Saturday, January 06, 2007

Wonder Women!

A post to commemorate another First Female milestone in our government - Nancy Pelosi was sworn in an Speaker of the House.

For me, I always remember Tip O'Neill and Newt Gingrich as Speakers, so this will change a lot of perceptions people have about women in government. I've finished Hillary Clinton's "Living History," and am really impressed by her talents and grace as a legal mind, a diplomat and a working mother. I don't know what her chances are as President, but politics is her lifeblood.

I've experienced a lot of 'first woman' and 'first Indian' milestones in my life. These are a handful that have made an indelieble mark - Sandra Day O'Conner as Supreme Court Justice, Madeline Albright as Secretary of State, Sally Ride as NASA astronaut and Kalpana Chawla as NASA Astronaut of Indian descent.

It'll be interesting to see what type of perceptions our daughters will have about women's roles in the world, if any. As a child of the '70's, I had read a book called "You Can Be What You Want." (something like that). I remember it said girls can be anything they want and had pictures of Indira Gandhi and Margaret Thatcher, and female doctors, construction workers, etc. We grew up watching and playing "Wonder Woman," "Bionic Woman" and "Charlie's Angels."

Nowadays, we don't think twice about being a woman and entering a different field. I have a lot of female friends who are in wonderful professions as surgery, dentistry, veterinary and the legal system. I've always pointed to my daughter that it's not just the 'boys fly rockets', but Indian "girls", too (Kalpana Chawla and Sunita Williams)

This is not to say that the glass ceiling does not exist, since it is at a higher levels. My friend had pointed out how a male doctor who was less experienced than her was offered a higher salary. The hospital did a song and dance to explain. She's since left that hospital and received picking up the pieces of our then-shabby company and polishing it. We do see a fair share of men, women and minorities in top roles. My team was great because the technical director and network administrator were women and ran the show.

When I changed careers from nonprofit to IT, it was a shock to work with many men, since nonprofit was led by more women. I worked for a top global consulting company and leadership was only white men. I didn't feel ethnicity was an issue since there were many Asians and South Asians in other IT positions. However, I would be in a conference room and count the number of men to women. It would be 10 men and 3 women. I always felt I had to work harder to be taken seriously and to be heard because I was a woman.

A friend who is now a father of a daughter said he can't believe how smart girls are. My thoughts exactly as I watch girls and boys develop. He was wondering why there aren't more women at the top and actually running the world. I pointed out that while doors are open and women have the knowledge and capability, not many women walk through them. Rather, they choose not to walk through them. Many step aside for a break to raise children or prefer comfortable and less demanding career roles.

We definitely want our daughters to think freely and not feel their brothers will excel while they can't. That reminds me of the idea of Shakespeare's sister from Virginia Woolf. Women were not encouraged to write at that time. What if Shakespeare had a sister who was equally or more talented than he was? Her voice was stifled. Actually, India's own Rabindranath Tagore had a sister, Swarna Kumari Devi, who was also a writer and activist. The world doesn't know her name, though her work was published and probably influenced her younger brother's works.

Like the women before us, we need to keep giving our daughters a voice and a forum -- we'll be amazed by what they can say to the world.

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