I had the recent pleasure of reading a book about women in business for my 300-level Integrated Seminar (ISEM) course titled Winning the War for Talent in Emerging Markets: Why Women are the Solution by Ripa Rashid and Sylvia Ann Hewlett. This book is about women in the “BRIC” countries; Brazil, China, Russia, India, and the United Arab Emirates; and how their skills are starting to become noticed. These BRIC countries have a rapidly growing GDP, which will impact the rest of the first world countries. Having women in key roles in these countries as they develop will assure women an almost equal playing field in the first world stage of development.
Not all women in developing countries are oppressed by male dominated culture and poverty. In these countries, women work towards Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in the same number, and often more, than men. 85% of women in India consider themselves to be “very ambitious.” This number, compared to half that in the United States, is a huge indicator of the balance being found in developing countries. In Russia and China, communism helped to bring gender equality to effect. Both men and women were encouraged to join the workforce to help build the economy. 90% of Russian women of a working age are in the workplace (Rashid/Hewlett 6). Most women in management positions earn more than their spouses, controlling two-thirds of consumer spending (Rashid/Hewlett 7).
Just as in the United States, parents who were unable to seek higher education push their children to succeed in their lives. One woman interviewed for the book, Lisandra Ambrozio, attributes her success to her mother’s inability to take English classes. Ambrozio’s mother was told to take piano lessons instead of English class, which left her without many skills to get a job. When Lisandra expressed interest in taking English, her mother offered to pay for the classes because her mother was “overjoyed” at her daughter’s interest. Being fluent in English helped Ambrozio at the top private university in Brazil, where she received her Bachelor’s and Master’s. Her sister is a lawyer, and her brother a civil engineer. Today Lisandra is the human resources director for Pfizer Brazil. Another interviewee said, “There was a time in India when people saved up money for their daughter’s marriage or for their son’s education, but the urban middle-class community in India doesn’t do that anymore. Today, for a son or a daughter, the priority is education” (Hewlett/Ripa 18-19).
An increase in top tier universities has also given rise to a more educated female population. To receive a globally recognized education, students from developing countries would need to study abroad in Western Europe and the United States. Now, students can stay in their home countries. There are six universities in China that fall in the top two hundred in the world. Russia and India both have two on the same list. The second income provided by a working mother can be key to a family’s financial success. Russia, China and Brazil boast six of the thirty most expensive cities to live in. Double income is necessary to survive in cities like St. Petersburg and Beijing. Families are also shifting away from tradition to support their wives and mothers. A woman from India said, “My husband says, ‘There’s no way you are leaving your job. You’re too driven…well qualified…you have ambition.’”
Another thing the book discusses is the fact that success at work is hindered by “pitfalls and tripwires,” as the authors call them. These can range from crazy work schedules to transportation issues. The pressure of raising a family can be enough for many women to leave work. And even when working, women are expected to keep the house and raise children. Working 40-60 hour weeks can be detrimental to their duties at home. It can also be detrimental for their career. Many firms still are holding meetings well into the evening, when the women have gone home to cook dinner and finish household chores. One firm in India realized that they could have much greater attendance by making dinner meetings into lunch meetings. Before they knew it, every woman in the office was attending meetings. Employers such as this firm have started to realize that they must accommodate a woman’s schedule to keep them as employees. Telecommuting has also become a popular option. In Russia, where a normal commute is three hours, telecommuting allows workers to get much more done in a day. It also allows a female employee to care for children, complete chores and work. This is also a huge concern in the US and Western Europe as women begin to solidify their position in the workforce. Many women who commute long distances find themselves in unsafe situations, on trains, in cabs and walking. Female only rider cabs, driven by women, in the United Arab Emirates have helped women commute. Employers in India and Brazil arrange for car services to be on call to take female employees home at all hours of the day.
While this book was applied to a leadership class, it could be tied to a number of different contexts. It even makes for a great rainy day book, or a coffee table conversation starter. I was so surprised to hear all of the positive things for women happening in the world. In first world countries, we seem to think of developing countries in black and white, ridden with poverty and inequality. However, that is changing. Many parts of the world are still this way, but the world is changing, and women are on the front lines of that change.