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Women and Career: Barriers, Work-Life Balance, and Betterment of Society

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Ambitious career woman

Image by Divine Harvester

Of the Fortune 500 CEO’s, a meagre 21 of them are women. This basically translates to 4.2 %. Out of 195 independent countries worldwide, only 17 are led by women. Only 20% of the seats in parliaments globally are occupied by women. This means that when major decisions influencing a large number of people are made in the boardrooms and parliaments of the world, men are making these decisions.

2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee was at a book party celebrating the launch of her autobiography “Mighty Be Our Powers” hosted by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. She is also celebrated for leading women’s protests against Liberia’s dictator. During the party, someone asked her how American women could help the women who were victims of incidents like mass rapes in places like Liberia. Many thought she would reply with the name of an organization to donate money, but instead she replied with four words that forms one of the main points of this article. She said, “More women in power”. Now I had never even heard of Ms Gbowee till I read about her in an excellent book called Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg- which you should read by the way- but I applaud and admire her for her message because it is so, so true.

When more women work to the top of their careers they will be able to take the decisions that will help other women. When we read horrific incidents in papers about girls getting raped and ill-treated, we can grab our signs and march around and we can social network about I furiously, or we the women, can do our best to work it to the top of our respective career tables and we can ensure that we make the laws to protect women. A small example- In 2004 when Sheryl Sandberg was running online sales and operations groups at Google, she also happened to be pregnant with her son. Sandberg women face a full 9 months of morning sickness, so one morning, she rushed to office for an important client meeting, feeling heavily nauseated. Google was at the time a very fast growing company and Sandberg writes that parking was an ongoing issue. She parked rather far away and slowly waddled to the office for the meeting. This of course made her nausea worse and she prayed dearly that sales pitch would be the only thing that came out of her mouth at the meeting. That night she spoke to her husband Dave Goldberg about her troubles when he told her that at his then company Yahoo, they had pregnancy parking. The next day Sandberg march-waddled into Google founders’ Larry Page and Sergey Brin’s office and demanded pregnancy parking. They agreed immediately. Having one woman at the top made all the difference to many pregnant women to work at Google thereafter. Sandberg proudly notes that the pregnancy parking remains even to this day.

Barriers preventing women from reaching the top

There is no doubt that at the school and university level, girls are as good-if not better- than the boys. Girls are increasingly outperforming the boys in the famous ICSE and ISC board exams with 98.78% of the girls passing the ICSE board exams compared to the 97.73% of the boys; while in ISC it is 96.66% for the girls and 93.91% for the boys. The pass percentage in CBSE 10th exams was more or less the same with 98.94% of the girls passing and 98.64% of the boys passing. In the 12th exams also 87.98% of the girls passed with 77.78% of the boys passing. I think these numbers prove that the girls are very much capable of excelling and reaching the top of their careers. So this isn’t the problem. Then what is? Well the thing is, there are internal and external barriers preventing women from reaching the top.

Let’s start with external. Let’s take a word that is carelessly thrown around these days- “bossy”. You go to a school or an office and you hear this adjective being used to describe girls and women. But men? No. Rarely, or never. The reason is mainly because women are expected to be underplayed and soft- so when women speak up and stand up for themselves, they are deemed bossy. Men on the other hand are expected to be Outspoken and well- loud. Men are expected to be ambitious and chase after their dreams in career- women are expected to stay at home and keep house. A woman chasing her career dreams and being ambitious breaks unwritten rules of social conduct and is insulted and often shut out by society. In fact in my old school, we had a woman coming in for a Home Science demo class- the first thing she came in and said- You’re girls; you need to learn how to keep house. Home Science is a very important subject for you. This sends the wrong message to girls who want to work it to the top of their careers.

Another very important barrier- Success is positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women. In 2003, Columbia Business School professor Frank Flynn and NYU professor Cameron Anderson ran an experiment to see how women and men are perceived in the workplace. They picked a real life Harvard Business School case study of a woman named Heidi Roizen. Half of the students were assigned to read Heidi’s story and the other half the same story- except the name Heidi was changed to Howard. The students were then polled about their impressions of Heidi/Howard. The students rated Heidi and Howard as equally competent, but Howard came across to them as a more appealing colleague. Heidi was called selfish and not the type of person one would want to work for.

