This is an important topic — the emerging role of women in the automotive world where more women are fiercely breaking into male bastions, are more visible now and successful than ever before.
But are these just clichés? I tried to use my own life experiences to sift through the chaff and see if things have actually changed. I revisited vivid memories of how the elderly women in the extended family incessantly advised my mother on the futility of letting the girls of the house study Science instead of Home Science, how several relatives were upset at the daughter being sent to a residential co-ed college to study Engineering, or how the neighbours whispered behind about a certain unmarried young woman who lived alone in a rented accommodation to pursue a career in a government test laboratory.
This changed delightfully when I joined the Indian Civil Services, which was extremely civil to me and many other women that I know. For years, one served as an officer of the government at various levels and capacities, facing difficult challenges sometimes, enjoying rewarding assignments at other times but without ever facing any gender bias, save a bit here and there. Even when a question arose whether a certain lady officer could be entrusted to lead a particular time-bound engineering assignment, the same was settled on the principle of competence .
There do exist common beliefs in society about jobs which are considered suitable and desirable for girls and women and those that are not. Perhaps such biases were held strongly in the past, but one can clearly see a progressive difference in perception that has come about from my grandmother’s generation, when even the choice of the subject to be studied by the daughter of the house had to be carefully weighed, to my mother's generation, when the choice was open much wider. It has, perhaps, come a full circle when my daughter states with great conviction that she wishes to study Home Science and Fashion. While we teased and laughed about how she was the granny reincarnate, the fact remains that freedom to choose a subject of study or a career to pursue has finally been earned by the women in many more Indian households than ever before.
This topic is worth reflecting to assess the distance that we, as a society, have traversed in recognising capability and competence, rising above several biases. Today is an opportune moment to reassure the young aspirants and their families that it’s perfectly okay for children to pursue their interests and excel, even if such fields are not the conventional ones.
We recognise with gratitude, the contribution of such women who had the courage to break free from conventions and those men who provided them with the necessary support, in showing the way forward to today’s generation of daughters, sisters, wives, daughters-in-law and colleagues in pursuing their desire and excelling in their chosen fields.
When women were grudgingly given entry in the Armed Forces, very limited avenues were available. But today after about 35 years, women are doing sterling work not just as doctors and legal experts but also as fighter pilots. Today in the paramilitary, we have dedicated all-women battalions in the BSF and CRPF, to name a few, that participate in active defence and combat. The all-women police stations have lent a whole new meaning to policing with a human touch and are proving very effective in the community.
Making an impact progressively
The automotive world is no different. Even though there may have been biases earlier, the number of women in this sector is steadily rising and their contributions being progressively acknowledged.
The contribution of women comes not only through their single-minded focus, persistent hard work and integrity but also from the value they add through their unique ways of bringing in collaboration and equity; from designing cues to common-sense solutions, from creating cheerful and communicative working environment to offering perceptively unique intuition. The automotive industry is surely poised to benefit from this veritable goldmine.
The government has certainly lent a helping hand in easing the induction of women in the erstwhile male-dominated workspace at various levels in the private sector. Amendment to the Companies Act making mandatory the presence of a lady on the Board of big companies, the maternity benefits aimed at mitigating the loss in employment or position of women employees and providing the much-needed relief during childbirth and early neonatal care, along with Mudra Loans and Startup India are some of the notable mentions that are immensely helping entrepreneurial women, even at the grassroots level.
To wrap up, my message to both the women and men of today is simple: to rise and shine with their own unique talents and competencies and to always have respect and regard for each other in order to progress with everlasting harmony.