On the failing role of Corporate Social Responsibility

On the failing role of Corporate Social Responsibility

9 August 2017

CSR icrw.org
Courtesy David Snyder from icrw.org

 

People viewing this article might be tickled into chastising me for using such a title before even reading the article and that would be their prerogative. I believe mine is to point out that indeed Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) – which is a code name for charitable giving – is failing as the whole idea is to uphold corporate responsibility in giving back to the communities where they exist or that have supported them by consuming their products in a way that is sustainable, which is not the case today (with some beautiful exceptions).

 

When this term and notion was first invented, it was expected that CSR would indeed sweepingly reduce poverty, provide a more equitable distribution of financial possibilities in the low to middle class levels and make shareholders of big companies happier. Unfortunately, it would seem – at least to me – that CSR has failed terribly on the dream it created initially. Obviously, when I say it has failed, I mean that those who were to apply this notion among their companies have failed in applying it in the right way. Is there one given right way, one would want to argue and I would have to say that there is not one right way but probably many right ways although it definitely is not the right way for many who are currently not advocating the right CSR approach.

 

To bring to light the failure, I shall quote an example from one of the defunct companies that I worked for where the CSR budget was simply used as a marketing tool to get the brandname marketed. While it worked well at the time because it was a Rotary event helping a school for special needs, the idea that CSR budgets should be considered as simply branding and marketing expenses shows how deep the failure is rooted in the mindset of the industry as many other examples of branding discussed with my peers in the industry come to mind (display of banners for an event, nameplate appearing for another, mentioned during the festivities for another, etc).

 

A couple of years ago, I moderated a panel on CSR and was excited to meet people who were actively giving and most of the talk was on how the money was simply given to the needy, to those who could not afford food, education and medication. After the panel when I asked one of the speakers about the possibility of funding my Microfinance endeavour, I did not even get an email answer, not even to say no.

 

The failure of CSR is further proven by the fact that in most companies (if they have it), it is simply a small budget to be given or a one man show department or sometimes a department that will give to a worthy cause but that keeps changing and does not follow the evolution of that cause.

 

I do hope that ultimately CSR will start becoming a real department in big organisations where giving will be made in an actually sustainable way, with a proper budget, a follow-up and will encourage a chain of giving so that we have a better world. Meanwhile, if you are interested in becoming a partner in my microfinance project ( mena-microfinance.ning.com ) do let me know (geethap2007@hotmail.com). My project is focused on empowering women who are widows or divorcees and allowing them to join the workforce in a way commensurate to their needs and restrictions. To date, the only CSR opportunities to fund this project were so limited and so one-time only that this project has been put on hold.

 

 

CSR Care Canada
Courtesy Care Canada

Itni Shakti Hamein Dena Daata

 

Shattering Rape’s stones

Shattering Rape’s stones

12 October 2015

rape-victim-stoned sodahead com
Courtesy sodahead.com – In some countries, women who have been victims of rape can be stoned to death or lashed

Yesterday for the first time in a very long while, I sat and thought about rape again which ghostly presence had never quite left the scene as far as I was concerned. One can mainly think about rape against women because rape of male members of the society are less frequent although in some countries they too occur with almost as much frequency as for women. My concern, for now, dwells with rape perpetrated against women.

A friend had brought back to memory this skeleton by sharing a TedX talk by Sunitha Krishnan and a more personal recent event that I choose not to dwell upon at this point in time made the talk much more vivid than I would have liked.

It occurred to me that we all tiptoe around the subject most of the time without giving it its right share of clear and informative attention and for once it was heartening to watch again this talk, what one could call a real “Hard talk” no frills included, about a subject that is too quickly swept under the carpet. What is more surprising than the fact that this subject is usually kept under covers is the expediency that it is dealt with as compared to the effect it retains within the lives of those that it affects and the permanence it holds in the brains and the subsequent behavioural framework of the remaining “spectators” who more often than not become an extension of the perpetrator’s vilifying of the affected person.

Of late, it would even seem that this matter has almost reached a consensus of normality within society whereby the person should have suffered extreme atrocities together with the act itself for anyone whether media or other members of the society to take note of it – whatever their active or passive role (policemen, judges, caretakers, social workers, friends, neighbours, chasers of thrill-cum-horror stories or mere passer-bys).

