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Working With Indian Women (Part 1)

Working With Indian Women (Part 1)

December 27, 2011

Not all women are created equal. And one expat living in India says thank goodness for that!

I still remember my first day at work in Bangalore like it was yesterday.  My new job started – as they should for some reason – on a Monday and I had moved to India with three suitcases and into a hotel only the day before.  I spent that Sunday in the hotel room relaxing, mesmerized by Indian television and focused on silly tasks like picking out the right outfit to wear for my first day at my new job.  I was the first “white girl” hired by the company so I knew I was going to stand out a lot so I wanted to make a good impression.  I also spent time – rather in vain – to try to darken up my fair skin with a self-tanning cream to try to appear less pasty white and blend in better at work (it had been over 6 months since I was in the sun last and the European winter had taken its toll on my pale skin).

I walked up the stairs at work to an unassuming office that was chosen not for location or prestige but for its affordable rent.  The interiors were simple and from my perspective in much need of a coat of paint, final touches on the construction and the interior design but … this is India.  The importance that western cultures place on aesthetics simply doesn’t always exist here, especially in common areas and toilets, with the décor, etc.  Sure there are some gorgeous offices here in the world’s 2nd Silicon Valley but until recent years that simply wasn’t the norm.

The first woman I encountered that day was the really sweet receptionist who called me Ma’am from the get-go, which was not my favourite way to be addressed.  And on my first day at work I certainly didn’t understand AT ALL that it was simply a sign of respect.  Poor girl was off to a bad start because I thought she was insinuating that I was walking in looking tired or scrappy or OLD.  But she seemed sweet enough so I let it slide.

After a few moments I was taken into the CEOs office for a big meet-and-greet with the C-level and management team, which I was part of the C-level team and very happily I was not the only female officer.  The smiles I received felt genuine and welcoming and warm.  I expected that from my male colleagues because typically men do not feel threatened by women but I was genuinely pleased to feel it 100% from the ladies too.  It was a nice change and I tell you…and the smiles never faded.  My first day was lovely!

But is working with Indian women all sunshine and rainbows?  No, not always.  But typically not for the same negative reasons that I experienced in the U.S. or Europe.  The negatives here are more on the trivial side and funny, whereas back home they were reasons that affected productivity and happiness at work.

For me, and probably most westerners, working with Indian women is a joy.  First, there is something about the typical Indian woman’s personality that seems to make MOST Indian women have a gentle spirit at work.  Don’t get me wrong, Indian women get the job done just like – or even better – than a man.  But the women tend to have something of a gentle spirit in my opinion.

Although this is my general feeling, there are always exceptions to the rule.  I’m happy to say that I have actually only run across one ‘bad egg’ so far, it was at my first job in Bangalore.  There was one woman on the management team who was a bully, rude, yelled at her staff in front of others and didn’t play well with the rest of us executives.  But this was one person out of hundreds I have worked with now so I’d prefer to think of her as an anomaly.

I’m really struggling to write just the right words to describe why I think women have this gentle spirit because I truly don’t want to offend my Indian sisters here.  My gut says it comes from tradition and the somewhat subservient role that women have played in Indian society – where the men were the bread winners and the women were dependent and I believe obedient in the household.  In the past, women were not characteristically independent women of power.  Given all of that, the new ‘power women’ of India are still balancing the old traditions with their new status.  Therefore, today’s Indian women are an amazing mix of intelligence and skill combined with a keen ability to process situations and reply to or treat others with respect that is often different to the men.  Like I said, aside from the ‘anomaly’ at my first job, I have yet to see a woman at work lose her cool or raise her voice like I’ve seen the men here do time and time again – in fact, a bit too frequently at my first job for my taste that’s for sure.

