We all do it. We see a housekeeper, or a houseboy, or a driver, or someone in a similar low-paying job, and assume that the position they are in — a position with virtually no upward mobility — is where they are meant to be.
We assume – usually rightly so — that in five years, or 10, or 50, that the housekeeper will still be a housekeeper, the driver still a driver, etc.Often, sadly, pathetically, we don’t want to change the status quo, to help them, because it’s darn convenient to have a familiar and competent cook, or driver, or nanny, helping us navigate through our lives.
Frequently, we rationalise our unwillingness to help them by assuming there is nothing we can do for them anyway, that there is no way to change the status quo because the person in question lacks the education, the desire, the ambition, perhaps even the intelligence to move forward.If you’re one of those who make these assumptions, I’m here to tell you you’re wrong. And I can prove it.
Eighteen months ago, I hired a housekeeper. Call her Aditi. In her first month working for me, she made lots of obvious mistakes, forgetting to clean certain things, or to buy or do things on her checklist, etc.It was annoying, and I didn’t know if she would make it as my housekeeper.But then I noticed that if I pointed out a mistake once, she learned from it, and never made the mistake again.
In this process of “training” her, I also began to learn about her background — the chain of people who had abused her throughout her life, the husband and in-laws who abused her now, the many obstacles that had stopped her from getting an education, and the impoverished life that seemed to be hers now and forever. Bleak. Very bleak.
But Aditi herself was not bleak… she was amazing. She was positive and hard-working, and even though her English skills were very limited, I could see she was very bright.I asked her one day if she wanted to be a housekeeper her whole life, and she shook her head emphatically: “No!” I then asked her if she had a plan to get out of housekeeping, and she just gave me a sad, defeated look.
Hmmm. A friend had an old laptop, which I borrowed and on which I loaded a basic typing tutorial.I figured an English typing program would help her English skills, teach her a bit about computers and teach her to type.And if she could type, maybe there was a future out there that didn’t include cleaning my toilets. A simple receptionist job, perhaps.
Aditi had never used a computer, of course, so I spent five minutes with her — that’s really all the time I had — and showed her how to turn it on, how to launch the program, then explained that I wanted her to take 30 minutes a day while she was at work to practice typing.The rest of this story is almost unbelievable, but here goes. Within a week, Aditi was up to typing 10 words a minute. Within a month, 20. Two months, 30.
I added more tutorials, in Explorer, Word, Excel. She was soon navigating around a computer like a pro, doing basic budgets in Excel, typing letters in Word, even searching for ingredients for meals (she was my cook, too) in Google.Her English improved. We started to communicate not by cell phones, but over Skype, and email.
Just over a year after she started cleaning and cooking for me — a year after I had actually pondered firing her because I didn’t know if she could make it as my housekeeper — it was clear that her communication and computer skills were better than many of the college grads I interviewed every day.I brought her into my company as a job candidate, to work as a telemarketer, and she got the job.
Her pay went up substantially, and more importantly, she made the jump from a career with NO upward mobility to one with infinite upwardmobility.To see her at work now — glowing (I’m not exaggerating) with happiness and hope – lifts my spirits every single day.And how is Aditi doing in her new job? Superbly.She is arguably our strongest telemarketer, and our head of marketing is already talking about promoting her.Now, if you think this is a one-off — that Aditi is a rare, talented gem in a sea of mediocrity — tune in to my column next week.Talent is around us everywhere, and if those of us who are a little more fortunate open our eyes to it, and nurture it, India and the world will be a far better place.
A foreigner’s observations on living, working, surviving and thriving in India