1/3/2012 4:33 PM | Minna Salminen Karlsson

Careers for emotional Indian women and jobs for rational Swedish women?

Sunrita and Minna got a sparkling introduction to women’s issues in the Indian software sector by attending the Grace Hopper Celebration in Bangalore. 1200 women working mainly in IT services, but even in other professional roles got together to follow several streams of sessions, both technical and career oriented. For someone coming from Sweden the discussions were both familiar and exotic.

Not being an IT professional myself, I skipped the technical sessions and attended the career oriented ones. I was greatly impressed by the career consciousness of these women, in different stages of their lives, from students to middle managers. I will certainly avoid the fallacy of believing that Indian female IT professionals only do the routine programming and testing work which requires carefulness and orderliness, until they get married. There are certainly large numbers of those women – but obviously there also are many women who embrace their careers almost ferociously. No wonder – we were presented by a recent poll which told that among female, married IT professionals with children, who still worked, only 12% did it for money. Obviously, the others did it for the other rewarding experiences. And that is where the differences begin to show.

Being a female IT professional in Sweden, there is no question of you working or not working when you have children. Even if it might be possible economically, you are expected to work. One of the session headings “Do you have a career or a job”, illustrates this. In Sweden, even if you don’t have a career, you have a job, because you need it for reasons of economy and for the pressures of social norms. In India, if you’re not keen on your career, why would you have a job, as the societal pressures tell you to stay at home and take care of your kids, and your husband still is supposed to provide for you?

This fantastic career consciousness was also coupled with a very expressed notion of differences between women and men, which sounded exotic to Swedish ears. In Sweden, stating that women and men are inherently different is a problematic issue in, for example, career contexts. Our official equality policy is based on the notion that differences are created by upbringing and that differences denote hierarchies – if men and women are regarded as different, the male will be accorded greater value. While statements of differences in women’s and men’s characteristics appear in all kinds of discussions, it is not politically correct to count on them in, for example, organizational life. In particular, women try to avoid to be labelled as particularly feminine. Thus, hearing successful Indian professional women, time after time, proudly tell how important they are in their organizations and how they make better managers all because of their female characteristics of emotionality, sensitivity and orderliness, is quite different from similar discussions among their Swedish colleagues – at least in a public sphere.