There was the horrifying case of Nirbhaya which brought more than just a nation together and shortly after that the case of several women raped and hanged in India: two women raped and hanged in May 2014 (http://edition.cnn.com/2014/05/29/world/asia/india-gang-rape/index.html ) and shortly after that another woman found raped and hanged in June 2014 (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-27790901) before another four women raped and hanged in Uttar Pradesh in June 2014 (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-27807542) and one woman in Pakistan end June 2014 (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2664421/Pakistani-woman-20-gang-raped-killed-hanged-tree-say-police.html).

Other than these sadly prominent cases, rape it seems has cloaked itself with normality as far as the act itself is concerned and the reaction to its perpetrators with regards to society’s attitude towards it. What is distressing in comparison is the lack of normality with which society as a whole deals with the affected person. Usually, the person is asked to keep hushed about the subject, most of the time not even to report it and little is done with the aftermaths of the incident which most people around would just ask the person to forget if not forgive. Sometimes, the person is ostracised to an extreme point not being able to attend school or get a job with the even worse cases of a totally ruined personal life where the husband (if any) shuns her or no person accepts to be involved in a binding relationship such as a marriage with her in future. Most of the time, it is to avoid being ostracised that women are asked not to speak about the incident and not to report it to authorities.

This attitude of ostracising the raped person is even more pronounced in traditional areas where people are not comfortable talking about rape or, even worse, people actually believe (sometimes not clearly but with just the impression at the back of their mind) that a woman can only have been raped if she somehow “brought it upon herself” either by collaborating actively with the perpetrator or by creating the circumstances that allow the incident to unfold. One example of “deemed collaboration” is the infamous case of dismissed rape where the Italian Supreme Court overturned a 1992 rape conviction involving a 45-year-old driving instructor and an 18-year-old student under the assumption that the young girl could not have been raped as she was wearing tight jeans and would have had to remove them herself implying consensual sex. As for “permissive circumstances”, it is evidenced by the number of people who believe that a person scantily clothed or who had a drink too much invited the rape or “asked for it” as they usually coin it,– seemingly and this is actually appalling, 65% of Brazilians according to a research undertaken in collaboration with UN Women’s Brazil branch).

To further understand the misconceptions surrounding rape, I would like to direct people who have made it reading this far to an interesting article albeit not really complete about the myths and truths of rape which is quite simple and easy to read. I hope that it will shed some light on the myths that must be fought if we want to replace rape in its right context, that of a crime against a person who was neither “asking for it” nor collaborating with the perpetrator http://rapecrisis.org.za/rape-in-south-africa/myths-stereotypes-about-rape/

Fortunately, in most cases where there is extreme unfairness and violence, society – at least the ones where its members are not living like in the dark ages – would manifest a degree of solidarity towards the affected person. This is how for example Denim Day was established in 1999 as a global protest against the 1992 ruling of the Italian Supreme Court which had overturned the 1992 rape conviction. This is also how in the aftermaths of the heinous crime against “Nirbhaya” in New Delhi as well as the successive wave of rapes and hanging of women in the State of Uttar Pradesh in India or in Pakistan, the general public was very present both in India and abroad with strikes, marches and other manifestations of anger and support, such that laws were made to change in order to further protect women in India and strengthen the existing protective measures within the country.

Unfortunately, this striving to re-establish a sense of equity by either helping the persons affected by rape immediately after the incident or by ensuring that the victims of rape who have succumbed following the incident have not died in vain – insofar that measures are put in place to avoid similar incidents happening – is simply not enough. The deeper side of the problem remains what happens to those that survive. Usually, when they have spoken out aloud, their life never stays the same. Slowly, they start being side-lined out of their usual circles if they are not completely ostracised and even where there is compelling evidence that the woman in question was not at fault, most people seem to keep the underlying assumption that somehow she must have done something wrong for such a thing to happen. Worse still, there are members of society who though knowing that the woman was absolutely not at fault still prefer not having her at home, in their workplaces, or even not being in contact with her at all. More than the jittery and totally superstitious attitude of some who think that the person must be jinxed for such a thing to happen to her if she did not “ask for it” there is the attitude of those who consider themselves too pure and pristine to be involved with someone who is considered stained, tarnished, not fit for evolving in a decent society because she has been subjected to something somehow indecent, unacceptable, unforgettable, unforgivable.

