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'A Man, a Woman, a Mother or Another?' by Dr. Saraswati Viswanathan

A Man, a Woman, a Mother or Another? Nay. I’m Just good at my work.

Do you actually perform surgeries? It’s probably her innocence or ignorance. My profile says I’m an orthopaedic surgeon. Yes, a surgeon, because I perform surgeries. She says I have never met a lady in this field. The chances are obviously slim considering that the ratio of women and men orthopaedic surgeons in India is less than 0.01. It’s a man’s world. It involves a lot of physical strength. Are you sure you want to do this? These were just a few things I came across when I started my postgraduation in orthopaedics. Being the only woman, among 30 odd men in the department, wasn’t easy initially. But I had to make sure that my work speaks for itself. It was definitely a proud moment to finish my post-graduation, in a so-called male-centric field, with a gold medal.

Did my struggle stop here? I wish it did! Seeking employment wasn’t an easy task. Will you be able to handle emergencies/ complex cases? The doubt in the employer’s face used to make me feel that I need to prove myself if I get employed. You better be good. We have never employed a female in the department before. The pressure was always there and I kept proving myself. But getting pregnant, after being employed for just a few months in a new place, filled me with guilt. The guilt of the inability to prove myself. I did my best to be around and worked harder. The fear of letting down my community was immense. In the process, I realised that this isn’t right. I have to stop proving myself. I should stop working with people who don’t trust my work. I have to work at a place where my skills are respected and my gender isn’t an issue.

Meanwhile, I came across an interesting documentary on Netflix about gender and pay disparity. It focussed on research data published on the impact of motherhood on earnings. The disparity was too obvious. The woman without kids and their male counterparts had similar earnings. The women with children have childcare responsibilities and often end up making compromises at work like avoiding long hours, work trips, official dinners etc. Balancing work and home are definitely not an easy task.

Studies have shown that women are equally or even more productive than men at workplaces if they are given equal opportunity. Does motherhood change this? How do we bring in the equality? Equality means a woman should have equal chances to move up in her work. It’s equally important, that the men should get equal chances to paternity and family benefits as women. This will bring balance into the system and help in achieving equality at workplace.

Being honest at work and being accountable, maintaining timelines, dressing up neatly and presentable, maintaining professional etiquette are some of the qualities which every person should follow, irrespective of their gender.

Where am I at present? I’m working in a reputed hospital where my professional knowledge and surgical skills are valued. Man, woman, a person from LGBTQ community- I work with all of them at various levels and have realised that it’s the WORK that matters. The quality of work and commitment to work. Talking to some of them, I realized that many of us have gone through some sort of mental, physical and emotional phases to be at a place, where we are today. It's really important for us to get the right opportunity to utilise our skills.

Favouritism/ being biased is the nature of human beings. But this should not be there in the workplace. A workplace is where everyone works to achieve a common goal. So, it’s time that organisations employ people with knowledge and skills, irrespective of their caste, creed and gender. Give them equal opportunities at work. Let their work speak and let them shine. I’m sure that such organizations will have more loyal employees than others.   

‘When women do better, economies do better’ was a famous quote by Christine Lagarde, the chairman of the International Monetary Fund. My interpretation of this quote is, when dedicated people are at work, irrespective of their gender, economies do well.

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