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Career success versus social identity – a woman’s dilemma

Sumita Datta

Author: Sumita Datta

Date: Wed, 2017-03-08 08:56

Men take charge and women take care of the family is a social messaging that starts from an early age in Indian societies. When asked ‘What comes to your mind when you think of the term ‘woman,’ I have heard the majority of men respond by saying ‘mother, wife, sister, daughter...’ It is not surprising therefore that the answer to the question, ‘What is my role as a family member’ becomes an integral part of a woman’s core identity. It is a powerful predictor of behaviour, as a woman often shifts her behaviour to play out the role that gives more favourable self evaluation. A characteristic very distinctively seen in a collectivist society like India is that irrespective of qualifications and professional background, marriage, child rearing and elder care take precedence over career identity and career advancement for women. Very often women opt for career breaks even when they have access to child-care and family support. ‘My professional success has no meaning if my children don’t do well in their studies’ is a rationale cited quite often by women for opting out of their jobs. Severe guilt when faced with the family versus career conundrum, often forces a woman to make a trade-off in favour of time with family.

The decision to opt out of employment is not a simple one. Driven by the economic liberalisation in India there is a quiet revolution of sorts brewing in gender relations at work and family relations at home. 

‘It’s important for me to have financial independence. I don’t like asking for money from my husband for having the quality of life I want’ is a quintessential sentiment that reflects the economic aspirations of the urban Indian middle class. While financial independence of women might be perceived as a license to transgress the lakshman-rekha of a stereo-typical feminine role, the additional family income is also welcome. This paradoxical truth defines the chasm between two sets of expectations - career success versus social identity of a woman.

 

‘I like being a mother and I like working. Can I have it all…’  For a woman who succumbs to the conflicting demands and buys time with family at the cost of her career, the bigger setback comes when she wants to return to work. In a fast moving world, keeping pace with the changes in technologies, addition of skill sets, do become difficult and this leads to dwindling self-confidence, which further hampers her re-integration. Often, companies see returning women as less credible career aspirants. Thus a career break may break a career forever.

Getting more women to participate in all levels of management is an economic imperative that is driving many progressive organisations to adopt equitable practices for gender diversity. However a bigger question that still remains is how do we bring about equity in the social roles that we play as men and women in the family system. How can we as a society imbibe more equitable practices for our social progress? Such non-linear development calls for action on multiple fronts including policy level changes, early education, executive education, corporate practices and media. Only when simultaneous efforts are taken will they build on each other to create deep shifts in societal mind-sets for developing more inclusive organisations and equitable societies. With the Post Graduate Management Programme for Women (MPW) at SPJIMR, we have taken a small yet significant step towards that vision.

 

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Maternity and child rearing are the common milestone events at which most of the women are leaving. Long working hours, gender bias, workplace harassments, long commutation hours, and safety issues are the among the several reasons cited by women for leaving their jobs. I would like to view this whole career break phenomenon from the kid’s point of view and what is indeed needed in the corporate world for making a balance between career growth and child upbringing. Corporate provides maternity break of 26 weeks. But, most of the women don’t start their maternity break till the last week of pregnancy in order to get more time to spend with infants after the delivery. This poses additional risk to unborn baby due to the pathetic state of public transportation system in India. In a malnourished country like India, it is very necessary that infants are given mother’s milk for minimum 2 years. But, due to the distance between home and office and no crèche facilities, it’s often the kid who suffers from malnutrition. Harassment (both physically and sexual) of children by maids and servant are the news which is not so rare nowadays. Psychologically also, as per research studies, over 95% of the child’s brain is developed before age 5 years, here, a mother can be the best teacher of the child. In an Indian context, it would be better if women take a break for 5 years for taking care of the child and here, the Indian government can play a crucial role by making some unique new laws beneficial for both women and infants. For example, when a woman leaves the job for maternity reasons, that position should be filled by another women candidate only, which will ensure the balance of the diversity. Other rules can be made such as a provision of one-year unpaid leaves. Hiring minimum 20% from women returning post child-care, crèche facilities near major office areas in the city, refund of tax paid by women during previous 3 years as monthly stipend, universal basic income for women during the career break, separate public transportation system for women, free monthly health checkups for 3 years after child birth at both government & corporate hospitals are some of the initiatives which can work wonder. After all, Children are the future of the nation.

Mother`s role in child`s life, wife`s contribution in husbands success, daughters` presence in family`s environment, and a sister`s role in brothers mature thought process cannot be replaced by any one – certainly not by a man. I was privileged to grow up in a joint family, completely handled by my grandmother and other females while getting constant income source was the responsibility of male members of the family. So, while I do not disagree with the old family view: “Men take charge and women take care of the family”, I would like to advocate this view in those kind of family setups because I saw women managing things incomparably better than what men could do. But now situations have changed, and so the thought process should also. The dilemma is the child of this changing thought process with slowly changing society, family needs and life-aspirations. This is the time when hitherto interdependent relationship among family members is converting into independent existence, competition, and self-satisfaction. It is very encouraging to see women coming out of the “stereotypical role”; however, the choice to take career break or not is very subjective to the family conditions, when even the support of man during wife`s pregnancy and career breaks has become undeniably and equally important. We can see many male colleagues who shuffle their personal and professional lives to strike balance in such situations, doing their part for the family. Coming to corporate and government support, recently there have been many employee and HR policies changes made to make a woman`s transition smoother. Now even the male member can take longer paternal leaves. Things are certainly changing. But there is factor of responsibility from a woman`s front as well to not compare their capabilities solely based on career achievements. It is very imperative for a woman to understand that they are the reason for a stable and peaceful society – a much bigger responsibility than meeting corporate KRAs, a responsibility to which man alone cannot do just. At this point I would like to again draw the readers` attention to the first line of my writing.