In my experience, women at the same level on the corporate ladder or who are competing in a climb to the top in the U.S. and in Europe are typically vicious.  It’s often a hidden trait but it is there.  Maybe because I was always a bit older than the other women I didn’t feel the same need to prove I was superior to the others to the boss.  But the truth is that I have not been on an executive team with a single woman who did not make my life difficult or demonstrate some animosity or jealousy for no apparent reason EVER before moving to India.  The change here is wonderful.  Women are either simply more confident here or they haven’t adopted that overly competitive gene yet but it is a real treat to go to work and not worry if my colleague would be getting ‘up in my grill’ or not on any given day. Part 2 explore clothing, hierarchy and learn about the exciting things that happen in the ladies' restroom where I work!

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  • Divenita Er
    Divenita Er
    10.02.12 08:13 PM
    It is a nice post, as most ppl have commented. I'd like to add, you have good observation skills as some people may not bother to even write a post :)!
    And, yes, I think even while being submissive partially, you can emerge as a leader [If you have not, please read on Gandhi's principles or Baba Amte] :)!
    Just another perspective.
    Thanks again
  • Suhaib Ilyasi
    Suhaib Ilyasi
    19.01.12 11:12 AM
    Really nice work by Govt. no words to appreciate this beautiful activity. HATS OFF!!
  • SJC
    18.01.12 11:07 PM
    interesting piece. hopefully the colder aspects of western corporate culture dont creep in to their indian equivalents...
  • keerthana
    09.01.12 11:00 PM
    Hmmm..women are the same everywhere, I feel..I have seen how vicious and sly women can be in my office!
  • vaibhavGhevde
    31.12.11 10:42 AM
    reference my comment above:
    I mean "BROUGHT UP"
  • vaibhavGhevde
    31.12.11 10:26 AM
    Its nice that your first experience with Indian women was good. Girls in India are brought like that. But, do not count on it. You could have a different experience at different places.
  • Vijay
    29.12.11 07:46 PM
    Wow Angela, you are on fire, two great articles in a row, go for hat trick.
    In general typical Indian middle class woman is honest, humble, little bit shy, sincere. There are companies which prefer to hire women because they are more loyal, to keep attrition rates low. One thing they are great at is: adjustment, compromize in tough situations.
    Of course sometimes they are too sensitive, so one has to be careful not to hurt them.
  • rahul aggarwal
    rahul aggarwal
    29.12.11 02:39 PM
    all the best for your professional journey in india with indian women.. (no sarcasm in saying this)

  • roopz
    29.12.11 02:01 PM
    Thanks for writing such a wonderful post about Indian women :)
  • Manreet Sodhi Someshwar
    Manreet Sodhi Someshwar
    29.12.11 09:37 AM
    Hi Angela,

    I enjoyed reading your take on the Indian woman executive v/s a Western woman exec. Am sure you'll find some who veer off the 'genteel' ones you've encountered, but so far so good :)

  • Pallavi Subramaniam
    Pallavi Subramaniam
    29.12.11 12:41 AM
    I love the way you wrote 'the new ‘power women’ of India are still balancing the old traditions with their new status'. That was spot on!
  • Deepak
    28.12.11 06:09 PM
    India and Indians are the finest example for diverse features, you can't just label Indian woman as best or worst by seeing some 10 or 100's or 100's of Indian woman, this is your view and i respect it..
    Indian woman are well known for multi tasking, time management, since my mom is working i can feel and understand her pressure everyday, she works out hard to pack my family and at evening she will be exhausted and shows her office problems at home, by yelling at us :P

    i think the woman who yells may have some family problem :) so she is showing out at office, i just guess that.
    Chanda kochchar, Indra Nooyi are well respected corporates,(forgive if i have misspelled) and Indira gandhi is strongest PM and IRON WOMAN we call :)

  • Ruchi
    27.12.11 05:37 PM
    You seem to have received the nicer side of working Indian women. Most of the ones I have come across in my work life have been rude, yelling and autocratic to put it right.
    Lucky you! But yes, the 'gentle' factor, I do agree.
    Some will even come back and apologize for yelling.
  • 498A film
    498A film
    27.12.11 04:56 PM
    Really happy moments for Indian housewives and lower level ladies. Keep it up... :)
  • sujith
    27.12.11 10:58 AM

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