It's a woman's world

Last Updated : 29 October 2010, 12:20 IST
Last Updated : 29 October 2010, 12:20 IST

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Young Indian women who seek a new world of financial self-reliance and an opportunity to succeed have been raised as ‘equals’ by their parents, where education, opportunities and personal space are concerned. But marriage often changes all this.

As married women, they face innumerable social and familial pressures to “attend to their domestic duties first and then look for career success”. It is also significant that many Indian men do not like wives earning more money or fame than themselves and a large number of marriages end bitterly because of a wife’s high position, high income and the resulting independence of thought and action.

Family ties

In India, where marriages are taken seriously, it is hard, even for the new-gen successful woman, to balance marriage and career and satisfy the ego of the husband, even though he too is a new-gen man.

“Relatives and friends do not spare a husband who seems to be lacklustre in comparison with his wife,” says Latika Rao, an extremely successful lawyer. “In such circumstances, the man has to vent and it is invariably the wife who becomes his victim. Marriages of very successful women are often held together with very delicate threads. While some men do not mind using their successful wives’ position or money to live the good life, they simply cannot stomach the fact that the woman is the provider.”

Baby vs board room

Childcare is another issue that successful women grapple with. If they have the blessings of the extended family, this problem can be solved with some ease. ICICI Bank chief Chanda Kochhar says, “Working women first need to develop public relations within the family to network with the older women in the family. Then alone can they trust them to care for their children safely.” In her own case, Kochhar says that she’s had invaluable help from her family as well as her in-laws. “Breaking the glass ceiling alone is not easy.

Unlike Western women, we have the advantage of family elders, relatives or even trusted domestic help to take care of the children until they are independent, and the mother can guide their education and character development. But it’s very hard work,” she says.

New challenges

Increasingly, elder care is also giving sleepless nights to successful career women. A recent survey says that 94 per cent of Indian women need to look after their parents or in-laws, with a huge number of them contributing a sizeable part of their incomes to their welfare. The social tenets of filial loyalty and responsibility are so strong in Indian culture that they cause the women to suffer guilt pangs.

Next come workplace demands. A woman has to work beyond the given periphery of her job to break the glass ceiling and achieve success. Statistics say that Indian women often work over 60 hours in a week to prove their worth and to compete for higher responsibilities. Additionally over 35 per cent of working women in such jobs face opposition from the ‘old boys’ network’ which silently but strongly opposes the professional rise of a woman in the workplace.

Gender discrimination is a silent part of the discouragement. While rabid sexual harassment can go against a male colleague, innuendo, which hides behind the dark cloak of camaraderie, often cannot be proved but does become an irritant for a working woman.

Even though the Vishakha guidelines have been set up by the Supreme Court and committees of employees and social workers, they have not been put into practice and harassment continues to dog the footsteps of ambitious women.

Career women in India are often hindered by cultural limitations which define their right to mobility and freedom to travel on work. Apart from the fact that they can be unsafe while travelling alone, especially in small towns, they often face social and family disapproval if they venture out alone.

No doubt more women are travelling alone than ever before — and even staying in special women’s floors created by hotel chains — but commuting, travelling at odd hours and finding one’s way in a new town/ city continue to be a hazard.

In such a scenario, even though hundreds of women have successfully crashed the glass ceiling and risen in the corporate sector, many more have turned to entrepreneurship to design their own work schedule to suit their needs.

A prime example is that of Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, chief of Biocon and the richest woman in India, who began her enterprise on a capital of Rs 10,000 in a garage in Bangalore and became the owner of Biocon India with grit and competence.

More recently, Leher Kala (34), a journalist, took a similar leap of faith when she founded Hutkey Films to make her own movies. “I decided to offer better products to the huge emerging market,” she says.

Like these two — one an icon and the other a symbol of emerging India — millions of women in India use their core competence to set up their own ventures and succeed superbly, making every effort to bypass roadblocks along their journey.

More and more Indian women are hitting the headlines worldwide in every human endeavour — be it arts and entertainment, finance and banking, politics and administration, business and entrepreneurship or hospitality and tourism. As 2010 comes to a close, India has every reason to be proud of its women who have scored unimaginable triumphs.

According to reports, Indian women are generating more wealth than women of any other emerging economy (except China) and they are quite unstoppable in their march towards success and fulfilment.

Government agencies, emerging markets and large employers in India must realise this and offer opportunities to help a huge number of new-gen women realise their full potential and fulfil their ambitions.

Published 29 October 2010, 10:56 IST

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