Dear Ms Millennial,
I’m the salt and pepper hair woman who you may notice walking into one of your hangout joints and exiting quickly for the fear of raising the average age of the room. You must know that I occasionally step into or past your congregations just to inhale some of the new energy, the vibrant mood, the chirpy buzz. At your age, people like me were in an India that was very different. I remember sitting in a pub with my friends in the UK, post my Masters and just days before I returned home to Delhi. This was in 1994. Not that long ago. But two decades is indeed a long time. We were going around the table talking about what we will miss about life in Cardiff. We were a bunch of girls having a drink and I remember saying that I will miss the freedom of sitting in a public place having a drink without being judged or propositioned when I’m in Delhi. So, pardon my thinly concealed joy at seeing you girls out there at all hours without giving a damn.
But the more things change, the more some of them stay the same. Two decades have changed the face of cities such as Delhi. The metro, the malls, the pubs, the cafes, the Ubers, the smartphones, Google, GPS, Facebook, Instagram… I can go on and on. But some things don’t change that fast and others won’t change at all. What won’t change is that you have a woman’s body that will go through the biological cycle of puberty, childbirth and menopause. For most women, childbirth years collapse into a 10-year period starting from late 20s to late 30s; 45-55 is the age that your body will prepare for the next stage—the non-child bearing years—with all its accompanying issues of depression, hormonal changes and well, you get the drift. Each of these biological events happen while you are getting your first job, settling in, changing jobs, growing in the career and striving to reach the top. Very early on in the career you need to face the fact that a big challenge in your career will be keeping the balance between home and work. It remains a male-dominated work environment—the ACs are too low, meetings are in the late evenings, and the boys smoking and drinking clubs are where networking and career climbing flowers. I was to lecture at a girls’ college some years back on women and money. As the women members of the staff and I sat in the staff room before the lecture for tea, the conversation veered to gender. They told me that once the male staff on a teachers’ association for the university figured out that women were in a rush to get back home in the evenings, the decision-making shifted to post 8pm. Look around you; leadership roles are male dominated. Men are supported by ‘wise’, ‘awesome’ wives who are thanked in book acknowledgements and annual gigs for ‘being there’ and ‘keeping it together’. Few women get that kind of spousal, or even extended family support. Running the home, kids, schedules and extended family obligations remain firmly part of what women do. In their book acknowledgements and annual gigs, women thank men in their lives who ‘help out’. Notice the difference between ‘helping out’ and ‘sharing’. It is still the woman who will ‘adjust’ her day to look after an emergency at home. When the biological and balancing pressure is so high, is it any surprise that women outsource their money and its management to the men. At least that is one thing less on their already overflowing plates.
Ms Millennial, as you get ready to step into your work life, I will leave you with four things to remember.
One, get the men in your life to be partners rather than ‘helpers’. It is a mental shift and it begins with a re-examination of many of the gender stereotypes that we may be perpetuating. At a panel discussion on women and money last year, we spent a lot of time talking about equality of the sexes in an auditorium full of women MBA students. I asked the girls this question: How many of you expect the boys to pay when you go out on a date? The girls tittered nervously. It seemed that I had hit a soft spot. My message to them, and to you, is this: are you a cow or a dog to be ‘taken out’? Nobody ‘takes you out’; you go out together. And share the bill or whatever other math that works.
Two, don’t give up control of your money to the men. Allow them to do the grunt work but schedule a meeting twice a year with your partner to figure out where the money is invested, how it is doing and what is the portfolio return. Be like the auditor who asks tough questions about how well the money is invested.
Three, bring up boys who are different than the older generation of men in India. Bring up your boys to be partners in a home rather than reluctant helpers.
Four, keep your career going. Don’t give up.