This article shared by Dr Sumita Datta gives us a flavour of how even today after so many developments in the society, women still feel a question to either do child rearing or choose a career. It is a nature’s gift to women that they are able to bring a new life onto this earth which should empower them towards a successful leader however turns a deterrent for their careers. She very articulately puts how women stay back at home taking the responsibility of bringing up the child and making sure that the child eats, sleeps, studies and plays. A woman always feels that if her child is not successful, there is no point in having a successful career. This level of ownership is the most sought after quality in today’s organizations which have evolved beyond the regular 9-5 no hassles jobs. In today’s environment women face a terrible question at hand which is that she likes to be a mother but she likes to work too, can she have it all? Can I start working again after such a long break? Being a woman in today’s society poses a great challenge not just in terms of career but also in the form of their children’s growth which was not the case a few decades ago. As part of the society it is an imperative that we take steps towards resolving this question for all the women out there and they should not be hesitant in making decisions. My mother, who teaches Sanskrit, did her MA after a break of 17 years which took a lot of courage and heart from her end as well as a supportive husband. As the society is evolving, we as a new generation should create an environment where a woman need not think giving a birth to a child and bringing up the child should hinder her career progression. The onus now lies on us to make this vision a truth. I am proud that my institute has started a programme which enables all the ladies who took a break in their careers for their family to come back and give their careers a headstart again.

Times have changed. With the increased literacy rate of women, awareness among the parents about the female education and sensitivity among the nation toward the women, the women empowerment is being realized more strongly today. When we talk about the dilemma of a woman with regard to her role in family, we need to understand source of it. Man and woman are two different human beings with strength and weaknesses of their own. A woman is more powerful than man in more than one ways. She is the one who has carries a child in her womb for 9 months, she is the one who can feed the baby which can’t be replaced by external food for a new born, the love and affection which she can shower in the family and make it progressive is incomparable. While men have been taking care of the financial needs of the family, women have shown exemplary potential there as well and are equally contributing there. Bigger question is – can men show the same potential in being able to feed a new born, in being able to nurture the new born, in being able to pamper the family the same way as women. Unfortunately, the answer is no. So, it’s not about precedence of certain duties but more about who can do the job better. If men would have been capable of doing things a woman can do, may be, in today’s society men would have happily switched the roles. Our society is changing; men are happily letting the women take the centre stage in the family and are sharing their professional successes too. Again the institution of marriage and concept of marriage has been very successful in India because it does get its due importance when needed. Maternity leave and paternity leaves are one of the ways out devised by the corporate and government organisations. Also, if a woman takes a break from career, she might take an option of working from home, or take a break and prepare and come up with improved skillsets to the corporate again. I differ here from mam, that it reduces the credibility of the women, instead, it reflects on a woman’s commitment toward family and then, passion for work too. So, while it is still not easy to switch roles in a woman’s life, it’s easy to take a call when we know who can do the job better.

The article by Dr Sumita Datta brings out the reality of the society which advocates the equality among men and women but when the time comes for implementing the same it somehow fails to do so. The big question is why women are required to manage the household, nurture the new born, and take care of parents. We can easily say that men should also do the same but in reality, these are the traits which require immense level of commitment, care and love. These qualities are integral part of women, men are not capable to do the same the way women do. Women are the one who are chosen by nature to give birth and suffer the pain to carry the child in womb for 9 month. The reason nature chose women for the job because men cannot bear that pain and they cannot show the level of commitment and love required to bring up the child. Women are doing there bit for the society and help build new generation throughout their life and in a process to do say they sacrifice their needs, desires, and most importantly their career now a days. However, In return society take these sacrifices for granted and believes that women does take care of these because she is not capable of taking responsibilities related to work or men can do the task better. This is nothing but the patriarchal nature of the society and there is dire need to change the same and understand that women take primary responsibilities of bringing up a family because they are best at it. Now it is the duty of the society to return the favor and understand and acknowledge the capabilities of the women and help them integrate into the corporate world when they come back. Although, several policy level changes are done but the real change will come when we bring equity in social roles and change our mindset to understand that women will have true equality only when men share with them the responsibility of bringing up the next generation.

As a group, women work as much as men, if not more. When both paid and unpaid work such as household chores and caring for children are taken into account, women work longer hours than men—an average of 30 minutes a day longer in developed countries and 50 minutes in developing countries according to a 2015 UN report. Even then modern women are not accorded the status they deserve as household chores, childcare and care for elderly are considered as “the role” for women in society. This is primarily because values of earlier agrarian society and the division of labor at that time is still being carried around. A conscious effort to change this mind-set is the need of the hour and any change will definitely need its set of deliberation and this duty falls upon everybody. A flag-bearer for this can be a working woman who realizes that she represents not only herself but this idea of change.

A woman is identified in the society by the important roles she plays in the household and the duties she carries out. But there is a grave need to diverge from this archaic belief of seeing the mother just as a daughter, a sister or a mother. More often than not, women are overburdened by the emotional expectations of the family and hence are identified to be closer to the private space. Men, on the other hand, are perceived to be more rational and unemotional beings, thereby, considered fit for being the bread winner for the family. The family perceives the woman to be the backbone of the household, serving the emotional and socio-political needs of the household. The women naturally face heavy opposition in their endeavors to continue to work and fulfill their dreams due to lack of support not just from the family but from the husband as well. My mother continued worked for 35 straight years, only because of the unconditional support received from my father. There have been times when he has cooked for us, got us ready for school and performed all the duties that “the society” perceives to be fit just for the mothers. As you have correctly pointed out that the time are changing now. But we must ensure, that attitude of financial independence amongst women is not just confined to the urban middle class, so that in times of need, a woman can lend a helping hand to the husband. We need to take constructive steps to develop such an attitude amongst the women irrespective of class or location. SPJIMR’s Management Program for Women, is definitely a step towards empowering to get back to the corporate life and achieve great heights.

This is a thought provoking article which aims at reflecting the status of women in today’s society. Women in the workforce today are under double pressure-especially those in professional and management roles; they have to strike a balance between work and home. In this context, it’s mostly the women who make sacrifices or at least the society expects them to do so! Women mostly think of career break as an end to their career; indeed there are difficulties in bouncing back after a long career break but not impossible. Setting priorities post marriage and kids is by far the most challenging thing for a woman. She’s emotionally bonded to her responsibility and ‘having it all it isn’t just determined by her or her family, those choices are informed or forced by policy, customs etc- the outside forces end up shaping a woman’s choice! What is of concern today is more of acceptance and support from the peer workers. The issue of a women work life balance still remains a sensitive topic for many organisations- while many organisations are moving towards progressive policies such as maternity policies, creches, promotion systems that are inclusive, work part-time or work from home. However do organizations really believe that working from home or career break is being ‘efficient’ or ‘being equally committed to an organisation’’, there is always some amount of unsaid punitive evaluation goes into it. The reason cited for many career discussions or performance evaluations is- women are not making it to the top due to the career choices they make. It’s not about balance anymore- it is about adapting, altering and making choices!!

