May 31, 2016 - 6:59pm
"The single most important career decision that a woman makes is whether she will have a life partner and who that partner is." ― Sheryl Sandberg, and author of Lean In
When I first read this quote, the feminist in me was deeply offended. As a woman, the most important career decision I will make is who I end up with? It seemed backward, belittling, and like something my grandmother would say in a "marriage-should-be-your-highest-ambition" sort of way.
But as I continued reading Sandberg's book, Lean In, I found she was right -- particularly in regard to heterosexual relationships. Now, as I reflect on this quote in relation to working women in India, I have a new appreciation for its truth.
According to World Bank data, if women participated in the formal sector at equal rates as men, there would be an additional 217 million women working in India.Comprising those who have never worked and those who have chosen to leave the workforce, these "missing women" would boost the country's GDP by as much as 27%. Of the women who have entered the workforce, 48% chose to leave their jobs mid-career. Child-rearing, inequitable division of household responsibilities, social mores, gender bias in the workplace and safety concerns are among the most prevalent reasons women leave their jobs.
And while choosing the right partner can't solve all the challenges Indian women face, it does make a drastic difference in how they approach their careers.
An unfair burden
Despite the progress India has made, a substantial number of women are not able to enter the workforce due to cultural mores and familial restrictions. Ranjana Kumari, author of Gender, Work, and Power Relations, and director of the think tank Centre for Social Research explains, "Even if women are highly educated, they aren't allowed by in-laws and husbands to do any job outside the home. Women are graduating to get a good groom not a good job." If a woman is able to work, she must still shoulder the bulk of household responsibilities. According to the World Economic Forum,reports The Wall Street Journal, "India's gender chore gap, the difference between the amount of housework done by women and men, is the largest of any country for which data is available..."
And though Indian women have made strides and are increasingly entering the workforce to embrace meaningful careers as challenging and fiscally rewarding as their husbands', the majority if not all of the domestic obligations (cooking, cleaning, raising children and looking after elders) remain on them. We see this fact manifest in career plateaus for women once they begin their families and high rates of women leaving their jobs to fulfill household duties. And while the government and private companies are adopting pro-women policies to make it easier on women to balance their work and home life, the current reality for women is that who we choose as a partner is just as critical to our career as what we do. If you are searching for the right partner, consciously make an effort to find a real partner. A real partner refers to a spouse who shares completely and equitably the responsibilities undertaken together in marriage. A real partner is not just supportive of your career, but is happy to take on his fair share of household responsibilities so that you both can thrive.
Choosing the right kind of man
The first and most important step in any life decision is asking yourself, "What do I want?" Before committing to another person you should know if you want a career or if you are more interested in learning how to fit meaningful work around your family life. Are you unwilling to compromise in either area? Society, your family, your spouse and your job will all have conflicting demands on your time. Balancing these demands with your own inner voice will be an ongoing challenge, but having a strong sense of who you are and what you want before committing to another person will help you navigate the day to day.
Keeping in mind that not all women have the luxury to choose their life's companion, whenever possible, it's critical that we ask the uncomfortable questions; some examples include, "Are you a feminist? Would you support my career? If I had to move for my job, would you be willing to relocate the family? Would you support me working after we have kids? Are you willing to do half the housework (cooking/cleaning) on a regular basis?" Really listen to his answers and see how they align with your own values. Finally, observe how he interacts with his family -- his mother, his sisters. Do any of them work outside the home? What is the family dynamic? Is he the kind of son who offers to help his mother in the kitchen, or is he always served? While this won't tell you everything about a man, it will certainly reveal part of his truest self.
Finally, as difficult as it may be, my last piece of advice is to wait. Wait for the partner who will prioritize your ambitions, wants, and needs alongside his own. Be willing to walk away from someone who won't value you or your work.
By having a real partner, one who is committed to your dreams just as much as you are committed to his, we begin to chip away at the pervasive and damaging norms in society. "The single most important career decision that a woman makes is whether she will have a life partner and who that partner is." While this quote no longer offends me, it still upsets the feminist in me. I am optimistic, however, that in consciously picking real partners, we will break barriers. We will raise our sons to be real partners and our daughters to expect more.
This article was originally written for and published on Shenomics.com by Bithika Misha Rahman.