Dr Malini Saba is self-made businesswomen and the founder and chairman of Saba Group, a privately-held company headquartered in Asia that employs over 5,000 people, operates in more than 20 countries and comprises 15 companies across 10 verticals. Dr Saba is an ardent philanthropist, psychologist, single Mother, fitness enthusiast, author, passionate culinarian, human and social rights activist and a global advocate for women and girls. She has helped millions of underserved women and children in South and Southeast Asia, South America, Africa and the U.S. to gain access to life-saving medical, educational services and achieves economic stability. ‘50 per cent’ of the profit raised by ‘Saba Group’ goes into Dr Saba’s philanthropic activities, supporting education, health, art and culture, livelihood generation and human rights.
Winston Churchill once said that “When you mix people with power, you get politics”.
The corporate world is the bedrock for power, and with people in it, there is bound to be politics! Office Politics is all about influence, power, and relationship. It arises when the differences of personality and opinion become difficult to manage. Women leaders are born to multi-task and manage several responsibilities; that is how we are hardwired. Yet, it is ironic that we tend to shy away from our natural abilities and bow down to meekness.
It is no secret that women have to work extra hard to build their credibility. They have to be strategic about moving the ball forward and successfully reframing the political environment to build a relationship without compromising integrity. If companies are looking for productivity and growth, then they need to pay attention to gender diversity in their workforce.
Following realities give an insight into the evils of office politics and how women can stay on top of it.
1. Gender Stereotyping
The Problem: This has a negative ring to it but a concept unfamiliar; gender stereotyping has been a part of the societal norms for a long time. While this was limited to homes before, the feeling has seeped into the corporate world as well. Women are passed over for being women or based on assumptions that their ‘domestic duties’ will take over their professional responsibilities, leaving the company amidst the crossfire. Gender stereotype ranges from being passed over for promotions to seclusion.
The Solution: It should be made abundantly clear that an employee’s growth is purely based on her/his merit and work. The company leadership needs to acknowledge this talent-based selection and exemplify it, rather than encouraging those who indulge in malpractices. For instance, hiring managers and other executives should refrain from asking ‘what will happen once you get married/once you start a family/if your husband transfers to another city’. Additionally, adequate training to the workforce regarding gender sensitivity will prove instrumental in harbouring a positive atmosphere for the women employees.
2. Lack of Flexibility
The Problem: The lack of flexibility is interestingly a gender-exclusive problem. Everyone needs a little breathing space to help cope with their day to day struggles outside work. However, women employees continue to be the major contributors to household duties, and as a result, they need space to perform both their responsibilities. Not having the flexibility often leaves them crumpled under pressure. While Covid-19 has made it easier for women to balance home and work, it has gone overboard and presented a new dilemma of extra pressure to tend to their family and office simultaneously. This trend has led to an increase in anxiety levels among several women, with many of them quitting work to care for their home.
The Solution: Flexible workspace and timings are key to productivity. It not only helps attract talent but also improve the quality of the workforce and their output. When employees feel they are free to work at their pace and take ownership of their tasks, they are more likely to perform well than those with guns over their heads. Women benefit significantly from a flexible work arrangement as they can optimise their time and give their best to their professional duties.
3. Lack of Women Role Models
The problem: If one has to search, the decree of female role models in workplaces is less. It is not easy to yearn for something that you haven’t experienced or seen. A dearth of visibly successful or powerful senior women role models might be a notable hindrance to career improvement.
The solution: Prioritising gender diversity in their leadership is essential. Companies should deliberately look for talents that can justify the role and help pave a path for women employees to come up and occupy positions that were otherwise deemed plausible only for their male counterparts.
4. The Gender Bias
The Problem: People unfurl subconscious & unconscious biases towards women in the work environment. The said biases may stem from various reasons, but it is often unintentional due to the lack of awareness or knowledge.
The Solution: Remedy the issue by educating women leaders about the nuances of gender bias in the corporate world. Stand up for others in any gender-discriminatory situation without remaining silent, as silence displays complacency.
5. Not Voicing Opinions
The Problem: While the problem here is very clear, there is a back story here where women have been conditioned to stay meek, with their heads bowed and their opinions firmly to themselves (if they are ‘allowed’ to have one at all!) for many years. This runs deep in the feminine mindset, and while there are ferocious women leaders who have challenged authority and set an example, time and again, the majority of ladies are unable to express their thoughts and ideas. This leads to them being bulldozed and away from their chance to shine.
The Solution: The solution lies with multiple stakeholders – the women and the company leadership. Women must come out of their shells and be bold to make their claims. Simultaneously, leadership should be varying of a work culture that squanders a woman employee’s thought because of her gender. Leaders should publicly encourage women members to present their ideas and credit them for a job well done.
6. Roadblocks in the Path to Desirable Opportunities
The Problem: Not many leadership opportunities are created with gender equality in mind, nor do all professional roles lead to the same growth levels. Lack of offers such as high impact, mission-critical, and high visibility roles deter women from having equal access to career-defining opportunities men do.
The Solution: Enable women with the tools to empower themselves, such as leadership development programs, boosting confidence professionally, and others to proliferate a clear vision. Organisations can initiate these simple agendas to ensure women are not left behind.
Removing these roadblocks is not an easy task. However, with patience, strategy and an analytical mind, nothing is impossible.