Can I make it in the world being who I am?

“If you could change one thing in your life, what would it be?”

“Be a man!”

The question was asked by my friend to his mother, a well-accomplished leader who retired as a Business Head in her organization. A superwoman, in my eyes, from every angle. She had been a career woman, raised great kids, played the multiple roles in her life really well, yet one thing she would have liked to change was being a woman! She was probably thinking about how she had to give up international assignments and exclusive leadership training projects to devote time to kids and how she had to compromise on her career to travel the world when her husband’s career needed the support.

She is 80 years old now and she accomplished all what she did when there was no support system in the corporate world for working women; no policies or laws. Indian society was still waking up to the emancipation of women. Diversity and Inclusion as a concept was rather unknown.

Here we are, 50 years later. Have we really moved the needle?

Yes, we have opened up more doors through our laws and systems.

In fact, there are many things to be proud of. There are more women graduating college and choosing to work. It has become an irrefutable fact that the talent pool is diverse and companies with diverse workforces stand to gain.

Sebi has made it mandatory for all listed companies to have at least one woman on their boards. Most companies have a process in place to measure diversity numbers. Pioneers in this journey continue to set the bar high by implementing new practices. Diversity has broadened its view to include not just women, but also disability and LGBTQ+.

Yet, we are still many steps behind in opening up minds. One of the leaders I met with lamented that there are not enough takers for the mentoring program he introduced specifically to groom women leaders. The view that a career is secondary in a woman’s life is still prevalent. Making time to own and create one’s career is still something we are getting used as a society, men and women included.

Case in example. I got into a conversation with my Uber driver like I usually do. He was from Mysore. He was very proud of the fact that his wife is a B.Com graduate and he genuinely wished she could launch a career. “I did not finish high school. She has a college degree and she should work.” I was quite impressed. The social change is finally here. Or so I thought.

“But the jobs she is getting do not pay her much. I can earn the same amount of money by doing 10 more trips in a month. Why will I make her work to earn that?” So she continues to stay home, he explained, rather regretfully.

It seems to me that the game has changed, bringing a fresh wave of challenges for us, the equal opportunity seekers, to work with. The factors we additionally deal with now are:

  • A significant share of men and women feel that married women whose husbands earn a good living should not work outside the home.
  • Highly educated women are more likely to marry more educated men with high incomes, and hence remain out of the labour force
  • While a woman’s chances of working in a salaried job rises with her level of education, her chances of working in a farm or a family business declines with rising levels of education.

Thus, despite educational gains, the labor force participation rate for women in 2017 was just 28.5% (compared to 82% for men) which has seen a sharp decline from 2005-06 when 43% of married women were in the workforce.

Hence, the quest is not anymore just about making the system more open, but also to groom young children to be respectful to be aware of one’s potential and make use of it. Make an impact and not merely follow the system.

It seems like we need more role models than ever. Different people leading from the front and sharing their knowledge and experience. To create more awareness and provide exposure which opens up different career pathways and options.

So that none of us feel that our gender or disability or colour is something to be “overcome”.

References:

  1. Study by Esha Cahtterjee, University of Marlyland – https://ihds.umd.edu/sites/ihds.umd.edu/files/Indian%20Paradox%20EC%20SD%20RV%20Feb%202018_WP.pdf)
  2. NFHS survey 2015-‘16

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