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Do women in developed countries have it all when it comes to career growth? Here’s what this author found on comparing notes with a colleague – a working woman in Switzerland.
A truly empowering moment for me as a working mother came when I could choose to go on a 2.5 month long assignment to a different country, miles apart, leaving my daughter behind. Why do I call it empowering? That’s because I could exercise my choice here, my free will; I was not obligated to make a decision in favour of or against a particular alternative, half heartedly.
For those who know me and read me, I have said this multiple times and will keep saying it: I am one of those who aspires to the corner office, it’s this aspiration which I wake up to each day and which propels me forward. I have heard from many that it’s not easy, especially for a woman – it’s not really a fair world and hey, it’s a man’s world. I do know there are things beyond my control and I am consciously practising to let go and accept things when I know the decision wasn’t something I could control – it ain’t easy.
Despite knowing these limitations, there is this feeling which constantly overpowers me – the one in the pit of my stomach to go out there and achieve my dreams. So I have decided to follow my heart and work towards making my dreams a reality, at the same time reminding myself to not get bogged down when things beyond my control don’t work in my favour.
The silver lining for me was this business trip for 2.5 months to Switzerland which helped me gain new experiences, personally as well professionally. I was amazed at how well I could cope with the setbacks I faced; of course I cried but I rose, dressed up in my best attire, put that glossy lipstick on and showed up at work. By evening I felt the pain had diminished and I was looking forward to my glass of wine and some me time which is so precious and a rarity back home.
I had the chance to meet a senior woman leader in Zurich. Meeting women who have achieved success at work is always something I look forward to. First of all, there are a handful of them; secondly it gives me hope and courage to see myself in the same place some day, hopefully mentoring a younger woman and showing her the ropes.
This meeting helped throw light on the career of women and the social situation in Switzerland. I was under the impression that gender diversity is not as big an issue as in India. Women are more empowered, bold, their spouses are supportive – a woman is lucky to be living and working here. I had read that Switzerland ranks 3rd in a study conducted about women’s safety and well being. My notions were shattered, I realised there are things that are common between India and Switzerland and this particular one was definitely not one I was proud of.
Childcare for one is alarmingly expensive in Switzerland. The timings are also very rigid and extensions beyond the fixed working hours are punitive. Family support in the form of grandparents is not a part of the culture – I didn’t hear of a single couple who left their kids with their parents.
Children start schooling only at the age of 5 which means till they reach that age they need to be taken care of at home or in a day care. The school has a very long lunch break of almost 2 hours where kids go back home, have their lunch and then go back to school for lessons. Working parents often find this 2 hour break challenging to manage. It’s right in the middle of a workday!
Unless a woman is at a very high position earning really good money, it makes no sense monetarily for them to continue working after having kids as all the money earned is spent on daycare with almost a pittance as savings. If you have more than one kid, the expenses just doubled! This is the reason why most women make a decision (I would call it a forced choice) of taking a career break. A statement that hit me hard was, “People don’t really understand why women want to work”. With the exorbitant cost of hiring a nanny, when all the money earned is spent in paying for childcare – does it make sense? Don’t we work for money? The fact that a woman may want to work because it gives her a new identity, self satisfaction, a life beyond her house and kids – this is something that most fail to comprehend.
The good thing is men do share the responsibility of parenting, I was pleasantly surprised to see many dads with their kids, managing them effortlessly – at times there were 3 kids with scooters and a dad running all over the place! However when it comes to the question of taking a career break, it’s the woman who most often needs to take the penalty.
It was heartening to see that despite this challenging atmosphere women are coming forward and trying to make it work – most importantly, for themselves. The culture has evolved in Switzerland and more and more corporates are opening up their doors and embracing diversity – flexible working arrangements, career comeback, mentoring – companies are using innovative methods to attract and retain a diverse workforce.
Hearing the challenges of women in Switzerland made me feel thankful for the support we Indian women have back home; we do have grandparents who are happy to lend support. We have daycares and domestic helpers, which are not perfect but more accommodative than the ones here.
In my case, my mother’s wholehearted support in bringing up my daughter is the reason I come home at 11 pm most nights and don’t have to worry if my little girl is fine.
It is the reason I could embark on this journey, living apart from my daughter for 2.5 months, knowing she is being cared for in the best possible way.
It’s the reason I continue chasing my dreams and don’t have to make a forced choice of putting my career on a backseat because I have a young child to care for.
I was left with a unhappy feeling to see how women are the ones who most often need to sacrifice their aspirations and dreams and this is a reality not just in India but also in one of the most developed countries as well. It shattered my misconceptions about life being easy as a woman abroad – your gender doesn’t really matter, I always thought. But it also left me with hope for a better tomorrow as I see women irrespective of class, creed, county, status, or religion fight for themselves – be vocal, demand that their partners share the responsibility, ask for flexible work arrangements, talk about their aspirations and wok relentlessly towards creating a world where we are truly empowered.
We will get there someday and that will be a proud day for all of us for we know we had a role to play in this movement. I do hope when our daughters are faced with this decision, the path they take is truly one that makes them happy and is not a sacrifice they need to make.
First published here.