Updated: May 2, 2021
Shireen Mistri, [LLB, 2nd year, Government Law College, Mumbai]
A little over a month ago, the world celebrated International Women’s Day. Media brimmed with empowering stories celebrating the strides that women have made across the globe. Women have indisputably broken countless barriers and shattered glass ceilings. Yet today, this day of celebration feels like an instance of tokenism. The current status and role of women in society leaves much to be desired.
In India, women make up nearly half the population, but they account for only 19.9% of the total labour force. Cultural circumstances pressure women to conform to gender roles which unfortunately involves low levels of education and housework. If women do not receive encouragement at home, it is our responsibility to reignite them at work. A female mentorship programme is a means to achieving that. Female mentorship is guidance from a senior employee, who assumes the role of a mentor, on a junior employee, who becomes a mentee. A mentor encourages the personal and professional growth of a mentee within the structure of an organisation and is thus a means of providing impetus to junior female employees. A mentorship programme encourages a culture for professional development through collaboration and learning. A great mentor can create a safe space for women to discuss their goals, navigate their careers, and acquire skills necessary for workplace advancement.
Female employees should be assessed along the same parameters as men, without the influence of pre-conceived gender notions. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Women encounter socio-cultural barriers at work that hamper their professional growth, and this is evidenced by a disproportionately small number of women in leadership roles. For example, due to pre-existing gender stereotypes, pregnant women are sometimes overlooked by management while making decisions on promotions. Women in leadership positions and female mentorship programmes can transform organizations into true meritocracies by ensuring that gender-based assumptions do not form the basis of a female employee’s appraisal.
Specialized networking programs are essential for female advancement in the workplace. These programs serve as an avenue to exchange ideas, trade information and form long-standing professional relationships. Male dominant professions like engineering and investment banking reinforce gender stereotypes that make it challenging for a woman to excel in these fields. When women enter male dominant professions, they encounter the glass escalator, an invisible network The World Bank Group, 2020 and force within which men are campaigned for and pushed up to managerial and high-ranking positions, leaving women who are equally qualified and experienced excluded on the side-lines. A female mentorship programme will boost the inclusion of female employees by laying the groundwork for a professional network within which sponsorship and advocacy for advancement is possible.
Not all mentored women will go on to occupy managerial roles, but enough will, and they will take on their own mentees. The ball will keep on rolling and the network will keep on expanding, ensuring increased inclusion and encouragement of women within the organization. Finally, women in leadership roles are a strong source of inspiration to junior female employees. A female leader is the perfect representation of success within a workplace in spite of social and cultural barriers. Seeing is believing. Ultimately, more female mentors in leadership positions will guide young women in not only imaging their own success but also planning a career path to realize their ambitions.
With this article, I hope to emphasize and encourage female mentorship programs and inspire leaders of companies to invest in the progress of their female employees. Women constitute half the population. Empowering them should be at the forefront of development initiatives. It is the duty of every organization to impart a feeling of inclusivity and encouragement that will help women feel connected, invigorated and engaged in their place of employment. International Women’s Day is a day that celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, but it must not become an instance of tokenism. Every structure of society must actively work to create avenues that advance women in all spheres of life. I believe a female mentorship programme can be that avenue in an organizational setting.