The blog has touch based upon a very critical aspect of womanhood and society. Motherhood that is considered to be a blessing, a feeling no male can feel, a pride woman wears during her life is turned into a night mare of scary thoughts of “Child vs Career”. The most sensible women are trapped and family plays an important role for her support. Though changing mind-sets through generations have helped women evolve but it largely depends in the society you are. For example, in modern urban Indian societies if a woman takes up her career after maternity she is left with options of day care or supporting grandparents for child care. Though the latter option of Grandparents support is a blessing very less women get but the severe guilt of engaging the old age always hovers in her mind. While the first option of childcare requires indispensable support of spouse in nuclear families. But ultimately the basic responsibilities lies on the woman. Many women have been delaying motherhood to stabilise in career and plan children at a later stage. Big organizations like Apple and Facebook have been supporting women by providing egg freezing treatments. But we fail to understand the biological effect it has on a women’s health. Either ways women suffering is always there. In my opinion women should be presented for a smooth career irrespective of maternity. The bias people have of decreased efficiency should not be cultivated in future generations. Over and above even without maternity the assumption based bias are detrimental to society growth. Maternity leave with other benefits should be provided. Also fathers role should be encouraged by paternity benefits to male. A culture to cultivate the feeling of equal father mother responsibility should be built. Role of women leaders has been exemplary like Indira Gandhi, Mother Teresa and many more. We should understand the need to give equal space to women in important positions. Women have equal or as I must say a better efficiency on taking leadership role as they have the ability to understand a human even when they womb, a privilege no male can get. I would like to end my thoughts with a classic enlightening reply from Hilary Clinton, when asked by journalist Christian Amanpour, “The Ultimate Hard Choice? Grandmother or the possibility of being the first female president of the Unites States of America?” Hilary Clinton replied, “There have been a lot grandfathers who have done it.”

It is true that bringing a core change in terms of policy changes, early education, etc. is needed to change the mindset of the society for it to be able to be fair towards women but what I feel is needed the most is that women change their own values and beliefs. None of us can deny the fact that binding thoughts or statements like ‘What will people say”? “What will the relatives think”? etc. stop the women around us from doing and being much more than they actually are and this is something that surprises me the most. I come from a conservative Rajasthani Jat family and have seen smart and capable women give up their aspirations and dreams just because they feel they will be alone and lack support. What they are aspiring for is nothing more than a basic right to earn and be independent, to do things that they like doing, but still are flooded with thoughts and guilt of them overtaking the aspirations of their husbands, kids, brothers, sisters and focusing too much on themselves. I believe this kind of behaviour has something to do with the way women naturally are; they think a lot. Women tend to think and many a times over think about most of the things in life. If only sometimes for the sake of the betterment of our own lives, we take a break (pause), stop thinking and go ahead and do what we really want to do (action), the world will be a changed place – for good!

The issue that article talks about is a burning one in the current scenario where more number of women are adding up to the work force every year. Every working woman has this inevitable challenge of maintaining a balance between family and career. It must be a really a complicated and shocking experience to suddenly have to negotiate the different identities as a mother, as a worker and as an individual. While it is a fact that woman are getting ambitious and successful in corporate world, it is also proven that sensitive task of bringing up kids cannot be done better by man than a woman. A young child is biologically wired to choose his mom as the primary attachment figure. The emotional connect that a child has with his mom cannot be compared with the one he has with his dad. This makes woman the ultimate choice to look after child development. And as you have mentioned in your article, many women feel that their professional success has no meaning if their children do not do well. As a result they give up their corporate stint and involve themselves into a more crucial task of shaping their kids. According to me, this is one very important task as a well brought up kid is going to be the asset of the nation. It is said that “Good mothers provide foundation for the future”. So it will be seen in future too that women are juggling between different roles. This fight will continue. But we can make the task easier for women by appreciating the effort they are putting in. Although corporate world boasts of the women friendly HR rules and regulations, it is well known fact that the reality is quite different. In this ongoing fight, the onus lies on the men to act as an anchor and contribute in the struggle that every working woman faces.

The article points out towards inequity of women’s rights in the corporate world and how lopsided the system makes it, the dilemma faced in work matters. As the article point out, the problem could be solved with numerous acts of policy shifts, media, education policies and last but not the least, corporate intervention (which is by the way, well on its way today). The social equity comes first and foremost, it needs to be addressed at the primary level as the differentiation between sexes is what creates a problem when drawn far to the extreme. Lessons from history have shown that even though India was a patriarchal society with innumerable kings and politicians (in recent history), some women have sprung and made a deep impact in history. From the appointment of Razia Sultan as the first and only female to rule Delhi to Indira Gandhi the first and only (till date) female prime minister of India, women in India have overcome obstacles to be the best. In banking and financial inclusion terms, identity and transaction trail are two pillars of creditworthiness. If you take out one of the two, the basic worth of an individual goes down in terms of deserving credit without collateral. Imagine we extrapolate this sense to men and women. This is exactly what women face every day and slowly and steadily the society is beginning to realise the same. I feel the article does give some solutions but only at a very superficial level. Equitable social practices as a policy are easier said than done in today’s world. It needs almost indoctrination of such thoughts to impact the society in the next generation. Lastly, I feel, it need not be a choice between social identity and career as they are one and the same, one’s career could be one’s identity. It is a matter of time when such topics are consolidated into one factor which enables men to identify their role and lessen the burden on their counterpart.

Thank you for enlightening us by this thought provoking write-up. Unfortunately even in this modernistic 21st century era gender stereotyping plagues our society. This is true especially in India where traditional attitudes define the ideal and permissible cultural role of a woman as that of a primary care giver. The long term effects of patriarchy and gender bias have transcended into a culture where women have to bear the burden of a disproportionate share of household duties. This is true even if they work full time and men don’t work at all and even if they want to share the household work equally. This has now become a norm and affects women at multiple levels limiting their career aspirations. With women owning the responsibility of care-giving duties they are left with no time to focus on their education and work. They are also weighed down by the pressure from family and society if they are unable to meet these unrealistic expectations of being the ideal home-maker. Hence in order to prioritize the duties at home a lot of women are forced to pull out of work. I believe the best way forward is to be aware of our biases and stereotypes. At the end of the day women have a lot of roles to play at the same time which is why they need support, skills and assistance to effectively fulfil these responsibilities. Men have an important role to play in helping women fulfil their ambitions by contributing equally and supporting them. They have to realise that women don’t have super powers and that there will be trade-offs involved. Although things have begun to change, we still have a long way to go. A country can make true progress only if the women join the workforce and contribute to its economy. Education is the best tool to empower women to achieve success in their careers. I believe SPJIMR’s PGMPW is a great step in this direction bridging the gap between the talented women workforce and the organizations.

