How Families Can Support the Career Aspirations of Young Women

career-aspirations-young-women-IndiaWe conducted a study on the career aspirations of young women in India recently at Women’s Web. We believed that the time is right as women enter the organized workforce in greater numbers and are working in more diverse fields than ever before.

One of the interesting findings that emerged from the study was that a very large number of the young women surveyed (82%) agreed that their families were supportive of their career ambitions. This is cause for cheer in a country that has such high rates of female foeticide that the gender ratio is horribly, unnaturally lopsided.

It gives me hope that even while some families don’t want anything to do with girls, others are willing to support their aspirations.

Even as more families encourage women to have a career, there is apprehension about pursuing a career that is seen as high-pressure or demanding. For example, I have heard of women who are dissuaded from entering mechanical engineering because “the class will be full of boys,” or journalism, which is “too dangerous for women.” Support has to be about enabling her to succeed in something that truly interests her.

The next big stumbling block is marriage. Anxiety over marriage runs high in most families, and the ‘marriageable age’ is often fixed at 23-24, exactly when a woman is starting a career. It also means that women cannot explore choices in their careers whole-heartedly. Looking at a new and exciting role abroad, taking up a promotion, a job change – for many, every decision is tinged with the knowledge that marriage is on the horizon and must be taken into account.

I have no issues with women marrying at any (legal) age, but the pressure to be married early suffocates women’s ambitions. (Interestingly, 60% of women in our study agreed or strongly agreed that marriage would not slow down their career progress.)

Perhaps the biggest support that working women in India really need is to be able to hand back some of their traditional responsibilities, even as they take on new ones.

Perhaps the biggest support that working women in India really need is to be able to hand back some of their traditional responsibilities, even as they take on new ones. While women have now the added challenge of succeeding at work, most retain the onus of managing home and being the perfect wife, mother, daughter, daughter-in-law. The single biggest thing Indian families, and men in particular can do for women who work outside the home, is to take on their fair share of work inside the home.

Perhaps at that stage, we will have fewer women agreeing to the statement, ‘As a woman in India, it will be more challenging to grow in my career than it would be for a man’ – as 72% of our respondents did.

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