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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.

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