Career women in India are defining happiness on their own terms. What does an entrepreneur, an author, and a C-suite executive have in common? These women have followed their dreams, overcome feelings of guilt and self-doubt, and leaned on supportive spouses, colleagues, family, and friends to build fulfilling careers. And, they all share one common trait: they cannot imagine their lives without a career.
Today, there is a new development emerging among Indian women in the workforce. Having a job is important to them, but it is equally important to a build a meaningful career. Aparna Vedapuri Singh, Founder of Women’s Web, says “Our mothers were different and opportunities were not available to them. Women had jobs, not careers. Now, many women want careers.” Singh further explains, “Indian women feel ambitious about their careers and expect to have careers as successful as their husbands.” For these women, happiness is rooted in being valued for the work that they do as well as their ability to give back to society.
In fact, women aspire to have thriving careers because it gives them a strong sense of identity. Vaishali Kasture, Former Managing Director at Goldman Sachs and now a Partner at Deloitte Consulting, says she wanted to work because it meant having an identity of her own. Kasture believes women should ask themselves, “What do I want to do with my life?” For her, being more than a mother is important because it represents a life well-lived, and she wants to carve out a name for herself. Kasture says, “I want to live a wholesome life and without any regrets.” She wants to try new things and maybe fail in the process, but doesn’t want to be afraid of trying. Kasture adds, “during your career, life won’t be perfect, but both you and your spouse signed up to have careers and support each other.” Thus, a husband should have an equally supportive role in his wife’s career.
If anything, many women wonder why men aren’t asked whether or not they ‘can have it all?’ Deepali Nair, Chief Marketing Officer at Mahindra Holidays, says women are often expected to be superhuman and no matter what they do, it is not considered enough. Nair has not asked herself whether or not she ‘can have it all’ because it has never crossed her mind, and she wonders why men aren’t asked that question too. For Nair, the biggest thing that a career gives you is “freedom of choice,” and having more choices also means greater choices for how women define and find their happiness.
Many women feel the public discourse about women in the workplace or home should no longer begin with the question: “Can I have it all?” as that forces a binary answer. Instead, the question should be: “How can I make it all work?” since that actually opens the door to potential solutions. Anuranjita Kumar, Chief Human Resources Officer at Citi, South Asia and author of Can I Have it All?, says having it all does not mean begin a superwoman, “it’s about how you want to have it all.” Kumar has a career because she wanted a life of her own, a brand of her own, and an identity of her own. She has friends who are stay-at-home mothers and respects their choice – they have different stresses. Kumar adds, “if you want it all, you have to compromise on time,” and manage some amount of stress. What is a woman’s “all” is going to be different for different women, and each scenario will have different trade-offs, but despite the challenges of a work-life balance, defining your ‘all” is something every woman should do.
When a working mother channels her ambition toward her career and life’s work, she can avoid the unintended consequences of imposing it onto her children. Mothers who reenter the workforce not only follow their dreams and sense of purpose, but also radiate their own happiness into the lives of their loved ones. Neha Bagaria, Founder of JobsforHer, enables women to reenter the workforce after taking a career break. Bagaria says “motherhood changes women.” After taking a break herself and then going back to work, she realized it was the best thing for her children. Bagaria concludes that the conversation about whether or not women ‘can have it all’ puts “too much pressure on a woman in society where a woman’s primary role is seen as that of a caregiver. Instead, when we look at how a woman ‘having it all’ leads to the whole family having it all, the conversation becomes much more inclusive.
These five influential women have learned how to prioritize motherhood, career advancements, and personal interests at different stages of their lives. They remind us that it is possible to be intentional about designing a career, enabling a certain degree of flexibility and freedom. However, none of these women are striving for perfection, but rather work-life integration. They have found happiness with their equal life partners, fulfilling careers, and families. While there is no one path that allows career women in India to find happiness, more and more women are asking how they can make it all work because a career gives them a strong sense of identity, has clear benefits for the whole family, puts them on an equal footing as their spouses and, in the end, gives them more choices, including the choice to find and define their happiness on their own terms.
About the Author
Clara Martinez recently completed a professional certification in social enterprise through IDEX Accelerator’s Global Fellowship Program in Bangalore, India. She spent her time working with a for-profit company to launch a new brand of daily hygiene products to improve hygiene and sanitation for women and girls. Clara enjoys blogging about her experiences in India, and searching for the perfect cappuccino. In the future, she hopes to pursue a career in international diplomacy.