These attitudes are like little or sometimes large stones that we throw at the affected persons or make them carry, throughout their lives sometimes. “Let he who has not sinned cast the first stone” said the consciousness of Love or Christ consciousness about another case where a woman was being badgered. I say let she or he who has sinned or not by endorsing the vilifying attitude or by ignoring it shatter the first stone. Let us all shatter rape’s stones; both the ones thrown at the affected person and the ones we burden them with during a lifetime.

It is time for society as a whole to recognise its role in such incidents. It is time for men to start endorsing their responsibility in building this framework where it is legit for violence to be committed against a woman. It is time mainly for us women to awaken to our shared responsibility in such happenings. We are the wives, mothers, sisters and daughters of those who potentially could rape or effectively have raped a woman. It is our responsibility to make sure that the environment we bathe our men in is void of anything encouraging or legitimising any bad feelings or inclination to violence towards women. Indeed, in reality, most of the rape cases are not a case of sexual desire towards a woman gone awry. In most cases, it is a question of power over the woman, an expression of a loathing towards women in general or a woman in particular because of a feeling of anger, bitterness or hatred bred throughout the years.

Unfortunately, many mothers fail in this responsibility as they teach on a daily basis – with so many little nothings that then build to a monstrous something – that a woman’s value is much less than that of a man, that a man’s needs are defined as compellingly superior to a woman’s needs, that a woman should be subservient and that no matter what happens she must have done something wrong, that she must obey against her better instincts, against her better interests. In traditional environments, women who seek the help of their male offspring to “tame” and make subservient the female offspring are already building the future rapists, those who hold in them the potential of gratuitous violence against women because they are taught to think that it is legit, that it is endorsed even by the women themselves as this attitude is upheld from a young age by the doting and so unenlightened mothers.

Personally I have been trying to do my best with my two boys and have raised them with the ingrained belief that men and women are equal and that one should only do to another what one would not mind doing to oneself and vice versa. In a symmetrical way, I have explained to my daughter the dangers that lie out there, the need for protection and the requirement to use one’s better judgement because unfortunately this crime is becoming more and more of a normalised matter in society. I have even used my own case in point as an example to ensure that the matter is understood as a reality touching potentially any rank and type of family in society and not a theoretical danger that is far removed from its effective happening or limited to the poorer families.

Above all, I tell those who have come to me with their secret confession of being a rape “victim” as I would like to keep telling other women again and again: we are not victims, we are not survivors, we are women. Nothing differentiates us from any other woman out there. What happened might have left a temporary or more lasting hurt or imprint on the body but we are not and cannot be defined by that, we rise beyond that to reintegrate in time what we were originally and all that is left of the perpetrator is a ghost and in time even that ghost disappears. We will not be victims, we will not be mere survivors, we are all else that we choose to be whether with society’s support or without it. Wherever our gaze wishes to go, expect us. Get used to us, get used to our strength. We are.

rape rhrealitycheck org
Courtesy rhrealitycheck.org

The Stigmata of Sexuality

The Stigmata of Sexuality

19 September 2015

Abhisarika-Nayika----14x18-inches--oil-on-canvas----95000

 

I was recently warned about the sexual content of my poetry and the accompanying images insofar as it was published together with my profile on a professional website and might hurt my professional image.

The person was a very good friend of mine and I knew her not to be really bothered by such matters but more concerned about its impact on my image from an external standpoint as this was a conservative region – unlike the western regions. Therefore I just exchanged with her banal thoughts on the fact that I write poetry and this is who I also am, which I am not willing to suppress to please the rampant hypocrisy of the region. Besides, needless to say that this region knows a flourish of sexuality, albeit in a very hidden and sometimes distorted way if you take Saudi for example.

 

This incident got me thinking however about Sexuality and its connotations and manifestations on a more global level. Needless to say and there are profuse sayings about this matter that money and sex are what really seem to rule this world. It is fascinating to notice though how these elements are transformed, darkened, soiled and then returned to the world with a negative emphasis of their essence.

 

Money, which started out as a symbolic energy exchange is now mainly used to corrupt, to buy something that ethics and basic decency would not allow for. It is exchanged under the table, between conniving looks and slithering fingers so that a deed, that would otherwise not be carried out finds some sanctity in the eyes of the person having to commit it for this price.

 

Sexuality is used in a certain way to corrupt too. Many business transactions have been consolidated on the basis of a hooker or a few hookers who are left with the person making the decision to facilitate the business transaction or with the person deciding himself. It is also used to obtain power whether direct or indirect and to trap unwary people into the web of blackmail depending on situation, gender, position and nature and extent of the sexual happening.

