We tend to think of Third World women as oppressed and impoverished, a story compellingly described in Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s book, "Half the Sky".But there is another narrative that demonstrates the brand new clout of highly qualified women in emerging markets.
Consider the following facts:
Across the developing world, women are increasingly outperforming men in the tertiary education system: in Brazil, 60 percent of college graduates are female.
Educated and ambitious, these women are determined to put their credentials to work. Over 80 percent of women in India aspire to top jobs; in Brazil and China, the figure is over 70 percent. In the United States by comparison, a mere 36 percent of highly qualified women are shooting for top jobs.
Such stratospheric levels of ambition are sustained, in part, by the absence of childcare issues. Working mothers in the BRIC nations are able to think big and aim high because they have more shoulders to lean on than their American and European peers. Between hands-on extended family, inexpensive domestic help and an increasingly wide range of daycare options, professional women in these geographies are not sidelined by motherhood.
But even the smartest BRIC women face a series of family-centered “pull” factors and workplace-centered “push” factors that conspire to force them off the career track.
Childcare may not be a burden but eldercare is. Fully 70 percent of highly qualified BRIC women have significant eldercare responsibilities. Unlike in the West, in there’s a huge stigma attached to placing parents in assisted living. In fact, “daughterly guilt” often exceeds “maternal guilt” as professional women in emerging markets struggle to balance career with responsibility to elders. With demographers projecting a leap in the percentage of the population aged over 60 across these regions, this burden is only going to increase.
Discrimination is an ongoing issue – in both local and global companies. Gender bias continues to limit women’s careers. In China, over a quarter of survey respondents (men as well as women) believe that women are treated unfairly in the workplace; in India the number is 45 percent. Problems of bias are severe enough to make nearly half of women in India, China and Brazil (55, 48 and 40 percent, respectively) consider quitting.