My New Role Model
Everyday Inspiration outside of LinkedIn
My Role Model Is….
Not so fast. Just like on LinkedIn — formerly a popular professional networking, now the new Facebook — you’ll need to read a thousand words before I eventually get to a vague point everyone else has been harping about.
Every time I log on to LinkedIn now, it seems to be filled with stories of inspiration. A dog, a fish, a mosquito! Everything inspires! The sunrise I witnessed for the first time in years will inspire me to rise above all challenges I will ever face!
We often say inspiration can be found anywhere. But we most often look up to the most successful among us. The 1% who make it with a combination of hard work and opportune timing. But they rarely make good role models. They have done what we will probably never do. That almost all of us will never ever achieve. So are they really good role models?
I looked around. The usual suspects were all present. Parents, Grandparents, Teachers, Coaches. All excellent role models in their own right. But today I looked at another role model. One whose staggering motivation flabbergasted me. Whose consistency and sense of duty stunned me to my very core. The very foundations of my belief system about my self-worth were shaken.
A Common Sight In Indian Households
Picture an Indian household if you can. Indian women perform household work for 35 hours in an average week. The men perform 2. This is the worst ratio in the world. But is 35 hours enough to do all housework? Clearly not. India has immense wealth inequality, especially in cities, where shanties and slums abound within a few hundred feet of high-rise buildings that number among the most expensive real estate in the world. This inequality has given rise to a class of workers deemed to be, among other things, “servants” or “household help” or simply, “maids”. They perform a range of jobs from cooking and cleaning to looking after young kids and fetching groceries from nearby stores. Typical of the Indian economy, this is a highly unregulated sector. Official estimates put the number of such workers at 4.2 million. Unofficial numbers can be as high as 50 million. More than the entire population of Spain. A significant majority (~90%) are women and have migrated from poorer states or even emigrated from neighbouring Bangladesh to metropolises.
Today I was inspired by two such workers who work at my house.
What are they Maid Of?
The working hours and conditions for maids are grossly unfair. Their time has abysmal value. I have seen countless arguments on platforms like Quora that that claim that maids are compensated fairly for their time and effort. It may hard to think about how ridiculous this is without some context so here;
- Maids can expect to make anywhere between INR 40–100 per hour of their time. That may not sound too bad but..
- Maids have no contracts. They do not have fixed working hours nor holidays with pay and finally,
- Maids often lose their jobs with no notice. An argument with the employer(such as they are), a slight misstep can lead to a maid losing a job that may account for well over 30–40% of her income overnight. Bear in mind that their financial position rarely support such luxuries as savings and investments to fall back on.
All of us at some point have been guilty of picturing ourselves at St.Tropez with millions in the bank, nursing a daiquiri on Cote d’Azure’s famed beaches. Maids will often live month to month. In my experience of speaking to eight of them, they all happily admitted that by the end of the month, their bank accounts usually have less than INR 5,000. Savings aren’t an option and retirement is never contemplated. Older maids continue to work in spite of numerous ailments caused by a lifetime of difficult labour. Doctor’s visits are somewhat possible in the grossly underfunded but fundamentally socialist primary healthcare systems. But any larger medical need can only be addressed by the supposed largesse of the “employers”. Maids generally work well past 55 and into their 60s, taking up positions as ayahs or nannies. I found no research that specifically measures their life expectancy but I expect it to be substantially lower than the average of 72 for women in India.
Why do they inspire?
At last, I stop my rambling and come to the point. Why are they my role models? The truth is, the most successful people in the world (no, not the Musks and the Bezos’) are people who have invariable seem to have one characteristic. Consistency. The maids — woefully underpaid, often borderline abused and with little to no extrinsic motivation — manage to perform their work with remarkable consistency day in, day out for decades. I barely hear them complain about their lot in life. They hold a special adoration for the families they work for, going above and beyond when situation demands. In turn, they are considered family, often invited to marriages, birthdays and other events. Their sense of duty is unparalleled. No sick leave? No problem. No paid leave? No problem.
How do they do it? What motivates them? Is a primal motivation such as survival so effective? If so, should executives be forced to make decisions under duress, maybe even a threat to their survival? Billions are spent by the top companies to motivate the top talent in the world. Is the answer right here in front of us?
A simple motivation for me was to show up every day and do my part. It doesn’t need to be extraordinary. It just needs to be consistent. So that I can be counted upon, day in day out, like possibly hundreds of millions do every day on these incredible women.
Can we empower them?
Finally, being ever curious, I can’t help but do some quick maths. Today, salaries for maids account for 2.5% of our household income. What if we doubled their salaries? A mere 2.5% of difference for us but a 100% jump for them. What if every household that could afford to, did this? Will we create an overnight middle class, demanding education, goods, products and services? Will we create overnight economic activity worth millions, potentially billions? A new middle class that will propel India to newer heights? Perhaps I dream. Perhaps economists will scoff at me and tell me I’m deluded.
As a footnote, don’t miss this fabulous book by Tripti Lahiri(I don’t do affiliates and make no money off this.)