The Indian woman shoulders the guilt of a thousand generations. The guilt of wife, the guilt of mother, and the guilt of daughter(in-law). Her guilt is perpetuated by a system that has historically benefited the male status-quo in our patriarchal society.
But, the reality of the 21st century is that we are being driven to increasingly consumer-based economies, which more than ever require a double-income household. Our women want to and need to work.
They also need to know that their country needs them to pick up where they left off and restart their careers. They need to know that they are valued – for the best years of their lives that they put into their education, for the beginning, struggling years of their careers making little or no money for long hours of experience, for those mid-level, arduous-climb years to earn the promotions that they knew were theirs.
And for the years that they walked away from it all to look after someone in their family – husband, child(ren), elders(in-law) – placing others’ needs before theirs, doing what needed to be done because only they could.
Indian women should know their value in a nation that places unending reverence on mothers and motherhood, on woman in a range of avatars, on the ideal of womanliness, but seemingly so far, not much on a woman’s economic contribution to our bottom-line.
However, the harsh truth is that there is a “woman-shaped gap” in the Indian workforce and we need to reverse the brain-drain that is holding our country back from the rest of the world.
“Forty-eight percent of Indian females drop out of the workforce before they reach mid-career. The largest percentage of Indian women leaving the workforce occurs between the junior and middle level, as opposed to between the middle and senior levels,” according to “India Needs More Women in the Workforce” – Persis Khambatta, Center for Strategic and International Studies, August 2013
According to two research papers conducted on the subject (for India):
“Female enrolment in colleges leapt from 10 per cent of total admissions at the time of independence to 41 per cent in 2010. However, this has not translated to equivalent gains in women’s employment. Indeed, in the past few decades, the percentage of urban and educated working women has been stagnant or even fallen. Overall, only 20 per cent of urban educated working-age women actually work. Further, nearly half of those drop out mid-career.” (“The Dismal State of Women’s Employment in India” – Tara Krishnaswamy, Newslaundry, October 22, 2014)
This is alarming and it is unconscionable. This is not surging forward, it is slugging backward. Our grandmothers and mothers did not put in the effort they did for us to get where we have and then have it wasted away by our disillusionment with the working world and how it translates for our family-lives. We want to know that we will be protected from discrimination, when we do return.
Indian women comprise a significant, highly-educated chunk of our brain-bank – and the bank is draining when it could be burgeoning.
Kevin O’Leary of reality-TV-show Shark Tank fame has candidly opined that his investments run by female CEOs consistently outperform his investments headed by men. He observed that his female CEOs’ risk-taking is vastly superior in that it is careful, intermediate, and often more researched than their male counterparts. He found that those CEOs that were busy mothers at home performed at the highest level in the group. The multitasking capacity of a busy mom could leave the most eager, energetic and aggressive-assertive male stunned.
“It kind of makes sense, right?
Attributes that I have observed are that they take less risk, they are more goal orientated in terms of setting targets and meeting them. If they say, ‘I am going to expand capacity or we’re going to increase distribution in the next quarter’, they deliver,” he explained. “It’s not an intuitive feeling. It’s actual hardcore results.” (“Why Shark Tank’s ‘Mr. Wonderful’ Thinks Women Make Better CEOs” – Carol Roth, www.entrepreneur.com, February 2015)
Cyrus Mistry, the chairman of the Tata group, laid out in stark terms the cost of leaving women out of the workforce, noting that "When women are insufficiently represented in the workplace, we lose out on 50 per cent of the talent pool. In an environment where human capital makes all the difference between success and failure, this is a massive loss which countries and corporates can ill-afford." (“India Needs More Women in the Workforce” – Persis Khambatta, Center for Strategic and International Studies, August 2013).
Indian companies have begun embracing and recognizing the value of supporting and retaining their female workforce, who are constantly straddling and balancing lateral worlds. Workplace policies in India are getting more family-friendly so that we don’t lose out on highly-educated, highly-qualified, and highly-experienced women who are constantly proving themselves to be highly committed, loyal and determined to succeed.
Flexi-time, paid maternity/paternity leave, employee-protection from sexual harassment/request for a raise, forced un/paid-leave due to pregnancy or giving birth to a child, access to sabbatical-leave, access to good-quality childcare facilities, provision of travel (pick and drop) facilities – such policies do not only benefit women, they benefit families, society and of course, corporations. As Pramit Jhaveri, CEO of Citi India, states, “Diversity is not just a social imperative, it is a business imperative.”
Women-on-break matter more than we’re giving them credit for and we need to show them that they do.