I am a gender equality advocate and a women’s workforce participation specialist and have spent one half of my career working inside the walls of large corporates and the other half working with them from the outside.

In the first decade of my career, I didn’t see anything wrong with my way of work—which was probably a resultof my being younger and perhaps less aware. I was like everyone else—putting in long hours, working really hard trying to achieve targets, trying to please tough customers, keeping employees engaged and happy, while complying with the ‘Values and Culture of Stretch’ imputed by the organisation. We were different individuals, with diverse backgrounds and experiences, gender, brought together by ‘the value fitment’ of the hiring screens, complying, almost like robots.

The organisational need to have everyone ascribe to the high productivity path that leads to a solid bottom line and the common goal of ensuring that its market capitalisation is consistently improving can be understood in a capitalist context. But now, after working with organisations from the outside for over a decade, I can’t get my head around why ‘We-the individuals’ propagate and follow the same rat race year on year.

Our common explanations are ‘we get paid to slog’, ‘there are too many of us’, ‘it’s economics’, ‘we are victims of the rat race’. We bring up every plausible reason in the book (and they do exist), but we do so without thinking through the sustainability of this exhausting, pointless, repetitive lifestyle that leaves no time for relaxation or pleasure, in other words, living a good and happy life. (Note, rat race definition, from Wikipedia)

This example of the culture of conformance within an organisation, driven by multiple external and internal forces, is what I call ‘Corporate Conditioning’©. It is deeply interwoven within an organisation’s fabric; it’s neither tangible nor measurable (yet), and best explains what a (male) board member and HR head of an Indian private bank shared with me once. He put it quite tersely: “Indian organisations are not made for women at the leadership levels.” Unfortunate, but true.

We celebrated International Women’s Day earlier this year. Predictably, women seminars, conclaves and panel discussions abounded within companies. And yet, among all this hullabaloo about women’s issues, one question, which I put to corporate folks, about the culture of long hours in the typical Indian workplace—though always received well, is never truly addressed.

Why are long hours equated with productivity, and how sustainable is this quest for the survival of the fittest? Why can’t we, like Europe, value life and adopt a productive eight-hour-day and thereby, harmonious co-existence, for both women and men?

Why eight-hour work days make sense

In fact, this is as true for individuals as it is for organisations, and doesn’t integrate well with the lives of Indian women who are anyway pre-conditioned to deliver well, on a variety of other social psychological contracts, by virtue of their gender. These stereotypes, popularly known as the double burden or the second shift, don’t support an ambitious, growing, career path for women, and very few are able to fight the odds and stay on.

Does the answer lie in the socialist roots of feminism and therefore the resultant inherent clash with the capitalist structure of the typical modern workplace? It will be beneficial for us to introspect on this, for the deadly social and corporate conditioning© combo may well be the reason why India continues to see a decline in the Female Labour Workforce participation, at mid-career stage.

This being the phase when women are dealing with important milestones such as, marriage and maternity as also old parents. It could be the same conditioning combo that prevents a woman from getting hired, and eliminates her from the reckoning for the top job, even though everything about her candidature is right. And when she does get the job, the conditioning pays her lesser than her male counterpart.

The many ups

If everyone had an eight-hour-day, men would be home early too, partaking in the familial life and responsibilities and being an #EqualHalf, thereby taking the pressure off women and providing an opportunity to them to work better. The onus is on the India Inc leadership, to lead the way and be role models to help male employees get rid of the toxic masculinities, they suffer from or are conditioned to comply with.

The abysmally low figures of the latest World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report, pertaining to economic empowerment and the women’s workforce participation rate in India, tell you quite a story. Think Corporate Conditioning© and go back to the economics of it.