 

In both cases, the bait is given and everybody looks the other way because these items represent the final boundaries of decency and morality. Thus, sexuality like money has earned an increased social stigmata. Expressing sexuality has become the epitome of expressing the desire to be a whore because today, sexuality has finally become totally associated with “whoredom”.

We don’t even need to step into the earlier stages of how religion transformed sexuality from its original healing intent into something dark and foreboding to be shunned, thereby sweepingly relegating women as a gender into the role of the gate to a purgatory leading to hell. Even without this terrible legacy, modern day antics would have anyway succeeded in transforming sexuality into something lurid and to be totally associated with only what should be kept in the dark.

 alice faustuscrow wordpress com goetia_girls_liliths_harem_witch_mephistophina_art_muse_succubus_of_faustus_crow

Even sexuality within marriage is still somewhat akin to the forbidden. I know of one woman whose religious conservative husband wanted to divorce her because she was expressing too much pleasure during their lovemaking. Apparently he expected her to lie down and live through it without a word as if she were some dutiful wife just stitching a button on his shirt or cooking without his presence beside her. He thought that expressing pleasure was a sign of her being more like a whore than a wife. I remember one incident involving myself when an earlier boyfriend refused to even think about the earlier stages of a sexual relationship saying that he respected me too much and did not consider me a whore – thank you very much!

 

Those who seek spirituality in the eastern world are the other ones aside from religion who have given sexuality its stigmata as they consider that sexuality must be taken out of the equation of attaining higher realms because it would bring them down from their endeavours into a carnal world. They believe that sexuality is a directly limiting factor of accessing higher realms because of the lust associated with it. They seem to forget that all the temples throughout Asia showcase to some extent or the other sexualised representations of the Gods that they themselves pray to. It would therefore seem in all fairness that sexuality was a means of attaining higher realms or at least was associated with the higher realms as the Gods themselves practised it. Today, only those who practise Tantra still think of it as a way to attain higher realms although they do it in a more concentrated way focusing mainly on the sexual happening and less on the other items associated with spirituality (here too the various masters differ in their way of interpreting Tantra).

 

Personally, I have always seen sexuality as a healing source and a means to transcendence if used in the right way and therefore fail to see in it something that could soil despite the various incidents I have witnessed or any I have been subject to. There was a time when sexuality was regularly practised as a means to heal people and women who would now be called whores were then hailed as remarkable healers. In fact, the legend has it that Mary Magdalene herself was one such healer while today’s history books list her simply down as the whore who got redeemed by Jesus’s Love and compassion.

 

It is about time to remove the stigma associated with sexuality and finally allow it to reintegrate its role in healing and nurturing instead of leaving it distorted and creating negative energy throughout our beings and throughout the world. This would also finally allow women to lose their ill-fated designation as the gates to a hellish purgatory and reinstate their roles as nurturers and healers.

al tuo tocco 5 Meditation

The Numbing down of Monogamy

The Numbing down of Monogamy

27 August 2015

monogamy livescience com
Courtesy livescience.com

 

 

Monogamy is perhaps the worst deterrent to Love in its absolute form – save for a few exceptions.

 

Provocatively placed at the onset of these written thoughts, I have no doubt that such a statement would cause the worst of uproars among those stilted minds reading it with a disapproving, foreboding stance. Yet how to elude the inescapable essence of that reality? For those still doubting, let me provoke you a little more and jolt you into doubt that you may find your own reality within these meanders.

 

We are born single, free to unite or remain (perhaps return) separate as we go through life tumbling, evolving, devolving, searching, finding, losing and finding again. Some of us are born with an imbedded link of a twin person who might have occupied our egg or a neighbouring one and some of us are even born so bonded that it is necessary to surgically remove that bond at birth like in the case of Siamese twins. For those born with that sense of togetherness, they usually naturally evolve towards the sense of needing another person to feel complete while for those born separate, the sense of togetherness is brought upon them by upbringing starting first with the family and then with the larger society around them.

