Prosperous Women Who Have It All

Written by Raakhee Suryaprakash

After watching the recent Emmy Awards and Sofia Vergara’s riotous double act with the president of the Academy of Television who tongue-in-cheek said, "We never forget that our success is based on always giving the viewer what they want” pointing to Vergara on a spinning pedestal, I was tickled to read the Modern Family star was the highest paid according to the Forbes list  and in 2013-2014 made $37 million (that’s 11 million more than the highest paid male star - Ashton Kutcher from Two-and-a-Half Men). Perhaps there is some truth in the article “economic inequality more gender neutral” although the statistics supporting the so-called gender neutrality is hilariously skewed.

From 1981 to 1985, women averaged about 2 per cent of the top 0.1 per cent; now, they’re about 11 per cent. Among the second 0.9 per cent of earners, women have gone from 3 per cent in the early 1980s to 17 per cent now.
During the Indian Prime Minister’s visit to New York the pictures of Pepsico CEO Indira Nooyi and Ginni Rometty, president and CEO of IBM among the 11 top American CEOs broke fast with made me mistakenly believe that maybe the gender gap was getting better in the highest echelons of industry, if not in the political sphere. The presence of Sushma Swaraj the Indian Minister for External Affairs and Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh made it seem that maybe the hype over women not being able to have it all was just a big brouhaha.
Then came the lows:

Microsoft’s Indian-origin CEO Satya Nadella’s big blooper asking women in tech not to ask for pay raises but rely on “karma” followed by the HR policy announced by Facebook and Apple to fund the freezing of eggs to help their women employees focus on their career rather than succumbing to the ticking biological clock brought the issue of Glass Ceilings, Pay Gaps, and Gender Gaps right back into focus for me.

The IT & ITes industry is one of the largest sectors in my home state of Tamil Nadu attracting 140,000 women professionals – that’s 40 percent of the workforce, according to NASSCOM regional data. Yet according to the job portal Monster.com’s Salary Index India IT Sector Report 2014 women are paid up to 20 percent less than men. And according to regional HR consultants, “about 50 percent of women in the workforce leave for family reasons and only about half come back.”
So perhaps Indira Nooyi’s candid words were spot on:
“the biological clock and the career clock are in total conflict with each other. Total, complete conflict. When you have to have kids you have to build your career. Just as you're rising to middle management your kids need you because they're teenagers, they need you for the teenage years. … And that's the time your husband becomes a teenager too, so he needs you (laughing). … What do you do? And as you grow even more, your parents need you because they're aging. So we're screwed ... we cannot have it all.”
Nooyi recommends training people at work, training your family and co-opting their help and planning meticulously in order to achieve what she calls “seamless parenting” (that interview is worth watching!). But it’s the essay by Anne-Marie Slaughter that packed a heftier punch. Her bio identifies Ms. Slaughter as “a professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University, and the mother of two teenage boys. She served as the director of policy planning at the State Department from 2009 to 2011” and her in-depth essay busted many myths while emphasising the importance of a network of women forming a cheering squad and support system for each other’s climb up the corporate ladder while finding work/life balance.

According to a Council on Foreign Relations’ recent survey, women hold fewer than 30 percent of the senior foreign-policy positions in the government, the military, the academy, and think tanks. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s 2011 speeches also lament the dismally small number of women at the top:
“Women are not making it to the top. A hundred and ninety heads of state; nine are women. Of all the people in parliament in the world, 13 percent are women. In the corporate sector, [the share of] women at the top—C-level jobs, board seats—tops out at 15, 16 percent.”
India may have had women as PM, CMs, and President as well as securing one-third reservation for women candidates in grassroots institutions – Panchayat, Blocks – but the ratios in the Legislative Assembly and Parliaments are disheartening (3 women chief ministers currently serving among India’s 29 states) despite the  powerful portfolios held by women ministers in the Indian Union Cabinet.
An “on-the-face-of-things” assessment of the “having it all” factor suggested by Princeton’s Ms. Slaughter:
how many women in top positions have children compared with their male colleagues. Every male Supreme Court justice has a family. Two of the three female justices are single with no children. And the third, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, began her career as a judge only when her younger child was almost grown. The pattern is the same at the National Security Council: Condoleezza Rice, the first and only woman national-security adviser, is also the only national-security adviser since the 1950s not to have a family.
… it is clear which set of choices society values more today. Workers who put their careers first are typically rewarded; workers who choose their families are overlooked, disbelieved, or accused of unprofessionalism.
The repeated theme that emerges whoever comments on the issue of how to have it all or even if one can have it all is the need for a strong support system in place (family, friends, colleagues it doesn’t matter who as long as you have the safety net) strong mentors, and of course that lucky break of being at the right place at the right time and knowing the right people! While talking of support systems  we also need to talk about enlisting men as done in the UN’s HeforShe campaign but on a quid pro quo basis so that we give men and boys the same chance find and follow their bliss without being forced into stereotype macho roles. To quote Bronnie Ware, an Australian blogger who worked for years in palliative care and author of the 2011 book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, on oft-repeated regrets:

 “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
 “I wish I didn’t work so hard. … This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship.”
The time has come to put technology and all the telecommuting systems in place while making time for oneself and one’s family amidst the mad scramble that’s the daily rat race of life. The moofer (Mobile Out of Office Worker… ironically coined in the halls of Microsoft) lifestyle could be the way to at least address the basic work/life balance problems, but only if we retire the “culture of time macho,” as Ms. Slaughter describes it:
“a relentless competition to work harder, stay later, pull more all-nighters, travel around the world and bill the extra hours that the international date line affords you—remains astonishingly prevalent among professionals today.”
It just leads to lifestyle disorders and having no life finally leading to burnout with a high health deficit added on.
While working women have owned this new millennium both working sexes need to realize that health is wealth and life and the moments that take your breath away are as important as earning a living and embrace the nonlinear lifestyle, I end quoting Anne-Marie Slaughter again:
“The books I’ve read with my children, the silly movies I’ve watched, the games I’ve played, questions I’ve answered, and people I’ve met while parenting have broadened my world. Another axiom of the literature on innovation is that the more often people with different perspectives come together, the more likely creative ideas are to emerge. Giving workers the ability to integrate their non-work lives with their work—whether they spend that time mothering or marathoning—will open the door to a much wider range of influences and ideas.”
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