The recent report of Foxconn allegedly not hiring married women is shocking, but not surprising. Women everywhere know gainful employment for them is an uphill and slippery climb, to be managed in high heels and perfect makeup while carrying baggage of ever-increasing weight and fragility. However, it does highlight an important truth, and raises a more important question.

The truth: It is not capitalism that will save women. The question: When on earth will men step up?

Where are the husbands?

According to a Reuters investigation, the Apple supplier does not hire married women because “family duties, pregnancy and higher absenteeism” compromise their performance at work.

This reasoning is as common as it is faulty. Last year at a social gathering, I heard two men go on and on about how women bosses are “just not inspiring”, as they “spend all the time talking about their kids”, “want to shut down their computers and rush home as soon as possible”, and “are not interested in tracking new developments in the field”. A little later, in a different conversation, it was revealed that one of the men was upset with his wife as she had not taken a leave the day his mother would be in town. None of the men in the room saw the irony.

For years, “progressive men” have been hailed for “allowing women to work”, when all along, it is women who have allowed men to work by taking care of everything else.

Festive offer

Women take days off when family is in town, when kids fall sick, for PT meetings, when babysitters fail to turn up. Men get to go and be impressive at work. Women come back from office to plan and cook meals and take care of children and elderly relatives. Men, after relaxing and refreshing their precious brains, upskill for roles with more power and money. Even when women don’t have to do chores physically — because another woman has been employed to do it — their minds are occupied with that untidy corner of the house, their kids’ latest difficulty at school, groceries to be ordered, social phone calls to be made Men think of ideas for their next big presentation.

Surely by now, companies must have realized that those who can juggle two equally important responsibilities are more efficient and competent than those who are allowed the luxury of single-minded focus? Why, then, are the former not rewarded with better pay, flexible hours and facilities like creches? Because most decision-makers are men, that is why.

For a fairer working environment for women, we need mass training programs for men. Learning to care for their children and parents, learning that houses don’t run themselves, learning, above all, that all this is their job too.

Everytime I see a father of young kids working long hours in the office, I want to ask him: What did your wife give up to allow you this?

Big business is not my savior

Social change, if and when it comes, will be the biggest game changer for women at work. But while we wait for that blessed dawn, policymakers need to step in.

For long, private players opening more factories, creating more jobs, have been seen as boons for women. There are more jobs to go around, and with big business realizing “diversity” is a good word, more women are being hired and provided luxuries like “safe accommodation” and “safe travel”. However, a system designed to maximize profits will do just that, and in such a framing, abilities like bearing and rearing children will be seen as drawbacks. This is where governments, tasked with the welfare of everyone, have to enact stricter laws to prohibit discrimination. After the Foxconn saga, the Center has sought a report from the Tamil Nadu government, citing that Section 5 of the Equal Remuneration Act 1976 prohibits discrimination while recruiting men and women.

Laws, where in place, need to be made loophole-free and their implementation tracked better. New laws need to be more imaginative. Women of a certain age are often not hired over “fears” they will get pregnant and go on maternity leave. Why not create a legal, binding provision for a comparable-length paternity leave? Let men stay home and help their freshly postpartum wives, so they too can return to work less drained-out.

Solutions to women’s workplace problems are very often in plain sight, it is the will to implement them that is hard to find. And in the absence of that, the productivity “conn” continues.