Thursday, March 31, 2005

MBA Women

More young women than ever before are aspiring for MBAs.This year, there are 45 odd girls at IIM Ahmedabad - a record number.

Of course, that's partly because the batch size has been steadily increased.As a proportion of the batch the figure is fairly constant.

But, the question is, will this mean a surge in the number of women in middle to senior management positions 10-15 years from now?

I'm not so sure. In the initial 5-8 years years, yes. Young women will give the guys a run fortheir money. But once they get into motherhood mode the age old dilemmas kick in.

This is a subject I've written about in a cover story for Businessworld magazine (issue dated April 4, 2005). In a piece titled 'Price and Prejudice' I note

Think ‘female managers’ and enough Big Names readily roll off the tongue to make a convincing case for the rise and rise of women in the workplace: the ICICI women, Naina Lal Kidwai, Vinita Bali, Kiran Mazumdar- Shaw... .

No doubt, that gutsy generation has paved the way. It’s hard to believe that when Naina Lal applied to PriceWaterhouseCoopers in 1977 for a chartered accountant’s post, the company had to think long and hard before hiring her. Because prior to that they had never taken a woman on board!

Three decades later, the first-woman-to-do-the things-women-never-did bit is definitely over and done with. No job — at the entry level, at least — is seen as inherently unsuitable for women.

And yet, these few well-known faces are but the tip of the iceberg. The huge, invisible mass of that iceberg consists of the thousands of extremely capable women who will never make it to CEO or senior management levels. And it’s not just about the ‘glass ceiling’, competence or leadership style.

The real reason why women ‘fail’ to get ahead goes beyond that. Women could be as smart (or smarter) than their male counterparts, but for the most part they cannot — and will not — put up with the obscenely long hours, frequent travel or sudden relocation readily embraced by those seriously attempting to scale the corporate summit.

Tracking the careers of a group of UC Berkeley MBAs, Stanford Business School professor Charles O’Reilly said:“What makes a difference at the top level is effort; ability has been equilibrated.”

In an interview to Fast Company magazine, O’Reilly elaborated: “Today’s women are equal to their male counterparts in education, experience and skill. But when it is a painful choice between the client crisis and the birthday party, the long road trip and the middle schooler who needs attention, the employee most likely to put company over family is the traditional, work-oriented male.”

Ask B-school graduates who have crossed the five-years-since-we-left-campus-mark, and the number of female batch mates zealously pursuing careers starts declining rapidly. Which is understandable, because these are child-bearing years. But for many of these women, a shift into lower gear becomes a conscious, long-term choice.

Access the rest of the article at if you like. There are two more articls in the issue by me "Mission Possible" and "How Working Couples Cope".

Registration is required. I know, that's a pain, but since you aren't spending 10 bucks on the magazine don't crib!

What, me worry?
Of course, one may argue, the 'new generation' of women will be different. But the biological reality is, women do -eventually - want to be mothers. Although some - what are called 'career primaries' - are opting not to.

The social reality is, men have made the rules in the workplace. And women, until they can alter those rules, have to live by the existing ones to succeed.

A price not all are willing to pay!


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. I think that there is an opportunity for women entrepreneurs at a later stage, on a small scale. After the children become independent, many women are now getting into doing a small scale business on their own. Of course, they cannot aim to become huge conglomerates, but it is a healthy sign. I am from Bangalore, and have seen women take up stained glass/ garment businesses and do really well.

  3. Anonymous11:54 PM

    At the moment it may seem that Indian woman has to choose between motherhood and career but it doesnt have to be this way all the time and i am sure it wont be. The face of Indian society is changing slowly but surely. Like in Canada, i have seen the career minded women bear children as well as progress in their career. Entrying into motherhood doesnt cause a hinderance in their career progression because the society has developed a system within itself where a woman gets equal support from her husband in maintaining a balance between family and work. Apart from the social support, very well run day-care-centers have come up. I am sure the Indian society and the system will evolve itself to find the similar ways.

  4. Anonymous11:56 PM

    At the moment it may seem that Indian woman has to choose between motherhood and career but it doesnt have to be this way all the time and i am sure it wont be. The face of Indian society is changing slowly but surely. Like in Canada, i have seen the career minded women bear children as well as progress in their career. Entrying into motherhood doesnt cause a hinderance in their career progression because the society has developed a system within itself where a woman gets equal support from her husband in maintaining a balance between family and work. Apart from the social support, very well run day-care-centers have come up. I am sure the Indian society and the system will evolve itself to find the similar ways.

  5. I'm from the US and I see the same situation. Women climb to the middle rungs of the corporate ladder only to climb back down because of family obligation. I am in Business School now and its evident in the culture. Alot of the men that attend see the women as possible trophy wives, not as actual contenders in the Business world. Unfortunately some females see themselves as future trophy wives also. I just don't understand why if a man neglects his family to pursue his career he's seen as providing for his family, but if a woman does the same thing she's seen as a bad mother.

  6. I think it's a bit more than a choice of priority for women. I have felt that women themselves reconcile and settle for rather less, OF THEIR OWN VOLITION.
    Again, it may be argued that social conditioning, implicit messages are hard to ignore and cirumvent.

  7. Hi Rashmi,

    Had shared your recent post with another friend of mine, an MBA from Sheffield, UK and now running her own designer label.
    This is what she has to say..

    'I agree totally...
    And whether willing or not willing everyone has to wait till there is a big
    change in the system.Although it may take a decade but the good news is
    that the change has atleast begun...'

  8. Mr,Sandy,
    I have a problem when you say this:
    Of course, they CANNOT aim to become huge conglomerates,

    What exactly do you mean by CANNOT with an emphasis of an OF COURSE preceding it?

  9. Hmm...Maybe this by one of my acquaintances will bring about "more than 2 sides to the story"

  10. Having completed my MBA degree, I recently joined a bulge bracket finance firm well known for its support for diversity, minorities and women. Out of curiousity and also with a need to identify with a Indian women role model, I set about trying to locate Indian women in senior management positions. To my surprise, it is a negligible. There are plenty in the entry level to 5-6 years level but hardly anyone beyond.

    My conclusion ? Indian women decide to drop out of the work environment as they move up and at a much higher rate than their American counterparts.

    And here is statistical evidence to support my experience: In a survey by a leading HR consulting firm, it was found that 57% of women holding top corporate jobs across the US do not have children (most are single or divorced).


  11. Hi
    We the team at iimcatwalk was really happy to see a very good response to a similar article on the website.
    Shailey Gera is a passout of 2005 and has written a good article on the same. However from a male point of view I would say that it is more difficult to a girl to pursue higher studies like MBA and for sure it is not due to any lack of competence or intellegence...but may be for a society like that of ours in most cases education for a girl ends at graduate level and post graduation is not really encouraged. Difficult part would be create a societal acceptance and support for higher studies of girls and it can be paralleled to support for working women.

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    The next morning, the man woke up, only to discover it was 9:00 AM and he had missed his flight. Furious, he was about to go and see why his wife hadn't wakened him, when he noticed a piece of paper by the bed.
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    I would encourage you to submit your articles on this site on regular basis.

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