 

Our sense of togetherness is often shaped in little practical formats that society finds convenient: the Mother (respectively Father) and the Child, the Teacher and the Student, the Lover and the Beloved, the Husband and the Wife, etc. Whilst most of the pairs thus formed and inculcated to us as a binding reality could actually come to us as a natural occurrence, the one that is the least natural is that of the Husband and the Wife (sometimes the Lover and the Beloved). Yet it is that pair that is the most lauded and sung in all alphabets and measures of voice and absence of voice through music or written word. It would seem that society wants us to believe that this is the ultimate pair that would indicate to us our purpose in adulthood and the ultimate emanation of Love as we should experience it throughout our adult life. How then to explain the number of people who bond and break, unite and separate, get together and then break up?

 

My personal take on the matter of togetherness is that we are – with rare exceptions – not meant to be monogamous beings because monogamy is not a heartfelt inclination but merely a social diktat, something that is necessary to hold in place the required family unit that builds the texture of society as a whole. Society needs definitions, it needs a sense of property and propriety and therefore requires the drawing of lines both visible and invisible that will allow it to thrive within a set of finite restrictions.

 

In reality, we are meant to experience Life and Love as a major component of that Life in an unrestricted and holistic manner in order to reach a degree of completeness whereby we are finally prepared to be One with all that is around us. While most of the time this can be done on a purely theoretical (sometimes energetic) level, depending on our stage of evolution it may also include the physical or carnal level. Unfortunately, monogamy in its generic form does not allow for the pursuit of this completeness and therefore of the realisation of the various forms of Love because it binds a person to a chosen other person who more often than not may not correspond to the stage of evolution the other person is in. Often, even when chosen by oneself (the case of choice by parents and extended family being a fairly more poignant one), a partner may not evolve in the same way or never have been at the same level of evolution in the first place. In such cases, one finds oneself bound by social rules to a person one cannot relate with on a spiritual (or sometimes even a physical) level while many opportunities may present themselves to relate to another person who happens to be at the same stage of evolution and would have a very rich palette of possibilities to offer.

 

We yearn for certain elements of life or characteristics that we find in ourselves and that we would like to see mirrored or that we lack and that we would like to view, observe and acquire from the other. It is seldom the case that we feel fully complete from the beginning and therefore this research of completing qualities is something that haunts and pulls us through life on a continuous basis. Every time we reach a sense of completeness with a given person, something else may come up and we may realise that this new quality, this new element that reaches into us is something we cannot do without, that we yearn for beyond what we thought we had felt as full satisfaction initially with the first person we had bonded with.

When a person who is in a monogamous couple is faced with such a situation, there are two possibilities that present themselves to him/her: cheat (whether physically or merely emotionally) on the person they are with because this new element is something they cannot do without and their partner will never acquire it although the current partner may have other essential elements the person still needs or leave the other partner to form a couple with the newly found partner because the new element (or series of elements) can fully replace the old series of elements or is more of a vital nature to the person’s being at that stage of his/her Life. Of course there are the less widespread cases of the third choice where the partner is willing to allow the installation of a new kind of union where a loose Trinity is formed although the matter becomes more complicated where it is more than a Trinity.

 

Monogamy does not allow us to freely relate to others because it comes invariably with the sense of property that has been engrained into us by society. Lovers and spouses usually feel compelled to begin or continue their declaration of Love through various assurances or statements that could almost read as veiled (or sometimes even clear) threats. This could range from the simple “I love you and only you”, “you are my only sunshine”, “nobody else than you is in my heart” to the more oppressive “You are mine”, “I will never let you go”, “I will kill anyone who lays a finger upon you” and “I will kill myself if you leave me”. This sense of property then makes it impossible to feel free in relating to others and therefore ends up numbing one to the potentiality of growth offered by a free interaction with others. Like in the example of the eye within the tomb watching Cain, monogamy with its sense of property and propriety halts the free expression of the heart and body only filtering through those relationships to others that do not breach the restrictive tight walls of ownership that is woven by the bond of monogamy.

 

Does this mean that I believe that one should live in a frenzy of multiple partners changing and exchanging them as one evolves? Not really. I firmly believe that it is necessary to be able to relate with others on various levels and that sometimes this could include a romantic involvement. There is, however, not so much a moral code but rather a sense of not wanting to cause damage to another soul and therefore the obligation of retaining as sacred the other’s codes of conduct and values. If one wants to be in a socially sanctioned relationship, one should respect that relationship and abide by the rules that it is set in. If the other party to the relationship has a wider perspective on belonging and interaction with others, then it would be possible with proper consent obtained beforehand for each to experience a different sense of togetherness with others whether purely on a spiritual/intellectual level or also on a more physical/carnal level. Such experiences are however very delicate to go through because we are conditioned to believe in the necessity of monogamy and a unique couple as being the pillar to a sane and acceptable relationship.

