using principles which are incorrect in their very essence.

    Therefore its time that we have women led development and not women's development

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