Being a woman and a mother, I feel blessed to be living in the twenty-first century, the time that gives much more opportunities for women. It’s hard to envisage nowadays that it wasn’t always like that, and there were times when women were not permitted to go to the university and their main duty was to stay at home, cook and look after the children. These days’ women can make an amazing career and work in every field they enjoy. But building a career and being dedicated to one’s work is tricky and requires a lot of time and efforts. But what if there comes a moment in a woman’s life when she decides she wants to have a baby? Does it mean that her career is over? Does it mean she has to choose between motherhood and a career? Outlooks towards this issue vary. Some people would assert that a woman does have to choose between the career and the family and decide what is more important for her. Others would debate that it’s perfectly okay to combine having a great career and having a child and it wouldn’t impact her job in any way I believe woman can easily combine career and motherhood. But to do that there is a need of huge support system, access to high-quality day-care and flexible work schedules. It can be done but I think that you have to be very planned, and more importantly, you have to be at ease with the emotion of guilt. Guilt that you’re not concentrating sufficiently on your career, guilt that you’re not a super mom, and guilt that you’re not a good enough companion to your partner. This is perhaps why so many children are pampered these days, they are given toys, iPads, iPhones and other instant gratification presents because their parents feel remorseful for not being able to devote time with them. Either we feel contented with guilt or better, we learn how to compartmentalize things. If people would not judge and raise eyebrows when you said you are working and have a year old baby, life would be less stressful. In the end, it is not about how much you can juggle and at what cost, but also about how empowered you are to make a free choice without being weighed by a fixed yardstick.

First & foremost I must applaud the SPPJIMR for the significant step that has been taken with the Post Graduate Management Programme for Women (MPW). The article very nicely illustrates the glitches a women faces in social & corporate life. Although Men takes charge & women takes care of family, when time comes women prove their role apart from their family role as mother, wife, sister, and daughter. They have better flexibility in playing role reversal by self-evaluation. But as rightly pointed here there are more no. of women who opt for career breaks for other priorities like child care, family support etc. If we see the toppers in 10th & 12th grade they are all girls. But if we see the no. of women graduated vis-à-vis the women entering in the corporate world you will notice the decline; which is very much thwarted. In spite of more opportunities women have to sacrifice their career for family priorities like child care, family support etc. Here I am mentioning my friend’s case (coincidently her name is also Anjali); we were graduated from same college of Engineering. Through campus she has got job at Ahmednagar. She worked there for almost 5 years; but due to marriage she had to leave her job & had to come to Pune at her in-law’s place. After taking break of 1 year she joined my company in Pune but had to take another break for six months due to child birth. After joining back she again took a sabbatical leave of 6 months & resumed the office but could not mange the work life balance & she left the job choosing to opt for unemployment. The company has given her many opportunities like flexi work policy, part time policy, one more change of sabbatical leave for 6 months …. But still she could not managed & left the job. I have also tried my best to refrain her from doing so but could not succeed. I have seen the pressure, the dilemma she was facing every day & while choosing the decision to opt out of employment … which was really very crucial… From this short story I just wanted to mention that as you rightly pointed it’s not a simple decision to opt out of employment when you have already got a sense of financial independence. But yes there are women who manage the work life balance very well. I can connect this with me as I can manage my work, my home, my kid, my family & PGEMP…only due to the strong support system of my Family & my colleagues at my office. In my life also I faced many challenges & many times I deiced to leave the career aside & just focus on my kid ; but it was my family who stood back on my side & supported me in all ups & downs. There is a paradigm shift in the corporate culture, having more no. of women workforce at higher position, having inclusive atmosphere for the women, by increase in the ratio of gender diversity. This shift I have witnessed in my company from in the span of 10 years. My company has come up with many policies which would help working women to aspire her career growth, Corporates are pledging for the parity & changing the male dominant work culture. Gender diversity is today’s business need. Corporates are trying to bring the gender equality at work place. But yet social equality is a long way to go. I have heard the concept of “Househusband” which is very much accepted in the Western culture. It will take lot of time for us to adapt it. The days will change when more & more women feel empowered & go out to seek better career prospects …. We would certainly say “Women & men coequally take charge & take care of the family”

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This constant tiff that an average educated & professionally capable woman has to face in her journey progressing in her career as well as personal life. India as a society has shifted from the traditional (read archaic) ways of treating a girl-child, by actually providing her the opportunities of education and growing as an individual professionally. We see many females wanting to pursue their aspirations and fight for their share of economic independence, which again has been a welcome thing in our society. All works fine for her, till she gets into the family-mode, the roles and responsibilities and everything associated with it. The new era woman has her life and aspirations set differently, but not in sync with the way the society or family expects her to behave given the setup that she has to operate out of. The expectations from a man, working to fend for him-self and the family, has by far remained the same. Not the case for women. Irrespective of the qualifications & capabilities she holds, she is still judged for not being able to give time to her husband, kids, and family. Even if they are lucky enough to have a supportive family & all the necessary helps to take care of her responsibilities, her day to day struggle dealing with the guilt seems is real. Now coming to the other part, professionally, all females at middle-level management have to face a severe resistance in climbing up the ladder. Ah, the Holy glass-ceiling! Female employees are judged on grounds of family commitments irrespective of the competencies displayed by her at work-front. Keeping females away from handling critical responsibilities and slow progress in career, is nothing new once she chooses to have a family of her own. At every stage of life it all boils down to the choices a female makes and the grit she shows to stand by it. It is important for her to keep the inner-calling in priority before making the choices, not caring about the judging glasses the society around or the grumpy boss at work puts on. She will always find herself atop a forever in-motion see-saw, balancing the both sides of her life constant: family & career. All that is important is to make a choice, to be someone that makes you happy and not be the person subdued under the immense pressure of expectations put on your worthy yet soft shoulders!

