Indian women work at a fluorescent light assembly line at an Ajanta plant in Morbi, some 265 km from Ahmedabad, on March 7, 2010. (Sam Panthaky/AFP/Getty Images)
drag down the career dreams of Indian and Chinese women to a far lesser
degree than their Western sisters. Working mothers in China and India
are able to think big thanks to a robust matrix of hands-on extended
family, inexpensive domestic help, and an increasingly wide range of
Eldercare, however, has the potential to
derail a career. The vast majority 94 per cent of women in India and 95
percent in China are responsible for their parents and in-laws, with
more than half contributing up to 20 percent of their salaries. Filial
piety is so deeply rooted that "daughterly" guilt often exceeds
"Daughterly guilt" is even more pronounced in
China than in India (88 percent versus 70 percent) where women
confront the one-two punch of communism's one-child policy and the
tradition of a wife caring for her husband's parents. With demographers
projecting a leap in the percentage of the population aged over 60
across these regions, this burden is a ticking time bomb.
Extreme jobs are the norm for educated women in both countries, with an
average workweek significantly longer than the standard 40 hours. But
Chinese women routinely notch up more than 70 hours per week, while
Indian women rarely break 60 hours.
Over a third of women
encounter bias in the workplace, where entrenched "old boys" networks
form nearly insurmountable barriers. However, more Indian women than
Chinese 45 per cent compared to 36 percent feel they have been treated
unfairly because of their gender, another legacy of communism. For more
than half of Indian women, the combination of family "pulls" and
workplace "pushes" smothers their initial enthusiasm: 55 percent have
considered scaling back their ambition or quitting their jobs
altogether, compared with 48 percent of Chinese women.
Cultural constraints limit women's mobility and hamstring their career
potential. Because of societal disapproval of women travelling alone,
nearly 75 percent in both countries report difficulties Indian and
Chinese women often eschew customer/client-facing roles which involve
frequent business trips, even though these roles are the fast track to
professional success. Furthermore, more than 50 percent of Indian women
feel unsafe on their daily commute, causing them to skip the
after-hours functions where career-boosting contacts are made.
As highly qualified women in these critical emerging markets struggle to
balance the demands of career, children and culture, employers have an
unprecedented opportunity to help them fully realise their potential. To
do so, companies will have to gain a deeper understanding of the
ambitions and needs of their top female talent, and alter their policies
accordingly. But the lessons learned in attracting, sustaining and
retaining the best and brightest women can only enhance and strengthen
an organisation's operations worldwide. Helping these talented women
grow is the surest route to continued growth, now and in the future.
Sylvia Ann Hewlett is President of the Center for Work-Life Policy. Vishakha N. Desai is President of the Asia Society.