The Jakarta Post | Sat, 06/28/2008 10:51 PM |
Women in the Indonesian workforce are no longer anomalies. Since the 1970s, a less empowered time when women who aspired to jobs other than secretaries were treated as strange creatures, companies have adopted equal opportunity policies to prioritize education and performance, not gender, in hiring. Maggie Tiojakin reports that working women say more needs to be done for an equal office place.
Thirty years ago, a quick glimpse of Jakarta’s business landscape revealed pretty much a no-woman’s land. Women were present, of course, but they were supporting players – secretaries, assistants, gophers – to the men in suits making the tough decisions.
Today, it’s a very different sight. Women have a presence, working alongside their male counterparts as equals. However, some women claim that while on the outside things seem to be moving along pretty well, the old stereotypes and attitudes sometimes reemerge in office politics.
It’s another way of keeping women ‘in their place’.
“[Women] are no longer outcasts in the corporate world,” says Malimah Nurhaj, 35, an import manager at a freight-forwarding company. “The only downside is, where office politics are concerned, women are associated with things which aren’t necessarily true. For instance, if we get a raise or a promotion, the immediate assumption is that we’re screwing the boss.
“Of course, it doesn’t stop us from getting the raise or the promotion, it just makes the working relationship unhealthy.”
Getting their foot in the door is not the problem, adds Malimah, but it’s climbing up the corporate ladder that usually makes women weary of competition. In her words, men don’t obsess about working alongside the opposite sex; it’s working for the opposite sex that gets them riled up.
Some women, groomed to be conformists from childhood and let the boys do the competing, prefer to let others deal with office battles. Another breed of women relishes the competition.
“Susan”, a 31-year-old purchasing manager at one of the largest tobacco companies in the country, recently received a promotion. Supervising male colleagues today is a challenge, she says, especially because last year she had worked with them as a team.
“Men are governed by their ego,” confides Sonia. “And, in my experience, that ego can lead to ill-perceptions. When I was promoted to this job, coming from a sales marketing position, the buzz that went around the office was unbelievable. Some were convinced I had slept my way up, while others speculated I had cast an evil spell on the decision-makers.”
Nani Kurniawan, 28, disagrees with the old adage that women are constantly undermined as weaklings by the opposite sex, although she does acknowledge the existence of office politics as detrimental to any workplace.
“I think men have accepted the fact that women are not the weakest link, that we are actually able to use our brain, instead of merely relying on our physical appearance,” says Nani, a national account manager at General Electric Indonesia.
“As far as office politics go, people will always want to have a better position, bigger salary, more benefits—and they will stop at nothing to secure each one of those things. It is part of the corporate culture which, in my opinion, should be abolished.”
Easier said than done. All around the world, women are continuously making their mark in the corporate world. Armed with the requisite strong educational background and working experience, they are resilient in their efforts to gain an equal footing with the opposite sex. Yet, even at their best, women are still under the notion that they’re walking on a dangerous path.
“We are definitely moving up,” says Ayu Rananta Dewi, a human resource staff at Jobstreet.com Indonesia, an online career-management company that provides recruitment services for both job applicants and potential employers. “In the last several years, we have seen a significant increase of female applicants looking for work in corporate sectors.
“But, in terms of salary, welfare and rank — this is a battle that women, to this day, are trying to win.”
According to Ayu, married women are more likely to receive a lower salary and position and less benefits because of their perceived obligations at home as a wife and mother.
“Globalization requires corporate workers to travel extensively,” explains Ayu during one of her regional meetings with fellow managers from other Southeast Asian countries. “I don’t know that many married women are willing to travel six times a year to God knows where and leave their husbands or children behind. So, in a way, global companies have no other option than to put these women in a position that pays less, yet affords them the stability of schedule.”
Even so, many single women continue to complain of being discriminated against due to their gender, though they say they are willing to fulfill their responsibilities beyond the call of duty.
“If the one thing that stands between a really good job and a good job for women is marriage or motherhood, then how come there are so many single women left out from the race?” asks Malimah. “How come we have to fight this hard just to get the acknowledgement we deserve?”
Malimah uses the word ‘fight’ for a reason. She believes women have to constantly disprove the stereotypes that undermine them, ‘theories’ that include their inability to focus on the work at hand; their tendency to gossip; a lack of commitment to their goals; and the tendency to view women as nothing more than decorative objects for the office environment.
Susan seconds Malimah’s opinion, pushing the argument forward to a more generalized view where men are also not wild about the idea of women making more money than they do.
“It’s rather universal, I suppose,” says Susan. “In the West, men also can’t deal with women who generate more income. It goes back to the ego thing I talked about earlier, and I’m beginning to think ego is all that men really have to hold on to.”
Nani believes that women should not feel daunted by the opposite sex. Where money, welfare and rank are concerned, she suggests a more positive outlook.
“Maybe it’s a bit naïve,” she says, smiling sheepishly. “I do think there’s a fundamental difference between men and women. Men are physically stronger and more adaptable, that’s something [women] cannot dispute. Everything else is just politics. What we need to do is stay ahead of the game, without getting sucked into the drama of who’s more entitled than who.”
Most women will argue that it is still a man’s world, despite the emerging opportunities provided for them in the last 30 years or so. The glass-ceiling theory remains one of the hottest topics debated among feminists and conservatives who are trying to create a just world where both genders can compete on equal terms.
Nevertheless, another issue is taking speed and making headlines: sexual harassment.
Ayu sighs, then shakes her head. “Sexual harassment is a different chapter,” she says. “It is part of the dilemma that women have to deal with, but it is also a murky pool of an issue that I prefer not to jump into at this point. Let’s win this battle first, ya? Then, we can get on to the next one.”