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What affects the career choices of girls? What interests them, what is lucrative, what they see their peers do, or what they are conditioned to take up as girls?
“The woman who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. The woman who walks alone is likely to find herself in places no one has ever been before.”
This inspiring quote that is actually falsely attributed to Einstein, can be applied to the rare woman defining her own professional path, and the power of it when she does so. What drives women in their professional lives; love for money, stability, social status, brighter marriage prospects, or personal happiness?
The patriarchal attitude in the Indian set up has ensured that women find their salvation in stereotypical roles of managing households. As much as it is a choice to not opt for a paid work, it is a question to ponder why this choice is usually exercised by Indian women. Only 27% Indian women are in the labour force – the lowest among BRICS countries; among G-20 countries, it is better only than Saudi Arabia. Even the minuscule percentage of women who are opting for paid work are focussed more on jobs rather than a career trajectory.
A candid conversation with lot of middle class and upper middle-class Indians reveals the attitude. We are ensuring that our daughter does engineering somehow. “These days all techie guys need engineer wives. She could pursue her writing as a hobby.” Remarked a neighbourhood aunty who decided to fully inject the technology gene in her DNA despite dismal performance in mathematics. “I was too young to get married at 21 but my parents found an IITian for me, so even I did not resist. My dream to become Barkha Dutt was cut short.”
It is disappointing to see that a lot of women pursue jobs not entirely because it serves their personal interest but because of social and cultural conditioning. Marriage is the most important rather only parameter for success for lot of women. Other dimensions like choice of degree for higher education or jobs revolves around it. Despite this prevalent archaic attitude, there are many remarkable women making difference in their own ways.
Having a copy of ‘Lean In’ by Sheryl Sandberg in my hand, I stepped into a quaint café. Rupali Taneja, co-owner of the restaurant Pepper Pot welcomes you with a big smile. The ambience refreshed me, more so seeing a confident young woman running a restaurant in highly patriarchal northern state of Haryana. A little chat with Rupali takes you to another world and infuses you with enthusiasm.
Rupali has lived life like a boss. A journalist by education, Rupali decided to be an entrepreneur when a long-lost friend called her one day and shared the idea of opening a cafe. She was working with an established television channel but her instincts told her to give this dream a shot and she plunged into it. She figured out life again like a boss and just at 25! Coming from a family background of government servants, Rupali was always conditioned to value stability more than passion. But instead of society and family conditioning her, she has conditioned the world around her with her way of life.
Rupali’s family was initially sceptical of her choice as setting up a café required working for 10-12 hours a day and doing all kinds of odd jobs and not a specific work profile. At Pepper Pot, there are times when both the owners do not hesitate to take the orders and serve food. The customers are like family and friends to them. Even though her family has apprehensions about her career trajectory Rupali has chosen, they feel proud to read what customers say about her cafe.
“I have followed my heart and done whatever I have felt is good for me. I have experimented with several things. In addition to my experiments, I also took several government exams from UPSC to SSC, to keep peace with family. However, I am doing what I always wanted to do in life, which is running a café. My future plan is to expand my business and open several branches of Pepper Pot”, says Rupali.
For a woman to be successful in a career, there is no ladder and the world is like a jungle gym; where you have to run in the wilderness, break a bone or two, heal and get up again for another day. Only the fittest and the happiest survives, and completes the marathon.
Zareen Kahai, a linguaphile and travel aficionado is in the third decade of her life. She is one of the very few Government of India licensed travel guides. When Zareen appeared for the exam for the license, she was amongst the only 2 women selected out of 180 candidates. When she appeared for the interview in a reputed travel company, the interviewer asked her, “Do you really want to do something like this? There are very few women in this profession.” Being a woman, one has to be extraordinarily passionate to prove her worth in the profession.
“Being a woman, there are all sorts of challenges. From people judging you in different parts of country to drivers and tour operators trying to befriend, I have developed a muscle which knows how to deal with situations. That is what experience does to you and I value my experience.” she says. There are several deterrents but her passion and a love for travel helps Zareen in spearheading in the direction she is meant to be in. Zareen has now opened her own travel company called ‘MyZtic Travels’. The Z which stands tall in myZtic stands for Zareen.
Societal ambitions shape up women’s choice of higher education, and many a times a career they take up. Twenty-eight-year-old Faizi Khan works as an Event Manager at Jasmin Waldmann Life Coaching Company (JWLCC), and helps people in shaping up lives better. For Faizi working for a cause which resonates with the value systems is more important than money. Despite having a successful career in technology, she switched to the field of life coaching.
However, the journey to where now she is, was circuitous. While her family is progressive and placed a lot of importance on education and career, she chose to pursue a degree in technology entirely because of the social and cultural conditioning. At seventeen, she received all kinds of advice ranging from women being suited for ‘stable’ multinational jobs and not for ‘jobs’ like journalist. After reaching the pinnacle of her career in technology at a very young age, she left it for her dreams. She advises that one should not pay heed to criticism of their unconventional choices but should walk the path which best serves their personal growth
“Coming from a family without brother, sometimes, a lot of expectation is placed unknowingly on girls to go for traditional career choices which society perceives to more successful and financially lucrative. Somewhere you start living the life of the brother you never had. You have to come out of it someday. True empowerment comes when a woman stands up for what she believes in. I place a lot of importance to core values. I have chosen a profession which resonates with my value systems and will follow the same rule when I choose a life partner. Finances are secondary for me”, says Faizi with a voice filled with a rare confidence.
It is true that the woman who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. the woman who walks alone is likely to find herself in places no one has ever been before. The quote certainly depicts the rarity of women defining their own path. There are pristine islands in professional and personal lives waiting to be explored by women.