Make the Puthris Stay! by Lakshmi Vijaykumar

The overall levels of education in the current younger generation of girls are showing an upward trend. However, enrolment of these young girls in higher education and above is declining. The Gender Gap Report 2017, World economic Forum report ascertains the same where it states India ranks at 108 in educational attainment for girls. According to the report, India experiences a massive decline in its overall Global Gender Gap Index ranking, largely attributable to a widening of its gender gaps in political empowerment as well as healthy life expectancy and basic literacy. In addition, data that is available reveals the scale of India’s gender gap in legislation, top management, professional and technical fields. This highlights the need for continuous efforts to achieve parity in economic opportunity and participation. On a positive note, the report states India succeeds in fully closing its primary and secondary education enrolment gender gaps for the second year running, and, for the first time has nearly closed its tertiary education gender gap. However, it continues to rank fourth-lowest in the world on Health and Survival, remaining the world’s least-improved country over the past decade. With more than 50 years having passed since the inauguration of the nation’s first female prime minister in 1966, maintaining its global top 20 ranking on the Political Empowerment, it requires India to make progress on this dimension with a new generation of female political leadership.

The root of this problem is intertwined with a need to increase literacy levels and increasing gender parity at leadership roles across industry sectors and other levels where women participation is abysmal.

When we take a deeper look at the prevalent gender gap, the effect of this problem is exacerbated where girls drop out of education for reasons particularly at the economically poorer section of the society. This also highlights the core of the issue where companies are missing out on to a large talent pool that of the underprivileged girls whose lives are often marred by challenges such as female foeticide, infanticides, child marriage, sexual abuse, domestic violence and other such safety issues. In fact, that brings us to a bigger and pertinent question – why do girls leave school? There is not obviously a single good answer, nor is there any conclusive data available on why girls drop out of higher education especially from the economically weaker section of the society.

Broadly, we can say there are three main reasons – expectancy to participate in domestic chores, safety issues and infrastructure roadblocks.

Expectancy in domestic chores

In India, girls are conditioned to learn all the household related chores such as cooking, washing, cleaning, etc as they are told that’s where their futures lie. This problem is not only prevalent in rural areas, but is lucidly evident in urban families.  Young girls are involved in day to day chores including a younger sibling care and are often forced to drop out of schools to take care of younger siblings. Besides, families in rural set ups look at sending girl children for higher education as both monetary and a psychological waste. While boys are still looked up as source of income, while the earning potential of women is not even considered. Overall, participation of girls in family life becomes a hindrance to their higher schooling.

Health & Safety

For adolescent girls to pursue higher education safety is a major concern in India and this issue becomes a prevalent discourse surrounding the events that get reported almost every day. Many a times, girls don’t report cases of abuse to parents for the fear of a) dropping out of school and b) to shoulder the blame on themselves. Long commute, unsafe hostels, force young girls to drop out of school. This eventually encourages parents in the economically weaker sections of the society to put their young girls in marital bonds.

Infrastructure barriers

There is also significant need to upscale the infrastructure facilities for girls to continue their quest for knowledge in schools and colleges. Unsafe hostels, unhygienic conditions that often lead to health issues and lack of good female staff pose as major threats to young girls’ education in India.

As much as it is important to up the infrastructural facilities, and ensure safety measurements are taken, it is equally important to make all those young adolescent girls intentional about their future employment. Though the prevalent ethos and the legislation including the Right to Education in India guarantees that almost every Indian student will undergo schooling, the legislation does not have the ability to ensure a conducive environment for education actually exists. Nor does it have the people bandwidth to reach out to the number of government run schools across the country. The time is come for us to take cognizance of the situation and offer piece meal solutions but give hundred per cent attention on the long term scale and ensure that girls across India are able to freely, safely, boldly and consistently pursue higher education and in turn exhibit their intentionality for future employment.


Camila Kirtzman – Intern for the Research and Analytics Department

I had the privilege of interning at AVTAR Career Creators this past spring – more specifically with the FLEXI Careers India department. I am an American student and I spent this past semester in Jaipur, India studying Sustainable Development and Social Change. For the last month of my time in India, Dr. Saundarya Rajesh gave me the opportunity to intern at FLEXI Careers India in Chennai to conduct independent research. With the help of remarkable and inspiring employees of FLEXI and AVTAR, I designed a study that looked at flexible women workers within dual-career families in India. Although I was a guest at AVTAR, I had never in my entire life felt so welcomed and respected by my peers. I was extremely fortunate to be surrounded by such kindhearted and generous employees who displayed immense passion and eagerness in their work. There was never a day when someone did not offer their help with my project. The positive energy and dedication that the employees of AVTAR and FLEXI brought to the office every day always made me excited to come to work.