 

As to the exceptions, they involve the situations of those who are lucky enough to find at an early stage the person who gives them a sense of completeness right from the start. A person who might not necessarily mirror all their qualities/defects or have the whole set of additional qualities that the person may seek to acquire but who has almost all the required qualities/elements and is at the same stage of evolution and continues to be so as time goes by. Needless to say such relationships are very rare and even rarer when a person is at a young stage of his/her life. Such relationships when they exist are a blessing and funnily enough in most of them it would seem that one does not feel inclined to abide by the rules of monogamy although they often do not require physical/carnal interaction with others. It is almost as if when you are with the right person, it is not necessary to set down any rules on transgression of the boundaries because there is no longer a reason for transgression simply because there are no boundaries and the evolution maintains its path towards infinity.

 

We live, we love, we experience and we grow. As we grow, so does our bond to everything around us grow and the less we are concentrated on the necessity of monogamy the more we realise that our capacity to love and share love is infinitely expanding within and without us pervading more than our little selves and the humanity around us. Unfortunately, it would seem that until the point in time that we are able to fully transcend the Earthly notions of Love that have been pressed upon us, we will always be subject to the tug-o-war between the dutiful sense of Monogamy and the versatile sense of Polyamory in our quest for completeness.

monogamy chicagoreader com monogamy themattwalshblog com

Images respectively courtesy of chicagoreader.com and themattwalshblog.com

Below a series of thought provoking videos on the social side  of the issue of polyamory (whether polygamy or polyandry)

Society as a whole including its corporate and political structure has a responsibility towards women and the future generation

Society as a whole including its corporate and political structure has a responsibility towards women and the future generation

19 August 2015

Courtesy huffingtonpost.com - Karen does it all
Courtesy huffingtonpost.com – Karen does it all

A while ago my caretaker had to bring her son home as he was slightly ill and with her limited means she could of course not afford paying a nanny to keep her son and the kindergarten would not take her son as long as he was ill. We had therefore agreed that she could bring him to my house and he would sit in my younger son’s room playing with his toys while she tended to her duties at my house. I had many things that needed to be tended to and found that her son was competing with me for her attention which got me slightly irritated initially. I quickly put myself on check, however, as I remembered how I would have loved – as a young mother – to be able to tend to my sick children or at least have an appropriate structure where I could check on them instead of leaving them alone with a chance nanny from the red crescent (as was the usage in Geneva at the time when the usual kindergartens refused your sick children).

Now why do I recount this anecdote to you? Not to do my “mea culpa” only although I did feel guilty at the time to have had that moment of irritation but to spur thoughts on the wider phenomenon that women face in their daily lives.

It is a fact that is undeniable today. Women are and need to be in the workplace. This is not a debate about whether women should stay at home and accept what can often be a social stigma of being simply a “homemaker” (often uttered with some contempt and perhaps an unconscious undertone of envy by women when meeting socially the “homemaker”) or whether they should embrace fully a career and let go of their households to be run by nannies nor even is it a plea to women to attempt alone to balance both lives harmoniously.

Indeed, this is simply not possible for women to do alone anymore. I have heard countless stories of feelings of abandonment, of hopelessness and of inadequacy from women whom I believed from the outside to be successful career women while running a household adequately for their families. I myself struggled at onset of my career with a very hostile and male dominated environment (in Geneva of all places!) as I toiled and cared alternating my attention between my work, my master of Science studies at the Geneva University and my two children that then became three. In doing this, not only was I not aided by some of my employers but in fact I was even stigmatised because of being a working mother who wanted to balance both.

During my time at Arthur Andersen for example I was sacked in December 1997because I wanted to make use of the policy which granted two additional months for breastfeeding to young mothers but my boss of the time felt (and told me so in advance) that I should not use the policy because it was a mistake in translation between the German policy that was spelt out by Zurich and the French version in Geneva where maternity fortuitously got included as illness. Despite having filed a claim for damages at the Prudhommes (court for compensation of employees who have been abusively dismissed) and proving that I was always a good employee and kept getting increments over the years of my work there but got dismissed summarily merely 9 days after sending a letter to HR with a breastfeeding certificate and mentioning that I would be making use of my extra two months of breastfeeding leave instead of coming back to the office after my two months of maternity leave, the Court ruled that there was no abusive dismissal. Later on more similar cases came to light but they were quickly smothered as Arthur Andersen was a giant at the time and after my claim HR circulated internally a memo to all employees asking them to sign off on the new translation of the Employee sickness leave policy. Needless to say I shed no tears when Arthur Anderson split apart after the Enron scandal.

