Rajesh sits in the corridor outside the boardroom, still unsure why he’s being branded a sexual predator and an exploiter of women. Why was his behaviour and past being probed? He has always been warm-hearted, easy-going. Nothing has changed and yet everything in his life could fall apart. It seems that the new junior in his department misunderstood his comment and gesture. He stares at the wall, now fully aware that his lifetime of equity, respect and achievements may be tarnished by this probe.
This is a common scene in the corporate world. Nowadays, the gregarious, simply innocent, meaning no-harm male of a hyperactive interdependent teamwork based organisation is feeling defeated. He is on constant guard. He is a threatened species.
He is no longer able to play pranks, harmlessly flirt, speak a double language, test the murky waters and even act protective with a female colleague. He finds that cooler talk must be whispers, and a harmless appreciation of the well-manicured waxed legs could mean the end of his career.
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He has always been unsure of the response. However, what constrains him is the possible reaction and result, both from the female target and the organisation.
He knows and is aware of the empowered women and the slowly mounting hyper-reverse-gender-inequality. He knows that now in most cases he will be considered guilty until proven innocent.
He knows that it is impossible to find witnesses for every episode in life. Similarly, it will be tough for him to navigate the churning currents.
A single statement by the empowered or not female colleague can crumble a painstakingly crafted career. His whole life could go bust. The life of his loved ones can be wiped out. The social pressure could break him for no reason. He is threatened.
He is cautious. Given a chance, he is happy creating monolithic single gender teams. He does not want to hire a female. He knows he can literally play with his team, laugh at crudeness that takes away the pressure and tension, ask them to work late and have nothing to worry about. If during feedback they weep, they will wipe their tears before stepping out. However, if a woman was to step out of the office weeping, God help him.
Male teams created an invincible shield. Every addition of a female team member threatens the feeling of invincibility.
So, are we really working in the right direction? Is the wind of change further destroying opportunities for the women of future?
Unfortunately, empowering women is not the mind-set of males over 40. Even the new current crop of would-be bosses feel claustrophobic in female company, unless they are comfortable and there is something more in the equation, and understanding.
The soon-to-retire remember the old times when the fun was more disruptive and the situation was still under control. They do agree that in their times, many males did misuse the unstated gender polarity and imbalance, but at least they were innocent until proven guilty.
Having a junior female employee is far more acceptable to them than to report to a female boss. “Empowerment! Bullshit!”
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Men with women supervisors/senior managers feel threatened in their work environment, and their emotions find negative expression in their home and relationship. They unleash their feelings and challenged masculinity to re-establish it at home.
The story has not changed much. Their reaction to any positive statement of intent gets set reactions. “Empowerment is good.”
“It is required.”
“We must do it, but not in my team or on my turf.”
Their worry is justified in some ways. Every boss is aware of these stories. They know the rules and laws created for women’s empowerment, protection and representation have been misused by many. Women have been known to use them as a weapon.
Until we find a way to address such misuse, empowerment and gender equality may remain on paper or negatively impact the whole fabric.
The situation is not going to undergo a tectonic shift, unless we can ensure that empowering of women is not seen as a barrier for male empowerment. Emotional blocks cannot be easily quashed by directives, law and policies. The practice needs to define it.
Abhishek Chaturvedi believes Indian men are facing an identity crisis in all fields, because women are moving on, while social mores have stayed put for men. In more practical terms, do you know we have a men’s rights Counsellor, Shonee Kapoor, on our panel, and he can help with any queries you have?