friend was telling me she'd just been offered a great job at a significantly
higher salary and everything was perfect about it. I was thrilled-
and asked when she was joining. "Oh," she said, "I
don't think it'll work out." I was dumbfounded. "You see,
it might require me to work late-and I have to be home by 6.30.
Have a teenage daughter, you see," she added.
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. So tell
me, I asked her, isn't the salary higher by at least Rs 2,000? Of
course, she said. So why can't you use that to pay for a live-in
who can be around your daughter if you're an hour or two late? Well,
that's not the point, I was told-my husband works late too, and
I think my daughter needs me. My question on why her husband couldn't
come back early to look after the girl was met with a "you
I don't understand, all right. All I understand
is that another promising career is being sacrificed on the altar
of "being an Indian woman". I was thinking on similar
lines when speaking to a mixed college audience the other day.
The guys seemed intent on getting high-paying
jobs-and the girls-well, I don't mean to sound sexist, but I'm not
sure they seemed to be interested in very much. I was taken aback
when a few of the young ladies told me: our parents will marry us
off to somebody rich anyway-so all this career and entrepreneur
stuff doesn't matter.
So have we sunk down to this as a society now?
Earlier, the chauvinists in us kept women down by force-and now
are we programming the very initiative and drive out of them? Where
are the budding Shahnaz Hussains, the Kiran Bedis, the Ravina Raj
In China, I could see that one big difference
between their industry and ours was that there was no social stigma
attached to women working. Quite the opposite-your worth was judged
by what you made of yourself.
Even in my travels today I come across Chinese
ladies pulling off incredible careers. In one case, a pharma sales
manager handles all of East Africa while based with her kids and
husband in Xi'an, Central China; in another, a 20-something girl
runs a mid-sized travel agency in Hong Kong with her hubby and daughters
on the mainland. Their spouses, parents and in-laws help look after
the kids when they're away.
Ironically, it seems easier for Indian women
to become entrepreneurs. There isn't that pressure to get into safe
careers or support families. And unlike the West, and like China,
we too have parents and in-laws willing to be support systems for
the kids. There is every safety net and security that can allow
you to take a risk.
Among the hundreds of business plans that have
come in over the last few months, barely a handful are from women.
Is it because all these safety nets and low expectations actually
keep you lazy-and not fired up to do anything? If so, I can't think
of a more terrible waste.
I smile at the pm's notion that our economy
should grow at 8 per cent. We'll probably have to grow at twice
that rate, because our women are not expected to contribute very
much. I know I'll get militaristic mail from people who'll tell
me that raising kids and doing the housework has economic value.
I've heard that argument before, but I'm still reluctant to accept
that the only gross domestic product one can expect from educated,
intelligent women are mollycoddled babies.
One partially workable answer is in the expectations
we instill in our daughters and sisters. Why should we expect any
less from them at work or in business? What is the bloody hurry
to get married and have babies anyway? And even if you've gotten
married and produced the requisite kids, what keeps you at home?
And even if you, for some inexplicable reason, have to be stuck
at home, what stops you from participating in the global economy
from your computer and telephone?
Somewhere in this tangle of perceptions is
the key that can unlock half our population. Here's hoping more
of us find it soon.
Mahesh Murthy, consultant and investor,
heads Passionfund. He ran Channel [V] and earlier helped launch
Yahoo! and Amazon at a Silicon Valley interactive marketing firm.
Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.