“I think you need a quota system to ensure that women are equally represented,” said Kej. “Anyone who says we don’t need quotas is speaking from a place of male privilege.” The audience clapped.
In response to Kej’s comment, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw talked about DEI being the buzzword in today’s corporate world: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. She said that in her firm, she quietly incentivizes men to hire and include more women. Hire women for their potential and men for their competence, she said.
When I called him about male privilege, Kej added that women, typically from the previous generation, underplay the gender card. Look how far I’ve come, they will say. I am the CEO and I didn’t need a quota. But these women are the exception rather than the rule. Equally, they forget how many fires they had to jump through to get where they are.
Privilege is a strange thing. Those who have it take it for granted, don’t even realize its aura because they are surrounded by this. It is only when you are stripped away of your privileges that you feel the pain of those who don’t have it.
I want to end with something that nobody talks about but is essential for empowerment. Gender balance is a numbers game. Diversity is not about including one token minority but enough for them to feel included. Today’s corporate boards largely include women– but it is usually just one or 2 among 12 men. This too doesn’t work to anyone’s advantage– not the woman’s certainly, but in reality, not the firm’s either.
We all know from personal experience how differently we behave if we are the sole man in a room full of women. Most men go quiet. Their manner is tense and muted. The same applies to women. Put her in a board-room with all its inherent tensions and think of whether she is going to voice her opinions. And please don’t point at the token woman you know who is assertive in such a situation.
So the next time someone asks you to be in a panel, check if there is some semblance of gender balance in it. If you are invited on a jury, ask yourself: is the ten-person jury going to be all men? Book awards or any award with all-male juries tend to pick books written by men as the winner. Heck, women authors don’t even make the shortlist. And that in a gloriously heterogenous country such as ours is just plain wrong. It isn’t sustainable.
Simply punting the issue back to women will not help. Men need to question each other’s prejudices. They need to ask themselves this simple question: is this the milieu that I want my daughters or nieces to inhabit?