You can’t have your cake and eat it (too)..sums up the situation of each career oriented aspirational woman in today’s world when she is questioned by her friends, family, colleagues and spouse about how she plans to manage her career once married. As much as we all would like to believe that women are as good as men, this belief unfortunately stays only in textbooks and doesn’t translate into real life. Woman is believed to be the better sex by some parts of society, while some parts of the society, don’t let her touch the pickle! It’s an irony, that in a country like India, (also known as Bharatmata, in Hindi, strong pun intended) has treated woman as the inferior gender for many generations now. Not only are woman a subject to less educations, because parents think, eventually she must get married and take care of her husband and in-laws, but also because the husband that the woman marries believes that he alone has to be the “Karta” of the home and doesn’t want the woman to match his standards. In the entire scenario, the mental conditioning that any girl go through is ultimately the same… This million dollar question that each woman has to face regarding her career or her family, I also feel is at times a little over hyped, the moment all woman who believe that they are meant to be a part of the corporate culture / are meant to do any work except house work stand up for what is right, no one will have the power to stop them…Eventually… as rightly said by Krittika in the reply above, to be or not to be is a question that one needs to answer for himself and can’t be answered by someone else…

I would like to take this opportunity to thank SPJIMR for initiating a program like Post Graduate Management Program for Women (MPW). I was deeply touched when I came across the fact that such program has begun in SPJIMR and I am equally overwhelmed after reading the article. I really appreciate the way you have put this situation of women having to choose between career and family in words. While growing up, I always saw my sisters, aunt and other such women around me battling with these phenomena. At every step they would hear from the society that how they are neglecting their family and in particular their children by choosing to pursue their career after marriage. And at last only few won the battle against the society and continued their career whereas most of the women succumbed to the societal pressure as well as their own conscience. But as you mentioned in your blog, there has been some change in mindset of people, at least the urban middle class, fuelled by changing demographic as well as economic need of the society. Women today have become more rational in terms of separating their duties as wives or mothers and as an aspirational female. At the same time men in the society have also begun to challenge the patriarchal view of the society that women should be the home maker and men the breadwinner. But alas such men are still few. The fact that disturbs me most is that we are supposed to choose can’t we have both? It is true that the society has functioned for years based on this distribution of responsibilities between men and women but the rising sense of independence among women challenges it. Also our economic aspirations support the point that we need both men and women working together for society. So why not look at this dilemma from the point of benefit for society instead of just individual preferences? Probably that will answer this dilemma.

I grew up with two important woman personalities in my life. One is my mom and other is my grandma. They relationship is much more than just a mother and daughter. As you said I have seen both types i.e., the one Housewife and working woman. My grandma is a housewife and my mother is working. She is a nurse. If we talk about choices, I feel that many times the choices we make are based upon the influence we have. My grandma with whom I used to spend sixteen hours of the day, which is three times the time, I could spend with my mother. My grandma who chose to keep herself engaged in a kitchen and stood by my mother in every important decision. As mom was working she had to choose work over family many times. Mom cooks delicious food but it is given lower priority on her to do list. However, she happily prepares special dishes for us on weekends. Being a girl when my batch mates in school started cooking I didn’t even know how to make tea or for that sake let’s say, Maggi. It is not that I didn’t like cooking or never wanted to try hands on it. But, I never got an opportunity to actually do it. My mother was always a strong headed in this matter and she always had point that no matter how unlikely it feels now but when you need to cook it automatically happens with a little help from others in initial days be it a boy or girl. Today, when I am preparing to fly to Europe for my education till date I haven’t cooked anything without grandma’s help. But, I am confident that I will be through this once it comes to me automatically. And look forward to seeing myself as a good cook.

Dear Madam Sumita, thank you very much for your article, which I think, is true on major points. As a French young woman I could also identify my own country in your article, in fact I have to admit that women dilemma over career vs family is a worldwide problem but has different intensities depending on the country addressed. First, I completely agree about the fact that women are torn between both sides of their life: career and family, and that it is because of the current people mind-set (whatever their gender) who have catalogued women as the responsible pillar for the family, which makes them less free in their choices of life. The problem is that this mind-set is well too anchored as it lasts for centuries in every part of the world. Pierre Bourdieu in his book “La domination masculine” (1998) draw a dark portrait of the several reasons that could have led to such gender inequalities and sexism in our countries, some of them could be explained by history and its continuation as we reproduce what we know from our ancestors, and also it could be due to the physical differences between both genders. Some simple ways of understanding more an issue by stepping back from your own thinking is by putting it in another way, for example: Men facing fatherhood inaccessibility rather than Women dilemma: career or family. If we were to define fatherhood the way we define motherhood, this could re-balance genders roles in the family and then outside home. What I think is that we cannot change the past and I do not know if we have to find a reason for genders inequalities and women dilemma. But what I am sure of is that the situation cannot change if we do not call into question our own current mind-set. And this is, first of all, an individual work with yourself and your relatives to make them change their way of seeing women in society, at home as at work. Of course governments have the responsibility to address the problem and encourage gender equality thanks to education, subsidies to single mothers (as women are still paid less than men for the same responsibilities), and other measures. But I am not sure on your following point: “Only when simultaneous efforts are taken will they build on each other to create deep shifts in societal mind-sets for developing more inclusive organisations and equitable societies.” I think that each effort is valuable and can make a deep change in someone’s mind-set, which could lead (thanks to time, education and perseverance) to societal shifts. In fact if everybody feel responsible for his/hers relatives and specifically the youngest about gender inequalities, one-person act can lead to teach a generation. To put an end I would say that as for ecology and communication, we should not underestimate the butterfly effect. And as the Women dilemma – career/family - is real and involve not only women but also men and children of their lives, the flapping wings can be many.

