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Two women, two workplaces

Two women, two workplaces
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First Published: Fri, Jul 08 2011. 08 39 PM IST

Aishwarya Rai: Pregnant at Cannes. Lionel Bonaventure/AFP
Aishwarya Rai: Pregnant at Cannes. Lionel Bonaventure/AFP
Updated: Fri, Jul 08 2011. 08 39 PM IST
Director Madhur Bhandarkar is upset that actor Aishwarya Rai Bachchan became pregnant in the midst of shooting his dream project Heroine. Eight days into the shooting of the film and post a splashy launch at the Cannes film festival, Amitabh Bachchan announced on Twitter that his daughter-in-law was pregnant. Now everyone’s debating the usually super professional actor’s lack of professionalism.
Aishwarya Rai: Pregnant at Cannes. Lionel Bonaventure/AFP
I’m puzzled. For a while now, it’s been widely discussed that Aishwarya and her husband Abhishek have been trying to conceive. If we were aware of this, surely Bhandarkar, who has made multiple films on the “authentic” dirty secrets of the film/fashion fraternities and the society staples featured on Page 3, knew there was a big likelihood his lead actor would get pregnant this year?
At 37, a pregnancy comes with its own set of risks and, predictably, India’s most closely tracked—and highly superstitious—film family waited a few months before they went public (don’t you recall all those unverified stories of Aishwarya subjecting herself to elaborate religious rituals because her horoscope indicated she was manglik, an astrological position in one’s chart that is believed to result in marital problems).
The film industry needs to organize itself so that producers have the clout to introduce no-pregnancy clauses in their contracts. Either that or they should factor in potential feminine risks the same way they handle a crisis caused when a lead actor suddenly goes to jail.
Personally, I was more intrigued by the “women in the workplace” story that unfolded around the same time in another continent.
Harrods employee Melanie Stark, 24, resigned after she was sent home a couple of times from one of Europe’s most iconic department stores because she hadn’t complied with the organization’s strict dress code. By all reports, Stark was a hard-working employee who had a good five-year work record except for one quirk: She refused to wear make-up to work.
If you’ve ever visited the stuffy store, you know Harrods is Dos-and-Don’ts Central. Rules for customers are accessible on its website. Harrods doesn’t allow any person to enter the store dressed in high-cut, Bermuda or beach shorts; swimwear; athletic singlets; cycling shorts; flip flops or thong sandals; with a bare midriff or bare feet; or wearing dirty or unkempt clothing.
The longer list of rules for employees has been widely debated in England after Stark’s story came out. There are guidelines on everything from footwear (stilettos or kitten heels) to sideburns (not more than an inch wide). Cleavage must be avoided and antiperspirant is a must. While I believe the last should be a law in any workplace (the HR department should be in charge of enforcing it), Harrods clearly needs to re-evaluate its archaic staff dress code, especially for its female employees.
One of the few remaining joys of being a journalist in India is that nobody expects you to wear make-up and stilettos to work. My current editor who admits that he likes people who dress well is known more for his collection of Day-Glo Grateful Dead T-shirts than the variety of ties he wears to work.
Bottom line? As women take over the professional sphere, workplace issues specific to our gender are increasingly likely to pop up. Earlier this week, a CEO in New Zealand was sacked because he said in a television interview that women’s “monthly sick problems” made them less productive and hence they should be paid less. In the years ahead, companies and organizations will need to update their rulebooks and thought leadership if they have to handle and nurture their growing feminine forces.
Write to me at lounge@livemint.com
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First Published: Fri, Jul 08 2011. 08 39 PM IST