Conversations with Minnie Menon at Courtyard by Marriott on Gender Equality

Launching a new column has some of the inherent thrills and spills of a start up venture…. and this column is certainly a case in point. Conversations with Minnie Menon which kickstarts with this issue is a radical departure from the Ritz recipe of lifestyle and uber cool reads. But then change is the only constant in life …right?

The four protagonists for this conversation are to say the least, high profile and highly intellectual. After all the subject for the afternoon, the burning issue of  Gender Equality warranted this.

Bharat Joshi , British Deputy High Commissioner, Mark Van de Vreken, Consul General of Belgium, Dr Vijailakshmi Acharya a leading name in dentistry, Rinku Mecheri founder and CEO of a leading NGO and yours truly met at the Rhapsody the Lounge bar at Courtyard by Marriott that was opened exclusively for us at lunchtime. The delicious 5 course Italian fare crafted by Executive Chef Sanjeev Ranjan  was certainly great food for thought while discussing aspects of a subject that is so very relevant for our times.

The aspects of Gender Equality that simmered with each course:

  •      Inequality of pay scales for the same job the world over
  •     Who would you rather trust to handle a critical role eg in defence
  •     Comparative emotional stability
  •     The ‘me too’ movement

Each one around the table had an independent viewpoint.

Gender quality in the UK is very close to HRM Queen Elizabeth and her government , emphasised Bharat Joshi. “But women are nowhere near shattering the proverbial glass ceiling. There is a genuine leaning towards achieving it, but there is a long way to go. Though we are starting to see parity in certain areas, this is a campaign on making realtime changes…an effort to change lives of 50 percent of the people. Making sure they have the same opportunities and thereby changing their lives,” said Bharat.

I called upon Mark since his country’s monarch is also supportive of Gender Equality. Mark has had some sensitive innings in Russia and Eastern Europe.  “For the same job there was an appalling salary disparity of 20 percent. This is a cultural thing,” emphasized Mark. “For example, the construction sector is a male domain in Europe. There are commercial imperatives in India that force women into this hard labour. But in the Soviet Union, women with a brick in hand is a normal sight. A prime example of female emancipation in a man’s world.” Mark’s words were enlightening. Mark has already in his short stay in  India got a finger on the pulse of each southern state. He shared his learnings from his first business trip to Kerala. “On my first two visits I realised that on the first day of the month pubs were closed , so no alcohol was available. The reason – salary  day. So when women get control over the financial resources the funds are much better utilized.“

Dr Vijailakshmi believed that across all industries women generally got 75 percent of the pay scales that men got. Many women of a certain socio economic background  came to work out of an economic necessity. “My decision to hire would be based on how much the candidate knows. What will be her cost to the company? What is her staying power? Is this job a stop gap to marriage? “Vijailakshmi confessed these were some thoughts that crossed her mind when she was interviewing a lady candidate.

With regard to the comparative emotional stability of the sexes, Vijailakshmi’s viewpoint was that women were emotional but more resilient. In times of stress once the tears were shed and dried, she would chart out a very intelligent action plan. That’s when Rinku Mecheri emphatically stated, “It is not only in the IQ area but it is also the EQ (emotional quotient) which is the foundation of every woman that we emerged superior to men. From an Indira Nooyi head of a global conglomerate to a Jayanthi Vaidyanathan, who is Director HR at Pay Pal in India. For men things are only black and white while for women there is a distinct grey area which we  are comfortable dealing with,” said Rinku with a sage like wisdom  No wonder men come from Mars and women come from Venus as the saying goes.

“Women police officers brought in a very different negotiating style to the table in riots, drunken behaviour and the like,” added Mark. Bravo. Mark’s views certainly made him popular with the three ladies. The diplomatic corps and pilots for long haul flights are just two of the areas that were male dominated but are seeing an increasing number of women making inroads.

Of course the conversation would not be complete without focussing on ‘The Me Too’ movement. As we all know it was a revolution of sorts.  It completely took over social media and grabbed eyeballs like never before. Women found strength in sheer numbers to come forward and unburden. After 2000 years of patriarchy this came as a complete change. Rinku elaborated  “ The me too  movement reached the pinnacle of creating empathy among women. The hashtag# Me too campaign broke barriers of communities, countries, continents, Hollywood and work places everywhere”. In an urban scape the advocacy was merited.

But we all agreed that the fall outs have been shocking. Harvey Weinstein, the Hollywood producer, Dustin Hoffman, Bill Cosby were just some of the idols who have fallen by the wayside. “It was an unacceptable abuse of power” summed up Bharat and we all vehemently agreed.

Bharat Joshi has a very open, effusive manner in his inter-personal style of dealing with people. He said even after this campaign, his operating style has  not changed and is as transparent as ever. He felt the me too  movement “was very  powerful and organic. It  was social media at its best. As the head of my organization I am very conscious every day  that I am the lead representative of my country Anything I do reflects on my country .” Spoken like a true diplomat!

I invited Mark to share with us the initiative by Belgium, Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark since last year and supported by other neighbouring countries. He narrated at length the prevailing  ‘She Decides’ movement. A woman decides who she will marry and when. She decides whether she will have children and who she will have children with.” An initiative that is gaining great momentum. Well, talk about woman power!

(L – R) Dr Vijailakshmi Acharya, Mark Van de Vreken, Minnie Menon, Executive Chef Sanjeev Ranjan, Bharat Joshi and Rinku Mecheri

It was indeed refreshing to be exposed to the inputs, clarity and sensitivity shared by this erudite group. None of us believed we would part company that afternoon by arriving at a final resolution or putting a lid on gender equality. The bandwidth of our discussions would cover half an issue of the RITZ Magazine. Some pearls of wisdom just have to wait for another day!

Dear readers  as long as we are open to examining deep seated biases and are willing to embrace change we are headed in the right direction. We bid a heartfelt goodbye to each other with a rousing cheer to gender equality both in letter and spirit.