Ms. Sumita Datta writes an insightful piece on an issue that is very core to society today. I believe that one of the most important phrases is “woman often shifts her behaviour to play out the role that gives more favourable self evaluation.” I believe that women often live out their lives pigeon-holed into boxes that they are pushed into by society and occasionally climb into them themselves for the safety they offer. There are the women of glamour, the ones whose reputations will always be suspect. And there are the women of the home, subject to the whims and fancies of their families. Their claims to individuality are limited because every word and action is observed and may push them into a box they have no desire to be in. If a woman says she enjoys the occasional drink, she becomes the woman no good man wants to marry. If she says she wants to stay home and look after her children she gets seen as a traitor to those who fight hard in the workplace for the rights she gives up with ease. Given these circumstances, the temptation to curate ones’ words and actions, and maybe even thoughts, to fit into a box of your own choosing, is strong. Of course, there are people that recognise individuality, but overwhelmingly, society judges. Which brings us to the more specific dilemma that inspires deep thought in Ms. Datta and many women all over the world. Can women have it all? I’d like to rephrase that to ‘Should women have to do it all?’ In my opinion, men must begin to take on a higher share of the burden. Both partners should be involved equally in matters of home and work. Many women work as hard as their male colleagues at the office only to have to go home and handle all the household chores and child care. It seems impossible for these women to meet the expectations set for them, let alone get the praise they so richly deserve for doing all that they do. I would like to build on Ms. Datta’s call for action. Until a more equitable world order is established, and I believe that it will be, workplaces must not be allowed to punish women by making hard choices even harder. Families must learn that emotional pressure, heightened expectations and a propagation of gender roles are damaging to the women they love and often take for granted. The media must learn to let women be real characters and have lives that don’t revolve around men. Things will not change on their own. The people who believe gender equality in all domains to be important must push for these changes. I believe that such change will occur when men begin to shoulder responsibilities at home and when society as a whole learns to recognise women as people and not as stereotypes. It pleases me to say things are beginning to change for the better and I hope this change continues.

Thank you Sumita ma’am for writing on a topic as crucial as this. This issue is extremely close to my heart as is to most women nowadays. The choice that a woman has to make between her career and family has always been there. However, it has only recently gained prominence and is being questioned. Earlier it was a norm that was just assumed. The question of choice didn’t arise. We’ve come to the point where the word choice is being associated with this scenario. It seems like we have progressed. It is the twenty-first century. The woman is now choosing to be with her family by putting her career on hold, not being forced to. She can always get back to it after. Her mother did that and her mother before that. But after what? When does it become acceptable for the woman to put her career first before everything else? What is the ideal time? All these questions have been asked multiple times, the answers to which still remain unknown. The choices which women have today are very limited. Gender inequalities are increasing and the clear distinction between the way a woman and a man is treated is becoming more and more visible. It exists everywhere: from the workplace to the household. The sad part is this inequality is more prevalent among the educated section of our society. The lower income families have to rely on the woman working because they cannot sustain themselves only on the man’s income. They do not have the luxury of getting child care support from outside but that does not stop them from going outside and working because it is a necessity. This necessity, sadly, is not there among the high income families. And thus, the age old mentality of a woman managing the household while the man goes to work continues. The need for financial independence exists and is growing exponentially, given the state of affairs today. That is prompting women to take charge and push out all affronts to voice their opinions. However, the burden of the choice still remains and so does my question: Why does it have to be one or another? Why is it that there is a rule book only for women and not their male counterparts? Haven’t we moved on from our blocked conservative mentalities yet? The answer, unfortunately for me, is still no. All the age old traditions and norms have such a stranglehold in today’s society that getting out of the strong roots that entangle them is in itself a huge task. But we are trying to seek the light, slowly and stealthily. It’s a long way to the top, but I believe we can reach there someday. Hopefully we can manage to overcome the prejudices that have long since defined the do’s and don’ts for society, in general and women, in particular. Only a collective effort from all of us will help us achieve that goal and I would like to believe that is the common goal of all.

Thank you, Sumita Ma’am, for such a wonderful article. In the previous centuries women were not allowed to pursue higher education and their main job was to stay at home, cook and look after their children. The article shows how even in this 21st century, things have not changed much. And the sad reality is that the whole society is at fault, where people expect a woman to be a mother, daughter, sister, wife but not an independent working woman. This is the reason why there is a deficit of women leaders not just in India, but in the whole world. My mother was a teacher before she got married, but after marriage she decided to quit working. When I was 6 years old, she again started teaching. One day she came late because of some work, so, I had to wait outside the house for 1 hour. When she came back I saw the guilt on her face because I didn’t get food at the right time. She decided to quit her job the next day itself and was a homemaker till I graduated. I never understood why she did that and I still don’t. Maybe one day when I’ll be a mother I’ll understand. I wish I had encouraged her at that time but now I do, so she joined a school again and started teaching which she always loved doing. Since my childhood, she always pushed me to study. She never wanted me to be a doctor or an engineer, she just wanted me to be independent. I still vividly remember the first day of my job, when she told me that it was one of the happiest moments of her life, because she made sure that I don’t end up being like her. The question of whether women should choose family or career has become more prevalent as women have started seeking higher roles. But I believe that they don’t have to choose. When I was working in Accenture, during the eve of Women’s Day, our DU Lead shared with us some of her experiences and insights about the struggles a woman has to go through to maintain her position in a leadership role. She said that, in a woman’s life there’ll be some phases (marriage, child birth, vital exams of children) where it’ll be difficult to balance both family and career and most women will be tempted to leave the career and focus on the family. But she advised us not to give into such temptations, saying “After you've invested so many years in a career, it’s not worth it to take a large break because after you come back to resume from where you left off, you’ll realise that you’re lagging far behind whereas everyone else have moved unfathomable distances.” She further mentioned that she was able to continue without taking any major breaks because she had the support of 3 ‘M’s: Mother, Mother-in-Law and Maid. Hence, there is a need for a strong support system which can be family, husband, friends, colleagues, etc. so that women can take care of their families as they’re expected to do but not at the cost of their careers. Their families should be their strength not their weakness. I’m proud to be a part of the institute which provides that support to women leaders in the form PGMPW program.

Thank you Ma’am for highlighting the challenges faced by women in our society. Every woman comes across a juncture in her life where she has to choose between work and family and that is the point when she feels trapped and burdened. That is when the family support is most needed, for her to strike a balance between personal and professional life. Very often or not woman is labelled as a homemaker, a mother, a wife, taking care of household chores, looking after her child rearing and this is very much expected of a woman in a patriarchal society. Woman today face the dilemma when she stands at the crossroads to choose one path, being a mother or being a professional but the truth is she wants both. And this can be made possible when she gets proper backing and support from her family, when both the father and the mother nurture the child together. Many organisations today have come up with incentives of giving paternity break to fathers as well. Looking at the brighter side of it, role reversals can be seen off late with men taking charge of the home and in a way leaving room for the women to perform efficiently both at work and at home. Relating it to my personal life, I really admire my mother for executing all her responsibilities both at home and at work with equal panache. Never did she compromise one to give priority to the other but handled both effectively. Gone are the days when men were perceived as the bread earners of the family and women were the whole sole home makers. Now both are treated as equal but there is still a void which needs to be filled in terms of gender diversity in organisations. The biggest setback is seen when a woman decides to take a break from career owing to her motherhood and the difficulty she faces to resume back office. Many organisations consider them less credible after the sabbatical and the bias they have of decreased efficiency. This is detrimental to the growth of the society and this mind set needs to change. I would like to end with a very powerful quote,”Some days she has no idea how she’ll do it. But every single day, it still gets done.”

