It was a day of celebration. Our research-based startup was celebrating its 10th year since its inception by honoring the technical and managerial candidates who had made a significant contribution to its growth. One after another, many of our experienced colleagues were felicitated. A well-known technical manager, Ram, was given the prestigious title of ‘Technical Member of Staff’, while his wife, Radha, (who was also a manager) clapped along with the crowd.
Looking at Radha, I wondered how she felt. Proud, of course, but also slightly disappointed? Had she expected to be up there on the podium too? They had met had met on their first day of work here 8 years ago, fallen in love and married. Did wonder, albeit for a moment, why she wasn’t up there with him? Was Ram technically better, the more intelligent one? He was bright, no doubt – he had two patents to his name, but so was she. I let my thoughts wander, but didn’t find any answers.
Then, one day, I was reading about the first woman who was awarded the Fields medal in mathematics in 2014, Radha’s face came to mind. Also, I had a mixed reaction to the news – was I to be happy that a woman had got a Fields medal, or lament the fact that it has taken seventy-six years for a woman to get one.
The question to ask is – are so few women rewarded at the higher levels of research in STEM (Science Technology Engineer & Mathematics) because of the low percentage of women in the field to begin with? According to the Census Bureau’s 2009 American Community Survey, women comprise 48 percent of the U.S. workforce but just 24 percent of workers in STEM fields. The numbers are slightly better in India, with around 30% of the engineering candidates being women.
However, in my electronics engineering class, in one of the most reputed institutions in Bangalore, only 13 out of 100 students were girls. Hardly a fair ratio. My first workplace, a highly competitive technical company, had only ten percent women. And this number dropped even drastically at the managerial level (when, typically, women quit to look after children). In fact, Radha was the only technical female manager in the entire company.
Which is why I wondered, why had she not been able to progress to the next level to be at par with her partner? Was she not competent enough? Or, had she fallen behind because of the two six-month maternity leaves she had taken during her tenure? Also, she did leave work promptly by 5 every day while her husband was more in line with the company culture and could be often seen working late into the night? The truth was probably, all of the above – she shouldered the domestic strain and, in the process, lagged behind in her career.
I remember Radha as a bright, competitive, energetic woman, who was also technically brilliant. She loved her work and returned back to work as soon as possible after having her children. However, she did have to constantly balance work and family also known as the “double burden syndrome”, in a culture where both men and women feel the family and household duties are primarily the woman’s responsibility. Since Ram and Radha were equals at the workplace, she might have been able to go that extra mile if they had had an equal role at home as well. Also, she might have benefitted if there had been more women leaders in the workplace, who would have given her the right insights and direction in those critical childbearing years that usually coincide with progression into the mid-management level.
Now, it is for her to play that role – because she’s been there. With her experience, she can provide the knowledge and mentorship required to younger women who work with her. Every woman must do her bit – only then will the whole ecosystem change and alter itself to fit women’s needs.
by Namratha Varadharajan
Namratha is a digital marketer in the making. Other than her love for the written word and her kids, she enjoys Italian food, dancing and gardening. Explore more of her writings at www.namysaysso.com