We know this love letter is two days overdue, but between deadlines at the office, the kids being sick and the in-laws, cousins, visitors in and out of the house, there just hasn’t been a good time to get too warm, fuzzy or sentimental. So here it is, a belated yet very public message from us working women of India: Happy Valentine’s Day. We love you… most of the time.
Yes, yes, we know Indians were not used to celebrating this strange holiday, but its sudden ubiquity (save the Shiv Sena) mirrors our own gains in the workforce. According to a study by ICICI Bank, women now make up 26% of the services sector. Yet, that same study found just 3% of management positions in the private sector filled by females. In the public sector, the number of women in senior positions inches up to less than 6%.
If you ask female managers—from emblematic Pepsico Inc. chief Indra Nooyi to lower-rung folks like yours truly—we’ll tell you it’s been hard, very hard to balance everything. That some days we wonder if we’re doing justice to any of the many pieces we juggle, from the children who hug our legs and beg us not to leave, to the direct reports who also count on us for guidance and mentoring, to the extended families whose birthday and anniversary parties we rush to make, to you—the men with whom we circled a fire to begin the ultimate journey. Somewhere, in the midst of it all, we know we’re supposed to make time for ourselves but—like we so often do—let’s put that aside now. After all, it is, er, was, Valentine’s Day.
“Always pick the right husband,” Nooyi advises when asked how she manages family and work and all the commitments in between.
These days, businesswomen at the top tend to say they couldn’t have gotten where they are without their husbands. To admit as much might not fit the fierce versions of feminism some of us grew up with, but that, too, is evolving.
For “marrying well” among young women today has come to mean something that has little to do with men’s bank-account balance. It, however, has everything to do with the support we can expect from our life partners.
And so we type this letter (in between meetings, of course) to you as a way of acknowledging you husbands out there who have made our climbs up the ladder possible. You should know who you are because you are likely the ones who either dropped off or picked up the children from school today, paid the electricity and mobile bills, and bought the gift for our great-aunt’s 83rd birthday party this weekend (although we called and reminded you every step of the way). Unlike those who lived a 14 February filled with flowers and perfume, we were grateful to come home to find you reading to the children and the clothes washed and ironed; we kissed you all goodnight and turned on the laptop.
Often, you play the supportive role while dealing with your own job and acknowledging that sometimes your wives’ worth has to be proven a bit harder in the workplace. The deference to our schedules has been implicit, as is the sense that a family’s ride might not be as smooth with two people in the driver’s seat.
These changing times mean new roles for Indian men and women. Pritam Singh, the former director of the Management Development Institute in Gurgaon, frames the shift this way: “Indian men are not psychologically prepared to accept women as real co-working partners. In their mind, if women are working, they should still play the role of a housewife.”
We were lucky to have married the exceptions. But surely if a country can adopt Valentine’s Day as its own, its men can learn the new ways to the modern Indian woman’s heart.
The working women of India
PS: We might be late tonight so if you get home first, can you make sure the kids get to their Hindi tutor on time?
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