This was not an isolated event in my career while always attempting to juggle between my work and my family responsibilities and in 2004 in connection with my second son and third child I had some unpleasant incidents with PricewaterhouseCoopers as well. My boss of the time had called me when I broke the “not so good news” to him and asked me how come I was having a third. He and the other partner had indeed asked me at my initial interview whether I intended to have another child before they hired me and I had honestly said that I did not intend to. Fortunately (but unfortunately on the professional level), I had my unexpected and unplanned third pregnancy and upon returning to the office what was my surprise to have my boss, the partner of the Geneva office and the Swiss-wide Zurich based partner of the practice meet me at my office and suggest to me not so delicately having a tubal ligation myself or encouraging my husband to undergo a vasectomy. The Zurich partner even volunteered to meet my husband and explain to him that this was not a painful procedure as he had undergone it himself and he then started explaining to me the actual procedure. After that humiliating incident I was also subject to taunts from my boss and his second in command as I was working “part-time” as they labelled it simply because I was again using an employee policy for breastfeeding which allowed a one-hour diminishing of the working hours for breastfeeding one’s child. I was therefore working 7 hours instead of the official 8 during the two months after my maternity leave but given that they were used to me working 10 hours or more before in order to sustain the rhythm of work at my level within the firm they believed I was now doing part-time while getting a full-time salary. That year and although I had been promised a promotion beforehand, I did not get the promotion and my evaluation took place as a very hostile encounter so it was clear that it was simply because my superiors believed that I had breached their trust and become a bad employee because I was trying to get some work life balance and making use of policies that officially granted rights to mothers within the workplace.

I am not recounting the above to get any commiseration from anyone nor even to muster all wrath at my previous employers but simply to point out the difficulties that women face in the workplace and I consider myself to have been a specially tough cookie to have been able to go through all of that and still make it as a mother and as a somewhat successful woman at work. In fact, as I recount this, I can already mentally calculate the number of ill-advised and socially irresponsible employers who are going to put me on their blacklist making sure that I never will become one of their employees even though I am no longer of the age to have children anymore. There is a professional stigma that goes with speaking out the truth about a previous employer even if it is to further a good cause such as promoting the cause of women in the workplace. Like with the mafia, there is a silent promise, an Omerta, that is maintained by employees and encouraged by employers to not speak about bad practices within the industry although it actually disserves the industry as a whole. The strength of this Omerta within a company allows to determine what kind of a company you are/have been working for. In fact, it actually showcases which are the truly enlightened and good employers and which are the bad ones because the truly good employers will always want to have someone who speaks up against bad policies while the bad employers will have problems with that because they simply would want to sweep the dirt under the rug so to speak. Worse still, some HR professionals have the bad taste of bad mouthing outspoken employees who point out bad practices within the organisation and sometimes even after they have left the organisation. Of course they would never mention the bad practices nor the fact that the employee in question spoke out on those bad practices but will simply create a rumour against that employee to discredit him/her.

Returning to the case in point, my case which I know and can talk about in detail is not an isolated one. There are countless women who battle every day in order to bring some balance or semblance of balance in their juggling of household and work responsibilities and for some it is a battle that is so exhausting that the result is either depression, burn-out or simply the choice of leaving the one or the other responsibility. More often than not, women naturally leave the work responsibility out when they can afford to do so. Social studies have come to recognise these undercurrents that cause women to drop out of the workforce and thereby deprive society of some very capable or even sometimes brilliant minds but the voices of those pointing this out are often drowned by the thunders of the waves of supporters of the all-time profit theory.

One might think that this talk is outdated and not applicable anymore but it actually is not. The more I speak with young women today the more I realise that the reality of this hostile landscape has not changed. In some cultures it has become just more subterranean and in others women suffer through it without uttering a word and then simply falling out of the workforce or falling out of the marriage because of the lack of support whether physical or moral from their spouses.

It is a sad reality that we are faced with still today. The workplace has failed women who often give their best years before they are faced by the dilemma arising from their motherhood and either fall out of the workplace or simply suffer through an unhappy existence both at work and at home.

