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Are Indian Women less ambitious than their Western counterparts?

Thursday September 23, 2021, By Manasa Sai Sekar

Ambition is a strong desire to do or achieve something in life— be it goals, and targets— along with a sense of direction and motivation to work towards them. Ambition is important to achieving success, for it overrides excuses and the available resources. So, can the miniscule percentage of women in workforce in India be attributed to lack of ambition?

A study titled “Understanding Women’s Aspirations: A Study in Three Indian States” concluded that although India is transforming, mindsets need to change substantially to enable women to confidently take the public space that belongs to them. Reducing women attrition rate in the workforce has been a much-debated subject around the world for familiar reasons such as being a caregiver, an unfair share of domestic chores, gender biases at the workplace, extreme work conditions, etc.

While Indian women are not less ambitious compared to their western counterparts by any means, some of the existing social norms and patriarchal society force women to curb their desires to fulfil their ambition, especially after marriage due to the prevalent gender stereotypes and biases against them. Women are conditioned to think that they are better off at home than at the workplace. The cost of ambition for Indian women are: lack of support from their family members, lack of support from their spouse/partner, innate gut-wrenching guilt of not being a good enough mother, creating permanent codependency, lack of financial investment, being negatively judged and labeled for prioritizing career over marriage, among others.

What we appreciate, appreciates!

Indian weightlifter Saikhom Mirabai Chanu won the first silver medal for India at the Tokyo Olympics 2020. Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, a woman who started her biotech journey in 1978 from her garage, is a first-generation entrepreneur and global business leader with over 4 decades of experience in biotechnology. The first step towards creating ambitious Indian women is to start appreciating them for their career ambitions and goals, and providing them the necessary support to succeed.

Some of the ways in which we can collectively work towards nurturing ambitious women include:

-Changing one’s inner dialogue using self-awareness: One of the most common limiting beliefs that women suffer from is their constant need to be a giver. The reason women become a “giver” is because they are conditioned and rewarded to be one. The first step in tackling this is by changing one’s inner dialogue with self-awareness. If the workplace practice is that of saying “yes” to every project, then it is important to have a healthy discussion with the person in charge. This will empower others also to tackle similar issues.-The narrative around a woman’s ambition must change: Several research shows that the word “ambition” implies egotism, selfishness, self-aggrandizement, or the manipulative use of others for one’s own ends. The narrative around ambition was “It’s not me; it’s the work.” “I want this promotion to help my family, not because I want more money.” “I hate to promote myself, I would rather be jobless.”This narrative of negatively equating ambition with women must change.

-Enabling women to feel unassumingly entitled to one’s goals: Entitlement equals a belief that we deserve something better, entitlement does not equal arrogance or overconfidence. While women take pride in being a caregiver, they do not take as much as pride in being an achiever. This can be tackled by inspiring women to own their achievements, by managing self-doubts and fears through positive affirmations. Inspire women to share their success stories on social media. While professional social media platforms could be a place to share work achievements, it is imperative for women to understand that owning one’s own success story and sharing it with pride will inspire others around them to become more ambitious.

-Play up to your strengths and stand up for others: Women are known for downplaying their own strengths. Embracing one’s ambition and highlighting one’s success by vocalizing one’s strengths will instill confidence in others too.

Workplaces can support women’s ambition by ensuring the following:

-Give incentive based rewards: At the workplace, support women by rewarding them with performance-based incentives and bonuses. In course of time, this will set right expectations with the other women colleagues and will encourage them to become more ambitious. Create forums for women to share their success stories and inspire other women. Role model stories and experiences sharing sessions have proved to be quite helpful and inspirational to other women.

-Invest in changing mind-sets: Stereotyping and unconscious biases lead to micro-aggressions that women face for being ambitious. Observe the workplace environment and invest in programs that address problems of micro aggressions at the workplace.

-Equity can solve problems that experts cannot: Equity is the support provided to people who are in need of it. Understanding the needs of an employee and supporting them with the right kind of policies and practices will help enable them to bring their whole selves to work and therefore, achieve their goals and ambition.

The intention to pursue one’s career stems from embracing one’s ambitions. Instead of looking at ambition as “cost to pay”, one should look at it as “the rewards it can give”. Self-awareness and changing the narrative around ambition are the first steps towards embracing them.


Author Profile

Manasa Sai Sekar
Manasa Sai Sekar
A Senior Consultant from Consulting & Solutions team at Avtar, has worked in four different industries such as Retail, Telecommunication, Agriculture, and HealthCare.

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