“Because, I can”… these three words changed my life and were key in making me who I am. I first heard them from my father when I was a little girl. I was upset at not being part of a cricket game with my brothers. Dad saw me sad and asked why. I replied that I wanted to play too. He asked, “well then, why aren’t you playing?”.
I realised I didn’t really know other than thinking I couldn’t. So I asked, “Can I? His words, which I will treasure forever, were… “You can do anything you want. All you have to decide is whether you want to do it or not. Never ask me that question again.”
Since then, I have never asked that question again. Those words stayed with me and have guided my life, career and choices and they continue to do so. They taught me that I could do anything I wanted to and gave me the confidence to follow my dreams.
I strongly believe that every little girl needs to grow up believing that she too has the choice to do what she wants and follow her dreams, no matter how audacious they are.
However for that to happen, we, the society, play a key role. It is us who willingly or unwillingly build and succumb to stereotypes which define the boundaries of what a boy can do and what a girl can do. Warren Buffet summed it up best when he said,“at every turn my sisters would be told -- more through signals than words -- that success for them would be "marrying well." I was meanwhile hearing that the world's opportunities were there for me to seize. So my floor became my sisters' ceiling.”
The stereotypes exist as much in the urban affluent families as they do in the lower income households. It is largely responsible for not just the way men see women, but worse, it results in so many women growing up feeling uncertain or under qualified to be as good as men in their careers. To dream of professional success becomes almost a guilty pleasure. And it is this mindset that holds us back more than any outside factor.
Unless, we change the mindset and break down the stereotypes, the larger cause of women empowerment shall remain a utopian ideal. We cannot progress as a nation, if fifty per cent of the population thinks it is inferior to the other half.
The change has to start in our homes and our schools and it is not enough to say the words. It needs to be reinforced in the little day to day conversations and acts that shape our thoughts and beliefs.
Parents and teachers play an extremely important role in shaping our thinking and they need to be the change agents in this epic task. Simple things like role modelling at home, where the father shares the household chores or avoiding statements such as ‘we need to save to make our son an engineer and get our daughter married’, or not assigning chores based on gender, can set the right tone. Teachers can reinforce in day to day activities and encourage girls as much as the boys to talk about their career aspirations and dreams. Boys and girls should be encouraged equally, be it in sports or academics.
The challenge is to train and sensitise the community and give them a reason to break away from what has been the norm for centuries. The financial justification exists aplenty,
- a girl with an extra year of education can earn 20% more as an adult.
- Women operate a majority of small farms and business in the developing world.
- If India enrolled 1% more girls in secondary school, the GDP would rise by $5.5 billion.
But it is sadly still not enough to drive the change. In a country like India, where we love our heroes, there is an urgent need for strong role models who can show why it is important to give our girls the same opportunities we give our boys. Studies have demonstrated that female role models have a significant impact on other women. But we also need the men to be role models and become visible champions for the cause.
As a business leader in India, I believe our success depends on it. One of the biggest challenges that India will face is shortage of talent. A recent BCG study anticipates a shortfall of 600,000 graduates over the next five years. I strongly believe that the solution to the talent crunch is India’s women. We have to learn to leverage the huge talent pool that is hiding in plain sight.
I am passionate about the need for equal opportunities in India. It is not just because we women deserve a better chance. But if India has any real hope of realising its real potential, it cannot afford to underutilised the potential of half of its population. It is as foolish as fighting a war with only half your army.
Unleashing the power of women in India in workforce, politics and all aspects of lives is a must do, if this great country of ours wants to be seen for what it’s really worth. The time for debate is long gone.
We need every girl to grow up believing she can do what she wants. She has the right to dream and to follow the dreams. And each one of us is responsible for bringing about a change to make that happen.
On my part, my aim is to reach as many young girls as possible and help make them believe they too have the right to dream big and bold dreams and that it is as much our right as anyone else to go after the dreams. Because we can!
Debjani Ghosh is the Managing Director - Sales and Marketing Group, Intel South Asia. Debjani currently chairs the IT Committee at the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI). She tweets at @debjani_ghosh_