"We need women at all levels, including the top, to change the dynamic, reshape the conversation, to make sure women's voices are heard and heeded, not overlooked and ignored." —Sheryl Sandberg Dear Ma’m, thank you for writing such a though provoking blog. This article brings forth a very important point of how a woman has, all throughout her life, been told of only her familial responsibilities. A change towards more women taking up managerial positions will occur when a change occurs at this root level. “Girls allowed to dream grow up be women with vision”. In order to bring about a change, it must start early on from childhood. We often hear young boys being told “Do not cry like a girl”. The problem lies here. Although this seems to be a passing comment, it creates perceptions that the child carries throughout his life. It also leads to self acceptance for a girl that she is inherently the weaker among the two. Such small instances put her down and suppresses her to try new ventures. As you have rightly mentioned, if a woman faces a situation that demands a choice between family and career, she is more likely to choose the former. Here, I wish to bring a perspective of how this also could give the scope for a woman to cite reasons for non-performance. Looking from contrary side, citing the reason as ‘family emergency’ allows her to take an easy route of escape, for she knows that one cannot question her on this aspect. A lady must hence be mindful of not using this to her advantage. It is important to note that we, as a society, are moving towards a more liberal mindset and are becoming more inclusive of women at workplaces. A recent declaration by the government, of extending the maternity leave to 6 months, is a welcome move towards bringing a more conducive working lifestyle. But this comes at the cost of missing out on day to day development in the workplace. On returning to the workplace, the mother has to cope up with the ever changing technology and has to yet again prove herself. Empowering her to face these challenges is essential. A transformation in this context has to occur on a larger scale at the societal level. This blog has kindled the strong woman in me and has motivated me to reach out to my aspirations without fear. I am extremely proud of the initiative taken by SPJIMR to take a step towards bringing about this change, which will empower not only the women participants, but her families and hence generations to come.

Thank you Ma’am for sharing your views on one of the biggest issues that plagues our society. I have a younger sister and to imagine that she might have to go through this makes me sad. Gender inequality still exists in this modern era although we have come a long way from times when women were only supposed to be of service to their husbands. In modern India, women have had held offices of President, Prime Minister, CEOs, entrepreneurs and many more leading towards a better tomorrow. First we need to understand the root cause of this dilemma. I think the basic mindset of an Indian family is that a woman may work but not at the cost of her familial responsibilities, she must perform her duties as a bahu efficiently before thinking about working outside house. In some cases it is a trust issue, her profession and colleagues need to be approved by family members. Maybe for some, their husbands don’t help them out in household chores and they end up burning themselves out. And then there is the point of taking good care of their children, which they think is not possible while working. Instead of supporting/counseling them we end up adding to that pressure and force them to choose. According to me change should start from our home. Most of us are of the view that relentless effort of balancing between job and family would cause severe stress and depression for working women. But according to many researches and studies, working mothers are less stressed out and anxious than stay at home mothers. It is important for a woman to be self-assured and confident to attain that peace of mind. We think that it is only the women’s responsibility to take care of household chores and don’t teach our son to share that responsibility. A mother is expected to raise her children on her own without asking for help from other family members. This thinking should change, these expectations should change. There are people who believe that a working mother would compromise on her child’s upbringing that is why they prefer a stay at home wife. They should understand that working mothers serve as a role model. When children notice their mothers managing everything from office to their homework they get inspired by them. According to a study conducted by Harvard Business School, women whose mothers worked outside the house are more likely to have jobs themselves, are more likely to hold supervisory responsibilities and earn higher than women whose mothers stayed home full time. In the long run we have to change the way we raise our children, we should teach them to share responsibilities and not make it a duty of one person. To do so we have to lead by example because children learn what they see. In the short run it would be advisable to discuss this matter with to be in-laws and to be life partners before tying the knot. Programs like Post Graduate Management Programme for Woman (MPW) would certainly make a lot of difference and I take this opportunity to congratulate SPJIMR for this initiative. I hope that every woman would after marriage get their family’s support and not feel any additional pressure while taking this decision.

It is a nice article incorporating miniscule aspects of women’s changing roles in society and the challenges faced by a woman in this transition. The society is slowly accepting women workforce in its cultural norms. However, as rightly pointed out in the blog many times a woman has to face trade-offs between its career and family responsibilities. But what is the reason for this dilemma? The reasons may be deep and complex, many of them mentioned in article, from complying to a core self -identity to challenges imposed by social institutions. But it would be unjustified to rest the case upon the time and wait for evolution in society thinking. The change has to begin from a woman herself. Woman want it so she has to get it. Societal norms guides women’s actions and when a woman complies to it, willingly or unwillingly, she is responsible for forming this norm. It is a cyclic affair. Someone has to break the loop to bring a change then. In my experience, woman herself plays a major role in forming her core identity. In our society, she can either choose to manage a plethora of roles at work and house or sacrifice on her interests in career. It is time she should challenge the status quo. Who will take care of household chores if she is equally tired from her job, who will help with of the children’s academic performance, where should a family shift if she gets a better job opportunity in other location? These routine issues need to be raised and discussed in the family rather than just assuming as a part of her moral duties. The same applies for workplace. Not only in India but all over the world, the representation of women in top leadership positions is very less. This is in contrast to statistics which show that proportion of women performing better in educational institutes is more than men. This is especially strange when women constitute about equal proportion in entry level employees but the proportion reduces drastically at the top of corporate ladder. Apart from ineffective gender inclusion practices of the workplace, there is another story to it. When terms of job are being decided, it is less likely for a woman to negotiate the terms than a man. This is partly due to assumption that such negotiation will not be fruitful and it is better to avoid it. She loses her assertiveness in this way at her workplace. The larger and sustainable solution lies in women relooking at her core identity not just through eyes of the society but through her own. If they really want to bring a change, they have to raise their voice. A single act of courage and determination can be an example for many. The practice of “Triple Talaq” was legally banned when few women took the courage to protest against the injustice done to them. At the same time, the society also has to appreciate the changing roles of women and support her. Businesses need to put in practice their policies of gender inclusion more effectively. The key to enhanced growth of a society is diversity in all forms of institutions from families to corporates and businesses.

