I’ve always disliked stereotypes of all sorts. However, growing up in a middle class Indian family, did not always give me an opportunity to break free from all of them. Some I’ve followed, while doing away with the rest. But deep inside, I hardly believed in any of the stereotypical norms of the society. Which brings me to an important question: why do we believe in stereotypes, of any sort? Or, to be more specific to our topic, why do we believe in gender stereotypes? I’ve discussed it at length with peers, family members, friends and a few acquaintances. The answer seems to be quite simple. There’s always one final thing which lets someone believe in a stereotype: Statistics. So when we say men don’t cry and women are emotional by nature, we are basically referring to statistics. I find it hard to accept random remarks like “women are so lucky, they are not the primary bread winners”. But, when I try to convince the debating opponent, what I lack is a solid foundation of data to bank upon. For example, why is it so difficult to find industries led by women? Let’s explore the case of India
Taking a Cue from Politics and Finance
So, the first step towards a gender neutral society, with equal rights for all genders, lies in changing the numbers. An interesting case study for women empowerment can be Indian politics. Politics in India is infamous for several scams, corruptions and scandals. However, Indian politics has done a wonderful job, so far as promoting women leaders is concerned. Mayawati, Sushma Swaraj, Jayalalitha, Mamata, or the epitome of power, our ex-Prime Minister, Ms Indira Gandhi, India has had its share of strong female leaders. And as a result, while we struggle to name an Indian woman scientist, or the captain of the Women’s cricket team, it is quite an easy job to think of a female politician, with a successful career.
Same goes for the Banking and Finance sector. In recent times, India has seen an ecstatic surge of female leaders, like Arundhati Bhattacharya (SBI), Shikha Sharma (Axis Bank), Shanti Ekambaram (Kotak Mahindra), Usha Ananthsubramaniam (PNB), Chanda Kochhar (ICICI), Naina Lal Kidwai (HSBC India), Kaku Nakhate (Bank of America Meryll Lynch), Kalpana Morparia (JP Morgan India) among many others, in this industry. In fact, India’s women led banks control 40% of the assets in the country.
De-crypting the Success of the Two Industries
So, what have these industries done right by women? Why does their statistics stand out, among dwindling numbers in other industries?
In the field of Politics, women did not fight sexism at all. In fact, the women who have succeeded there, have used the patriarchal construct to their advantage. They have played up the ‘caring’ stereotype, and propagated their brands as ‘mothers’, ‘daughters’, ‘sisters’, or ‘ascetics’. It is usually this brand, that has helped them earn the epithet of ‘protector of people’. Also, when scouting for the votes of close to 50% of the emotional Indian population, politics found it against its interest to keep women at bay. So, while women are historically more successful in Indian politics than even some Western parts of the world, they are living a caricatured life, playing a part, that conforms to the patriarchy entrenched in the political circles.
The story in the Finance sector is slightly different. In the 1970s, when the women of the household in India, started stepping out for work, their families were looking for relatively ‘safe’ spaces, that demanded ‘reasonable’ hours. Back in the day, a banking job was a ‘9-5’ engagement, allowing women to persist, despite their domestic responsibilities. Indian women also leaned heavily on the ‘joint-family’ construct at the time. This allowed the working women the support of the extended family, in raising their children. The success of women in the finance sector is a story of tenacity, the median stint of women CEOs being 23 years in the same company! Clearly, the banking sector was promoting work-life balance for its women employees, even before it became fashionable, or gender-neutral parenting became acceptable in the Indian society.
Replicating the Success
Maybe, it is time to learn something from Indian politics and banking. While their approaches might be very different, both have shown that women have the intelligence, calm, and emotional quotient to navigate waters as turbulent as in the two above-mentioned industries. They have also gone to show that, given the right enablers, women can lead any population, effectively. This should help break a few stereotypes.
Let’s acknowledge their success stories, and learn from them. A key idea is to help a woman persist at the time when she struggles the most, the proliferation of family. If industries and the society are able to create an environment, where a woman doesn’t feel that her family’s care is being compromised, she can dog on to a great career. Women need to keep leading by example, the society needs to keep making space for gender-neutral domestic roles, and the industries need to empathize with the pressures of gender-roles, until they vanish with evolution. Then sit back, and watch women march to the glory they deserve.
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