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Last Sunday, I was chatting with my friend Roshni. We were exchanging notes about our little ones. While I was telling her about my 1.5 year olds’ antics, Roshni was gushing about her 4 month old darling. Our topic of discussion gradually moved to our respective workplace and I suddenly found a change in her otherwise bubbly self. Though I initially attributed it to the fact that she might be getting stressed about how will she manage her baby & work when she joins back after her maternity break in a couple of months, I finally couldn’t resist it and asked her. With some probing, Roshni sighed and finally said, “While I do get worried at times about how will I manage everything, but I was really looking forward to getting back to my career. You know how much I enjoy my work.” Of course I knew, in fact, everyone who knows Roshni acknowledged her passion & appreciated her dedication towards her work – she always has been the star performer! But wait, did I just hear a “was”? That she “was” really looking forward to it..
And then with tears in her eyes, she spilled the beans. This was the yearly performance appraisal season and her rating was communicated to her this week. From a star performer, Roshni was pegged in the lowermost bracket of performance rating. Having successfully delivered three top priority assignments as well as having led her team to achieve the company’s best results yet, this was far from expected. But what pricked her most was the fact that she was not even given a convincing reasoning for the same. As she informally discussed with some of her colleagues, the underlying message from everyone seemed to hint that this was expected. Expected? After those extra efforts put in for each of the projects, those calls with cross-functional teams, those sessions to mentor her team, how could they say this was expected? That’s when someone fleetingly mentioned, “But didn’t everyone know you were expecting and that you were at work for only 8 months in this year?”
That day, Roshni came face to face with the unfortunate reality which most women encounter at some point of time in their careers. While women have always worked shoulder to shoulder with men across various fields, many of us have been subject to bias. Be it questioning our capability to work as efficiently as men, or doubting our intent of keeping our career as an important focus once we get married. And once a woman conceives, it is safely assumed by many that her career has taken a backseat for her. In fact, just to prove such people wrong, many like Roshni put in extra efforts to deliver their best before proceeding on that much deserved maternity break.
Does this sound familiar? Do you have a Roshni in your life? She could be your friend, your employee, or for that matter, your own manager. Or are you a Roshni yourself? If so, it’s time to change the perception, once and for all!
1. Be fair
Give a fair chance to all when it comes to proving the mettle (read work assignment) as well as subsequent performance appraisal. I am in no way saying that you should be lenient to an employee just because she is newly married/pregnant/delivered recently. But give her the due respect & credit which she & her work deserves.
2. Voice your opinion
If you see any injustice being meted out - to yourself, to your friends, family or colleagues -raise your voice through the right channels and make yourself heard. I have personally known cases on either side, where women accepted this as their fate and either got highly demotivated or made their resolve stronger to prove those critics wrong. I also know women who raised their voice in the correct forums in their workplace and got the due credit.
Lastly, while each case might be unique and each situation different, awareness is the first step towards finding the right solution. So start the debate, speak to people (read colleagues, HRs, senior management) and create the much needed awareness. After all, “Mum & Bias” affects (nearly) half of the people on Planet Earth!