Women who do well are not liked- by men AND women. As if this isn’t bad enough- studies show that in a picking of a police chief, if women possess certain qualities, those qualities are deemed more important and if she doesn’t they become very important. It is the exact opposite for men. Once again- this gender blindness is by both men and women.

Now: the internal barriers faced by women. The Imposter Syndrome: the name really says it all doesn’t it? When women do well or succeed at something, they feel fraudulent, as if “someone will catch them”. I have experienced this first hand. My old school had till the tenth grade and after, I applied to an elite school ranked number 1. I was shocked when they took me in without so much as an entrance test and checked my mail every day for them to send me a mail saying that my admission was a mistake and that they take it back. I was sure they would “catch me red handed.” I was sure I had gotten lucky and my friends and teachers voiced that opinion even though my parents protested against it. My SAT prep book advised me to pick hard courses in high school. Following its’ advice in the 9th grade I picked a subject about java which I was sure I would flunk in the 10th finals. When I finally got an 83, I was shocked and sure that there was some mistake. Then I thought- “Mom helped me on my project and it was pretty good. The viva questions were pretty easy so I did do pretty okay on that. Mom helped me a lot to study. I got quite lucky.” Ask a woman why she thinks she did well, she will attribute it to help from others and getting lucky. Ask a man and he would say- what? I’m awesome! What kind of a question is that? Women are naturally not so confident and not likely to raise their hands and voice their opinions. When applying for a job, men apply if they meet some of the qualifications and women only if they meet all of them. This makes women turn down a lot of great opportunities. Every time I think about signing myself up for a competition- I’m doubtful of whether I should, sure I’ll lose horribly and sure I’m not good enough. A boy would jump and kick people out of his way to take the opportunities I’ve turned down deeming incompetence.

Work and life balance

Now, one of the main reasons holding women back- the reason this is neither under internal or external barriers is because this is a little bit of both situation- household chores and childcare. Women decide that they must pick between a career and having a happy married life with children. Now if men can have both, why can’t women? When it comes to just married life it is definitely not true that a working woman with a successful job and career can’t have a good marriage and can’t be married. For example, in the 21 women of the Fortune 500 CEO’s, 19 are married, 1 is divorced and only 1 is single. Now when it comes to children, women believe that they cannot raise a child and work. Also, women leave work and decide that they can have just one of the two way too early.

Peggy Orenstein- the author of “Cinderella Ate My Daughter”- tells the story of a 5 year old girl who comes home from school looking disturbed. When her mother asks her what was wrong, she says that both she and the boy she likes want to become astronauts. Her mother asks her what’s wrong with that and she says, “Well, when the both of us have to go to space who will stay back to look after our kids? I think it will have to be me.” That is one very smart little girl because sadly, that is true. Women start thinking about balancing work and home far too early. The funny thing is- even when they get pregnant, they have nine months to prepare.

I saw a special on TV about a small restaurant in Kerala run by women completely. The restaurant is crazy popular and busy, and most days they work up till 9 pm. They then have to go home and do all the housework as well. So ineffectually, they end up with 2 full time jobs. There are many women all around the world with ungrateful partners who refuse to help with 50% of household chores and childcare. It is important that partners’ are sensitive to women’s careers and help with half off the work at home. That way, the household gets more economic support to raise the children; something very important what with the rising prices of groceries, fuel and other necessities. My aunt and uncle are great examples of leaning in at work and at home. They both have full time jobs, and not one child, but twin boys. They have neatly split up the chores and childcare hence working extra hard at work and raising two awesome little men.

When fathers are great examples- and believe me there are men out there like that and they are the most attractive kind- sons are inspired to be like that when they grow up and we have more women able to work it all the way to the top.

Bringing the change and making the society used to

Another problem is the way people perceive this equal splitting. In society, the men are supposed to be the breadwinners and the women are supposed to take care of the children and homes. So when they see a woman in the office and a man in the playground, they get put off. This has to change. When I was in the 4th grade, my classmate asked me what my mother did. I told her that she worked in an office. She did a double take and announced proudly- My mother doesn’t do that, she stays at home to cook me my favourite things, take care of me and take me out. My father works in an office.

