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Sylvia Ann Hewlett

The founder of the Center for Work-Life Policy talks about the group's new report, The Battle for Female Talent in India

How serious is India's talent war?

The economy is growing 8 to 9 percent a year. But the constraint is talent. By 2012 there could be 5 million fewer highly skilled people than needed. Recruiting and keeping talented people is a big issue for companies, and educated women are not being fully utilized. There is an unexpected reality for managers, too: The public sector is very appealing for women. Those jobs are prestigious, the salaries are good, and the workweek is not as extreme.

Are women prepared to compete?

Forty-two percent of graduates are female, and 80 percent of working women describe themselves as very ambitious. That doesn't diminish as they get older. Those figures are staggering. In America, by age 40, there's a real drop in ambition among women.

What's keeping those ambitious women out of the workforce?

There is a diffuse set of cultural pressures. One surprise: Women in India don't expect to be sidelined by motherhood. Women have extended family support, and there is low-cost domestic help. Elder care is more problematic. There is a great tradition of filial piety. The traditional role of a woman in the extended family still tends to create pressures to quit for a while.

Can businesses really help?

Companies such as Ernst & Young are organizing family days where women bring in their husbands, parents, and in-laws to get briefed on opportunities they have. More challenging is mobility; working somewhere else means shifting the entire extended family. [So] Goldman Sachs and Citibank offer short-term assignments.

Berfield is an associate editor at Bloomberg Businessweek.

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