This is a wonderful article that exhorts the reader to get thinking. It is evident knowledge that a woman in today’s world is torn between balancing her family life and her professional life. With a number of women leaders coming into the limelight to take centre-stage in all professions from business to politics, the society is but forced to take note of the ascent of the ambitious woman. She is evolving herself to command respect at all echelons in society, at par with the men. However, this poses a dangerous dilemma to her mind- to make a trade-off between her familial responsibilities and her professional aspirations. Many a times, she ends up choosing the former over the latter because the society is unable to envisage her as not being the woman of the house but as the next-in-line for the post of CEO. If she is bold enough to brave the shackles of being bowed down by societal pressure and break free, she is perceived as an overly ambitious and nonchalant woman. The question we must ask ourselves is as a society is, “Does the woman need to choose? Can’t she have the best of both worlds?”. My own mom had to forego her career as a teacher because of my advent into this world, being her second child. As Sumita ma’am rightly points out, this career-break proved to be the breaker of her career. However, at the day’s end, we end up shaking our heads in disdain saying, “Aah, such a pity! Maybe it was her fate!”. Do we leave her to her so-called ‘fate’? Is that the best we can do? As the men of the society, the onus is on us to be the change we wish to see in the world. The subtlest of initiatives can bring about a major change at the macro level. We must make her realise that she need not choose, that she indeed can have the best of the two worlds. That we as husbands, as fathers, as brothers and as sons will do everything it takes to support her in her endeavours. I grew up seeing my dad taking up an equitable share of the household chores, only to realise that it is not beyond the capacity of us men to lend a hand & be there for the women in our lives through their tough times. All that is needed is an open mind to realise that the woman’s dreams are in no way at loggerheads with the institution of the family. That her aspirations are as much in view of the welfare of the family as our ambitions are. Let us not sit back and hypocritically blame the society for its shortcomings, letting time take its course to transform people’s perceptions. Our women have endured these shackles for far too long; its high time that we stand up and take the initiative to move towards the vision of building an equitable society. Together, let’s make the world a better place to live.

Ma'am, you have talked about one of the major problems our so-called 'modern' society is facing today: a society where education for women is as important as that of men, where a child has not just one but two working parents, where CEO, MD and other coveted positions are no longer out of a woman’s reach. Choosing between work and family is the biggest challenge a woman faces at some point in her career. But then, can we really call it a choice? Society talks about empowering women but that same society won’t think twice before shaming her if her success comes at the cost of spending extra hours at work than at home. Society talks about gender equality but somehow most positions at higher management level are taken up by men. The concept of ‘feminism’ itself is a proof of the huge barrier that exists in between the two genders. A woman making her own choices, opting for an unconventional career path, setting up her own priorities is made a big deal of and given a separate term all together-‘a feminist’ while a man doing the exact same things is considered to be a perfectly normal phenomenon. According to me the word feminism stands for “equality”; that is all that we are asking for. We will take a day off from office to look after our child but then when we have our board meeting why should we not expect the same from you? We will work 12 hours a day and return home only to do more house work. So are we really mistaken in expecting you to take charge of some of the chores after having worked for the same number of hours as that of you? No, I have not given up hope yet. I don’t feel equality for women in true sense is a vague aspect, only possible in theory but not otherwise. I believe in it when I see my parents cleaning the kitchen together post dinner, or when my mother has to attend a conference abroad and she gets all the support from my father and everyone else in the family. I see it every now and then in my day-to-day life through small, insignificant things. It all starts from home after all; they say,” Treat you wife the way you want your father to treat your mother”. What a woman needs is not freedom from compromises, trade-offs are an integral part our lives, but the freedom to have her own preferences, her priorities and to make real choices. She wants the assurance that when she takes that big plunge she has all the support from the people she considers her own. Support is all that she is asking for, nothing more.

Ms. Sumita Datta critiques a prevalent issue in our society through a well-articulated article, bringing alive multiple perspectives which ought to be addressed. Equity among men and women in the professional arena has been a long sought aspiration of our society. Panel discussions across geographies have dissected the issue, graduate schools have active clubs pursuing the same and active campaigns have been in full swing across industries professing more women in the workforce. Participants in all of these initiatives unanimously seek to support women participation in the industry. Then, why do we still need to discuss scenarios where women are pushed in the corner to choose between career and ‘social identity’? The answer to the issue lies in the statement itself. The fact that social identity is seen as a separate identity than career success depicts the deep-rooted prejudice in the Indian Society. As Ms. Datta has aptly pointed out, men are supposed to take charge while women are supposed to just take care of the family, is a belief deeply ingrained in the Indian society. Even if a woman decides to or rather ‘is allowed’ to work outside the house in most cases, it is mostly just for the want of monetary independence showcasing that the rightful authority to work still lies with the man in the house. For the progressive part of society which views careers of men and women equally, the career hindrance comes in the form of child birth since companies are often said to see returning women as less credible, therefore making a number of women stay back home after giving birth. However, the credibility of that claim itself needs to be questioned as I have observed several women doing great at work upon their return not just in the family but at the two organizations I have worked with. Thus it is likely that when the efficiency of a returning woman is judged, it is the people in the organizations whose prejudices come to the fore rather than any real logic in the claim. With this background, does it seem plausible that development calls for actions such as policy level changes, corporate practices and media could bring about significant equity among men and women? While the answer is unknown and there would always be some more policies or practices one may seek to implement and hope for change, it is unlikely that a cultural shift will be brought about in the near future. There has to be an uprising which brings this issue to the fore and appeals to the masses, a revolution which brings men and women at the same pedestal. Not just in terms of careers but through a deeper realization within, since for me getting more women to participate is not just economically imperative but a question of living sans prejudices and perceiving people, not their genders. In a nutshell, the social identities of women need to transform more than anything else. We will only see light at the end of the tunnel when discussions in the society would not need to segregate men and women to present a case in point and careers and social identity will go hand in hand for both men and women.

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