Couple of days back I had the opportunity to attend a book reading event held in my office. The author is a management graduate, who has worked with an FMCG major for few years and then took up journalism and is now a full time writer. According to her, her book, which is a work of fiction is not her autobiography but has drawn on her experiences of being the only woman in a space dominated by men. Incidentally the event was organized by a women’s body in my office and the audience comprised only of women. It was after ages that I was in a all women forum and I think it itself was an experience.
Author read a few excerpts from her book, which were probably the highlights or the defining moments of the protagonist’s journey. After which, as expected, the discussion shifted to women’s role in organization, how they are required to put in more efforts for the same results, the way they get treated by their male colleagues. What I found in that room was that most of the women were trying to prove themselves. Why, what and to whom is something probably did not even think about. They wanted to prove that I am as good as a man, I can also do whatever a man can do. My question to them was why are you trying to prove. The differentiation at work place happens first of all in our own minds.
Another important aspect that women usually forget is that just like we are trying to do a lot of things for the first time, men are also seeing women in certain spaces for the first time. I have an interesting incident to share: When I wanted to buy a car, I went to the car dealer and asked details about a few models and expressed my desire to test drive them. Couple of salespersons actually asked me if I have come alone and when I replied ‘yes’, they almost rejected me as a customer and shifted their focus to prospects with better potential. On my insistence he did take me for a test drive, but with no hope of me converting into a customer. After all this I chose the car and negotiated the payment terms and the sales person was supposed to come next day to collect required papers and check for the initial amount. The person lands up and demands the full amount and when I show him the document stating the agreed terms and conditions, he said ‘ Are you serious about it, I never thought a lady would negotiate so much’. Now this is her perception of a women being a bad negotiator ( or she can negotiate with the kinds of sabziwla, dhoodhwaala only). I had to go to another dealer and buy the car. The issue in many such situations is that men in certain strata of society and certain men in all strata’s of society are still learning to deal with women. At times it is because they are also dealing with women in certain capacity for the first time and they do not know how to react, and at times their conditioning puts them at a defensive. At times they see the sudden presence of a woman intrusive, as they have to be careful of what they talk, probably not use the same language as they would use in a ‘all boys’ environment. As they get used to the presence of women, the gradual change happens in the environment and at times if you are the only woman, you have to enable this change and resist the temptation to react to the initial rejection. What I think is most important is not to let these reactions affect you, as they are the biggest hindrance in creating a harmonious atmosphere.
If both men and women look at these situations as the change that both the parties have to deal with, or learn to live with, we would not have half the debates around men, women and the differences thereof . I would invite the women who find themselves in awkward situation to sometimes step back and try to see the situation from the other angle and you may not find the situations as annoying.