One of my favourite stories on the Lean In Org online page –www.leanin.org- is about a young woman who was raised in the US but comes to a village in India for college. Her parents bring her; get her a car and a driver. She protests furiously saying that she wants to get her own license and not depend on any driver. The cab driver answers quickly saying that it is not safe for a girl to drive on her own and that none of the women in the village drive. Her parents go back to the US and as college progresses she secretly learns driving from her driver and starts driving herself to college. People start staring and whispering at first, but as time goes on they not only get used to it, but all the girls and women start learning driving. They are more independent and don’t have to depend on any men to go anywhere.

My reason for relating this story is to say that as more women become working it to the top and more men start taking care of the house and the children, society will not only get used to it, but also start practicing the same themselves. Once people at top positions understand the gender blindness they will be able to make wiser choices while picking people for promotions keeping in mind that women are disliked for being successful. Women can understand their feelings of being “unworthy” and “frauds” are not true and start grabbing more opportunities.

I love how Nora Ephron put it in her 1996 Wellesley commencement speech while talking about women having families and careers, “It will be a little messy, but embrace the mess. It will be complicated, but rejoice in the complications. It will not be anything like what you think it will be like, but surprises are good for you. And don’t be frightened: you can always change your mind. I know: I’ve had four careers and three husbands.”

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Students' Column

How Students Are Learning To Focus Better

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Become a student

Being a student can be tough for a lot of people, and it is certainly something which can often prove to be difficult to do right. One of the main issues that are always going to be happening for students everywhere is that it can be hard for a lot of students to focus on their work for that long. However, this is vital if someone is going to be able to put their all into their work and get the results they are looking for. Here are some of the ways that students are now learning to focus a little better on their studies.

Putting The Phone Down

In many respects, the smartphone is the enemy of concentration – and a lot of students these days are starting to realize it. The simple act of putting the phone down for a while can dratically help anyone to concentrate better and focus on what they need to, so that is something that students are doing more effectively now. It can also help to turn it off or even put it somewhere far away while studying, such as in the other room. This is a great and very important way to focus better right now for students everywhere.

Using Supplements

There are many supplements out there in the marketplace now that are designed to help with concentration and focus. Of course, it can often prove difficult to know which of these are actually worth taking and work well, and which might not be quite so worthwhile. One good example of a supplement that does seem to work well for improving focus is CBD oils such as those at CBDistillery. These can often seem to be highly effective, and they are definitely something that students can consider in order to try and focus a little better each day.

Getting More Sleep

Sleep is a vital factor in how well a person can concentrate. Someone who is not getting enough sleep is going to find that this can drastically affect their ability to focus, so this is another area that many students are starting to look into more and more. In order to get more sleep, however, they might need to make many changes, and it’s something that for some students can simply escape them for quite a long time. However, it is worth pursuing for anyone who wants to be able to focus better on their work.

Setting Up A Distraction-Free Space

Distractions can be all too easy to come across, and this is one of the major ways in which someone is going to often struggle to concentrate properly on their studies. However, the simple solution to this problem is to set up a distraction-free space, which is what a lot of students are now doing, and this does seem to be incredibly effective for a lot of people. So that too is another really important thing that students can attempt in order to concentrate more, and it’s looking like more people are doing this.

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Students' Column

8 Tips On How To Be The Best Teacher

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Being a teacher in a day and age when teachers are constantly being attacked for their inability to educate students can be quite a daunting prospect. Even when teachers try hard, they may encounter parents who complain about what they’re teaching or how they’re teaching it. In any case, it’s always best to learn from those who have been in the trenches before you.

Here Are 8 Tips On How To Be The Best Teacher

1. Get To Know Your Students

One of the best ways that you can improve your teaching is by knowing who your students are and what they want. However, this takes time; it’s something you build through the school year. So begin by getting to know their names as soon as possible – then start learning other things about them: interests, background, ambitions, etc. 

This will help you plan lessons that meet their individual needs and wants, resulting in a more enjoyable experience for both you and them. A good rule of thumb is to ensure you take part in a cpr certification course online, as you never know when it might come in handy.

2. Find Out How Each Student Learns

No two people learn in exactly the same way. Therefore, you should find out how each of your students learns to understand how they absorb information from your lessons. 