This reality has to change on a deeper level than just assuming that it is for the spouse to help out and ensure that women are able to attain some sort of work-life balance. The responsibility lies not just with corporate entities but also with government bodies and society as a whole including its social framework put in place for assisting women at work.

My personal belief is that the right step towards ensuring a more balanced society and enabling women to achieve this work-life balance would start on many levels:

  • On the corporate entities’ level, there has to be an oversight system in place to ensure within the corporate governance of the entities that employee policies are actually being implemented properly and that gender discrimination is not merely a shining leitmotiv hung on the entities’ armouries but that it is an actual daily reality that the female workforce feel confident they can rely upon. Other than that, it would be most adequate and actually an incentive to make working mothers more productive if day care centres were systematically provided by the employer (if possible at reduced costs) within or nearby the premises of their workforce. Some employers do this and they should be lauded for this initiative which actually rewards them on the long term and sometimes even on the short and medium terms.
  • On the social framework level, consolidated structures would need to be put in place to ensure appropriate care is taken for the odd events in the life of a working woman such as day care that actually ensures a proper follow-up of sick children. Geneva has such a system through the red crescent although it is not the best one as there is no consistency in the quality of the persons sent nor is it possible to have the same person for the same neighbourhood to ensure the child in question does not have to face the fear of an unfamiliar face and the mother does not need to worry about whether good care will be provided to her child while she works. What is also lacking is the systematic introduction of a hotline that working mothers could resort to in order to get advice, tips on how to manage their responsibilities better or simply to have someone to talk to when they are feeling let down and helpless
  • On the government level, it is obvious that a more stringent legislation has to be put in place both on the positive side encouraging or even making mandatory employee policies that allow a humane environment for working mothers while maintaining the possibility for them to also have access to their rightly deserved promotions and on the negative side by punishing those corporate entities that have totem policies that they don’t encourage following on a practical level for women or perhaps – even worse – discourage implicitly their female workforce from having recourse to.
  • On the society’s level, a major point that would need to be considered is the stigmatisation of either of the homemaker or the career woman. Society needs to stop blaming the one or the other and making women feel miserable and caught in the “damned if you do damned if you don’t” spiral. Other minor points would be for example by encouraging working mothers who succeed and praising the outcome of their efforts or just a more supportive attitude towards colleagues who are working mothers instead of the raising of the eyebrows and hushed talks each time a woman simply has to tend to some unexpected emergency such as having to rush to school because her child was hurt/sick or to speak over the phone to check in on a sick child at home with an unfamiliar nanny he/she was scared of.
  • On the collective media cum regulatory level, it would be important to have a measure and be able to track indices that consistently showcase which employers are good employers enabling a proper integrating of working mothers within their ranks and which are the “bad” employers. Such indices could then be used within the criterion of being a Socially Responsible Employer. Investors would then have the choice of supporting or not a given entity based on its index of Social Responsibility that includes the vital data on the treatment of working mothers.

To finish on this, I would like to share a very poignant clip which to me just magnifies the symbolism of the bond of motherhood and the sense of sacrifice that is engrained in almost all women when it concerns their children. Too bad that society is more often than not reluctant to reward or even identify those sacrifices.

Meanwhile, while the wheels of change turn grimacing and clanking women continue to suffer in countless ways and have to make inhuman sacrifices in order to adapt to a workplace that continuously refuses to make the appropriate reforms to integrate them successfully.

At this point I would be inclined to say that current system as a whole has failed and continues to consistently fail women and thereby the next generation via this failure. As we see an aging European population and a young population elsewhere (mainly in third world countries), we realise that if the problem of women in the workplace is not solved adequately as a priority society as a whole will lose out and this will include the corporate profits aspect. Indeed, how could a society evolve and be profitable and successful if half of it is crippled by a reality that is simply not willing to allow it to start walking properly? The time has truly come for a change and hopefully the world is ready for that change. God knows that women have been long ready and waiting for it.

Meanwhile, while the wheels of change turn grimacing and clanking women continue to suffer in countless ways and have to make inhuman sacrifices in order to adapt to a workplace that continuously refuses to make the appropriate reforms to integrate them successfully.

To finish on this, I would like to share a very poignant clip which to me just magnifies the symbolism of the bond of motherhood and the sense of sacrifice that is engrained in almost all women when it concerns their children. Too bad that society is more often than not reluctant to reward or even identify those sacrifices.