I remember when I first heard about Project PUTHRI and I remember how enthusiastic people were when they were explaining the project to me. I see PUTHRI as the next step in ensuring that women in India obtain equal employment opportunities. I believe that when girls have role models to look up to, especially for employment reasons, it gives them more motivation to pursue a career as well. I am excited about the impact the project will have!

Intentionally building careers: The unsung heroines from underprivileged families!

Priya (name changed) was an eighth standard student at a Government Matriculation School. Her father had disowned their family and her mother who was a house-maid was the sole bread winner. Every evening, after school Priya would pick her mom from work and cycle back home – a routine ritual she cherished. It was at one of her mom’s ‘workplaces’ that she met Reena – an IT professional and the only daughter of the house. Priya would silently marvel at Reena’s sophistication – her id card, her swanky handbag, the way she rattled off in English to her friends. Soon enough, she decided that she would brave it out and one day, not very far away, she would swipe her own ID card at one of the swanky ‘IT Parks’. And swipe she did! She did remarkably well in her boards. An NGO funded her BCA in one of the Govt. Colleges in the city, which Priya followed up with an MBA (She secured a scholarship for the same) in a private college. Placed through campus interviews at a multi-national bank, Priya today is Assistant Manager – Customer Relations, with over 5 years of experience in the field.

This isn’t a fairy tale, as Priya is a real life woman professional today amongst us – living the tale! But how many such tales are written every year in our country? Not more than a handful. Poverty, early marriages, sexual abuse and domestic violence – these are only a few of the challenges faced by young girls from underprivileged backgrounds. It is only very rarely that you see the odds being braved and stories such as this being told.

48.5% of our population is women. However, Indian women’s contribution to the economy is the lowest on a global scale, at 17 percent. This means that for inclusive growth for the country, significant improvement in women’s workforce participation is a must. Over 70% of women in India live outside of the urban conditions. If more women are to seek active employment, it is important that inclusive policies extend to the entire socio-economic spectrum of women – giving all women access to education and opportunities to pursue careers. As the first step towards this ‘universal, unbiased access’, it would be interesting to first dissect the success stories of career intentional women from underprivileged backgrounds and identify the ‘secret ingredients’ of their success. And this is exactly what we did – AVTAR Human Capital Trust identified 496 such women from across India, who were all from economically disadvantaged classes of the society and studied their career patterns.

To set the context, Career intentionality is the extent to which an individual deploys intentions to chart his/her career path. For an individual, more so a woman, intentionality lays the foundation of a sustainable career. Career intentional women tide over periods of crises, leverage opportunities and build sustainable careers. Examining the career patterns of underprivileged, career intentional women, it was found that three critical aspects paved the way for sustained intentionality in them. They are:

  • Career intentionality Creators – factors/forces/people who/which sowed the seeds of intentionality for a successful career. They were the typical dream creators.
  • Career intentionality Sustainers – These are factors/forces which resulted in keeping alive their career intentionality and helped their aspirations thrive.
  • Career intentionality Propellers – These are the intrinsic qualities in these women which gave momentum and continue to add momentum to their careers – the atypical skill repertoire.

The study conducted between Sep 2016 and Feb 2017, assessed the careers of over 147

The charts below detail the three aspects further:

What are some of the advantages of investing in building career intentionality in young girls from underprivileged backgrounds?

  1. Empowered Girls: They are empowered to build careers. They tend to marry late and have fewer children.
  2. Better living conditions for families: Research shows that a woman’s income correlated positively with the number of years her children spent in school. As women have a natural tendency to invest their incomes in children’s education and health, the economy grows alongside a healthier and better educated younger generation. Several global studies have shown that educated women contribute to the welfare of the next generation by reducing infant mortality, lowering fertility, and improving the nutritional status of children. Country studies also confirm significant health and educational outcomes. In India, children of literate mothers spend two hours more per day studying than children of illiterate mothers.
  3. Decline in instances of domestic violence: The ability to earn significantly impacts the confidence levels of Indian Women according to a 2014 study conducted by AVTAR. Research also shows that, being in employment and having a life outside of homes also empowers women and give them the confidence to report domestic crimes or other assaults that they are subject to – a definite requirement to the improvement of living conditions for women from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

And there is more in store for the country and businesses which operate here. The International Labour Organisation has suggested that women’s work may be the single-most important factor in reducing poverty in developing economies. A study on third billion countries established that an increased number of women in the workforce could imply that India’s GDP could go up by as much as 27%, per capita income could go up by as much as 20% by 2030. Other benefits of greater women’s workforce participation according to economists are:

  • Increased purchasing power of women
  • Enhanced skill diversity of the workforce as also its productivity
  • Business result improvements
  • Increased number of women owned businesses

The case has been made and conviction has been built. Triggering the wave of socio-economic inclusion for women is Project PUTHRI – India’s first initiative to build career intentionality in adolescent girls from underprivileged backgrounds. As much as it is important to extend infrastructural support for bettering their lives, it is equally important to make them intentional about pursuing education and building careers – the only definite way of segueing into a better world. It is important that the girls’ social ecosystem intervenes at appropriate life points to instill in them the need to pursue careers and enable their aspiration by means of necessary support. To look up to are the patterns of successful career development – one that is constituted by intentionality creators, intentionality sustainers and intentionality propellers. Each had their own share of struggle but all of them who made it big where intentional – about their careers, about their futures! Let us get together to show the young, ambitious but less-privileged girls– that there is in existence a methodological framework for success, ones that their sisters have leveraged to steer ahead!

Intentionality – redefining a professional’s journey towards Career Achievement

  • Career Intentionality – the extent of intention a professional uses to move ahead in his/her career path.
  • This is an intrinsic attribute that varies across career stages for men and women, but is the HCF (Highest Common Factor) of career success amongst professionals.
  • 48.5% of India’s population is women, 30% of who live in urban areas and are in access of opportunities of urban India
  • 46% of enrolled university graduates in India are women
  • 27% of entry level professionals are women, 15% of mid-level professionals are women, tapering to 5% at senior executive level positions and 1% in boards
  • 48% of Indian women abort their careers mid-way
  • According to WEF’s gender gap reports, it will take another 118 years to bridge the existing gender gap in India
  • AVTAR’S first study on intentionality was done on 2456 Indian professionals of which,

  • 56% were women
  • 44% were men
  • While 28% of the professionals were in their early career stage (age between 21 and 30), 54% were in their mid-career stage (age between 31 and 40) and 18% were in their matured career stages (above the age of 40). All these men and women were identified by their respective employers as being “successful” and this qualified them to participate in the study.
  • It was found that the factors which contributed to the career success of both men and women are IDENTICAL. Both demonstrated the same competencies which lead them to become successful. These competencies were : Networking, Seeking Mentors, Problem Solving, Resilience, Focus, Negotiation, Work-Life Integration and Building Trust & Respect
  • The difference lay in the age at which men and women demonstrated the traits. Women began these traits at a significantly later age, as compared to men.
  • It was found that ‘Career Achievement’ is the single-most important career aspiration for women across career maturity levels. But for men, meeting the financial needs of the family takes center stage starting mid-career levels.
  • This is an indication that women are intrinsically wired for career achievement, majority of women professionals know where they are headed – their goals are set. It also means that the male psyche is primed very early to be the financial provider for the family.

    • It was also found that the ‘Career Aspirational Curve’ for women tilted towards ‘work-life integration’ starting from the mid-career stage, probably because this is when the 3Ms (Marriage, Maternity and Motherhood) impact their lives most in the mid-career stages. For men, professional expertise and career advancement are the primary career aspirations at the early and mid-career levels.

      This indicates that while men and women are equally driven towards building careers and are equally aspirational at the threshold of their careers, their aspirations differ starting at the mid-career stage. It is here that intentionality comes into play. Career Intentionality ensures that aspirations are met at critical career junctures and careers are successfully sustained.

    • How does ‘career intentionality’ manifest itself?
      • Through intentional investment in seeking mentors
      • Through intentional investment in networking
      • Through intentional investment in identifying role models
      • Through intentional investment in seeking non-familial support
      • Through intentional investment in creating support systems that address non-professional commitments (child care, elder care etc.)

    It is in this manifestation of intentionality that a gender gap continues to exist, resulting in skewed gender ratios in corporate India.

    • And the gaps are:
      • Through intentional investment in seeking mentors
        • 12% of men seeking mentor support, only 4% women do so
      • Through intentional investment in networking
        • 28% of men leverage their networks for career advancement, only 14% of women do so
        • Through intentional investment in identifying role models
          • 40% of men have identified role models, only 20% of women have role models
        • Through intentional investment in seeking non-familial support
          • 53% of men invest in non-familial support, only 25% of women do so
        • Through intentional investment in creating support systems that address non-professional commitments (child care, elder care etc.)
          • 80% of men have family support as against 48% of women who enjoy support from family/extended family in career pursuits