For example, some people prefer listening while others prefer reading, some learn best from demonstrations, and others need to see a diagram or image. This will help you plan your lessons so that everyone has a chance to learn.

3. Encourage Your Students To Ask Questions

Students often fail to ask questions after a class because they don’t want to ‘look stupid’ or embarrass themselves in front of the rest of the class. Try to encourage your students to ask questions by emphasizing that there’s no such thing as a silly question – the only stupid question is the one that wasn’t asked!

4. Encourage Group Work Between Your Students

Group work can be an excellent way of helping your students learn. Not only does it help those who find it hard to participate in class, but it also helps those who are more confident as they have to explain themselves and defend their reasoning. With a bit of guidance from you, many classes will soon grow closer as friends and work better together as teammates.

5. Give Regular Feedback On Performance

Giving regular feedback on performance during lessons will help show you what areas each student needs extra tuition in. It will also allow you to give quick guidance on how they can improve their performance next time – saving valuable lesson time.

6. Encourage Your Students To Help Each Other

Utilize peer-learning by encouraging your students to help one another – this not only helps them prepare for the real world but also saves you time when planning lessons. For example, if you need students to research various facts and figures, why not set up groups of two or three? They can then share ideas and resources to complete the work in less time.

7. Reward Good Performance

Everyone responds well to positive feedback, and with careful planning, you can use this in your teaching style to encourage good performance from your students. For example, if someone is doing particularly well in class, why not surprise them with a special reward? It doesn’t need to cost money; examples could include letting them eat lunch first or giving them some extra playtime at break time.

8. Keep Your Class Active

One of the most important things about being a successful teacher is ensuring that your students are actively taking part in all aspects of each lesson. If you feel that some lessons have become too passive, try to inject more energy into your lessons by making them more interactive. This will keep students interested, and they’ll retain more of what you’re teaching.

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Students' Column

Is Writing An Easy Field To Break Into?

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For many of us, the idea of becoming a writer is something that we nurture from adolescence, our love of reading dovetailing with a desire to be heard. It is one of the most romanticized career ideas – just think about how many films and TV shows revolve around one or more writers – and it’s no surprise that student newspapers and magazines are often among the most popular extracurricular activities included on college applications.

What separates writing from many other careers is that there is not always an evident career path. Those of us who dream of one day writing for the newspaper we read scrupulously, or of signing a deal for our first novel, can end up quite disillusioned by the reality of trying to get paid as a writer. And while we’d love to think that it’s not about the money, there’s a great deal of truth in the motto that has become a mantra for so many writers: “I can’t pay my rent with exposure”.

Do you need to secure a regular writing job to make it a career?

If you dream of becoming a writer, you probably have an inspiration, someone who made you want to pick up a laptop and share your ideas for the first time. Chances are, these icons are individuals who can make a very comfortable living from a column per week thanks to a tenured slot at an established media institution, and they’ve “paid their dues”. That’s something that’s getting harder to do, as local newspapers are struggling to hold up in the digital age – making it harder to get a starting job in the industry.

Is freelancing a reasonable alternative?

The idea of being a freelancer can be attractive initially – if you’re not tied to any one media group, you won’t be committed to an editorial line – but it is tricky and guaranteed income is hard to find. It is a good idea to cultivate regular clients. You’ll learn their payment patterns, have the ability to invoice them in one touch through your accounting software, and can establish yourself as a reliable writer. It may not have been how you pictured freelancing, but a good client is worth cultivating – and they may well mention you to other potential clients.

Is starting your own outlet a realistic option?

Writing is a competitive world, and as a freelancer you will always be fighting with other freelancers for what can often be a small amount of work. You may prefer instead to take matters into your own hands by starting your own project. Often, this will begin with a blog; there are ways and means to monetize such a site, but you’ll need followers to make it happen. If you take this approach, social media is also going to be pivotal. Talented writers can still get read these days – and it can lead to higher-level recognition and a stable writing job – but there is still going to be a grind and you’ll need to have the discipline to produce content that is both interesting and regular.

The truth of the matter is that if you want to become rich and have a comfortable living doing something you love, writing is a sector that is filled with potential obstacles and it can be frequently disappointing. However, if writing is what you love, then there are ways and means of going about it – as long as you keep cultivating contacts, it can be a rewarding career.

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