In recognition of International Women’s Day on March 8, and this year’s theme, #BalanceforBetter, we are featuring stories from our leaders and employees throughout the week of March 4, describing their own approach to workplace equality and honoring inclusion and diversity.
In 1974, Sudha Murthy noticed a job posting by TELCO (now Tata Motors) advertising an opening in their shop floor for engineering graduates. Specifications about the required candidature were mentioned and at the bottom the fine print read, “Women engineers need not apply.” Upset over conditions that filtered applicants based on their gender and not educational qualifications, she wrote a telegram directly to J. R. D. Tata expressing her views on their recruitment policies. In response and much to Sudha’s surprise, she was called for an interview. She successfully passed and was offered the job. She would be the only woman on the shop floor, working in 8-hour shifts and with heavy machines.
Today, Sudha is an author, philanthropist and Chairperson of the Infosys Foundation. Since her time at TELCO, she has authored many books of social relevance, built public libraries and extended aid to the Devadasi community (temple dancers) in North Karnataka.
This instance of speaking up against prejudice, articulating the underlying problems and offering actionable measures to address them, is vital for any discourse on balance in a traditionally male-dominated world. Since 1974, the scenario of gender balance has been undergoing constant change. Globally, there has been growth in the number of women accessing STEM education in universities and subsequently foraying into previously unventured careers. But what does this mean and why is this important?
It is often the case that women participate less than expected according to the sex distribution in the population. Underrepresentation of women in the workforce, in key decision-making roles and in public life, are all opportunities lost in tapping into a latent body of intellect, knowledge and experience. Ultimately, it creates a lacuna in understanding any issue of socio-political and economic importance in its entirety. Persistence of widespread gender insensitivities and anachronistic systems that refuse to accommodate different perspectives, simply fuel the problem.
In contrast, participation of women in their milieu, say that of Ritu Karidhal, Anuradha TK and Nandini Harinath, three scientists who worked on the Indian Mars Mission (famously known as Mangalyaan) at the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), or the women in Odisha, who in 2014 won a lawsuit to stop a bauxite mine from opening in the Dongria Kondh forest, are increasingly essential contributions in nation building. Inclusion and gender sensitization are key issues to be addressed to enable increased engagement of this often-unheard stakeholder.
We’re on the brink of a future where access to quality education, opportunities to hone skills and gain employment are not privileges, but commonplace practices. We continue to push for a culture where there is no need to choose between career and family, with institutional interventions in place to support the natural trajectory of a modern working woman and public spaces are reclaimed and owned respectfully by both halves of the population. Furthermore, for us to become fluent in the language of participatory balance, it is imperative to extend an invitation to people from all backgrounds, cognize the issues that emerge from that dialogue and address them sans apathy.
Achieving balance, not only between the two genders acknowledged in the mainstream, but also heralding equal opportunity for all is essential. For this elusive idea, it’s necessary to understand that solutions are a spectrum and not approaches of top-down or bottom-up. Constant back and forth, iterations and corrective actions against our personal and social biases and prejudices are seeds to achieve fruition in this solidarity movement.