Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Until Now, The Ugly Duckling!

This is an article i wrote for the SWIM (Successful Women In management) Magazine launched by Great lakes.

Ok Ok! Let me explain the concept of the title before you, the readers, tear me apart.

The story goes that a duckling is born to a mother duck in a swamp. But since it is very different from the other duckling, it is not treated as part of the flock. It goes thru a lot of hardships but by the end of the following winter, it transforms into the most beautiful and majestic white swan at the swamp. Thus the duckling which was shunned by society at large grows up to be the leader showing others the way. But even with all the recognition it does not become conceited since it knows only too well of what it had to go thru to achieve what it has and remains as humble as ever, the mark of a true leader.

To me, this story sums up what women in India has been going thru and how things are fast changing, for the better. Indian culture has had a long tradition of respecting our women for her contributions in the family setting. We talk of women being the pillar of any family. We talk of educating the women of the family and the rest will follow suit. But we have not been very forthright in accepting and acknowledging her talents as a successful business woman. We have thus far shunned women in the business sphere just as was done to the duckling.

But all this is changing. Of late we have been witness to quite a few women breaking the traditional bondages and taking flight, soaring their way to success. The glass ceiling has developed huge cracks. And this is true not only for familiar and famous business women like Indira Nooyi (PepsiCo) or Indra Subramanyam (Ehlrich Labs) or Kiran Mazumdhar Shaw (BioCon) but also likes of Barkha Dutt (Journalist) or Kiran Bedi (IPS) or Bachendri Pal (Adventurer).

This begs the question: Why are we seeing this paradigm shift? Why is there this sudden realisation of the business capabilities of women? Some of it has to do with women being more independent in the new liberalised India. Some has to do with the enhanced educational opportunities available to them. And some can be attributed to freedom and space that the new women have managed to garner. But I believe most of it has to do with the change in general attitude of society towards them. We live in an age where there is a much more liberal outlook towards business women. It is no longer a taboo to be talking about a girl in the family who has made an impact in business unlike the days of yore when they were expected to perform only at home. Infact its quite the opposite. Parents, husbands and children are all equally proud of the daughter, wife and mother who has reached the pinnacle and fulfilled her career aspirations.

There is yet another reason why we have started to acknowledge these courageous women – their ability to withstand burnout. You see, most of them have family commitments but they manage to juggle between family, relations and work seamlessly. It truly is a monumental task and they seem to be thriving in the challenge. This is precisely why we are awed by their very presence. And its not like they have to put in extra effort to do all this juggling. It just comes naturally to them, like they are created to have to do all this at the same time. Men, I believe, for the world cannot do more than a couple of things at a time.

Which brings me to the point of humility. Even with all this going on for them, I do not see women being obnoxious about themselves on television or in any other media. We Indians tend to attribute this to our culture and prejudices – that women are meant to be docile beings fit to be a housewife only. But we have evidence of this mindset changing too, of seeing the woman as more than just secretaries and typists. Women now control the boardroom in certain companies. They conceive and execute groundbreaking ideas. And true to their never-say-die spirit, they move on to do much more and better things. Yet, they remain most Indian at heart. Take Indra Nooyi for example. I have not seen her address a gathering in anything other than a sari. That’s when she can be wearing anything formal. Yet she chooses to wear saris in the talks she are in. Global Mindset Indian Roots at its very best!

So as a male in the male dominated business scene am I unduly worried about this unprecedented influx? No not really. Honest! The way I see it, they will only increase the diversity that we see around us, they will only make it all the more challenging to do business and they will only enhance the value of human life just by doing what they are created to do.

Looks like the swans are indeed taking over the world, and in the process making it a more beautiful place to be in. Women... They truly deserve a standing ovation!

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