Opening new doors for women in India

Sairee Chahal is co-founder of Fleximoms, a diversity solutions provider based in Delhi which connects women seeking to enter or re-enter the workplace with job opportunities, information, and mentoring.

Sairee Chahal 640 x 480

Although women outnumber men on many higher education courses in India, just 22 percent of all female graduates go on to enter the workforce – and nearly half of those drop out mid-career. These discouraging figures are a result, Chahal believes, of the social pressure on women to be involved only in domestic matters such as caring for the extended family and the home. At the same time, the country is in desperate need of educated, qualified professional and managerial staff.

For Chahal, the answer is flexibility: the ability to use alternate formats in the working world. By means of community, information, networking, and coaching, Fleximoms works with women who are making work-life choices and help them prepare for and connect with professional opportunities.  As many women in India do not have access to the internet, the company uses both online and offline approaches and works with a network of partners and service providers such as care-givers, childcare organisations, and remote-work-enabling technology specialists. Job opportunities posted on the Fleximoms board are carefully screened to ensure they offer flexible working hours or conditions.

Fleximoms itself employs twelve people – seven fulltime and five on a flexible basis – to manage the 250 companies who now use the job board and the over 2 000 job connections that have been made since the company launched in 2011.

Chahal has had a varied career, having worked in research, translation, PR, leadership consulting and the media before setting up SAITA Consulting in 2006 to work with businesses reinventing themselves. Fleximoms was a natural development from that.

“I always knew I had to be an entrepreneur”, Chahal tells thehatch.in. “When you can’t stick in a job long enough, have too many questions and have trouble following rules without reason – that’s where you head. I dabbled a lot, and the process of creating a business and seeing it grow was the one that stuck”.

If she were able to do it all over again, she says, she would start earlier and say ‘no’ more often. “Being responsive is important, but you can only chase one goal at a time. Figure out which one”.

And the single most important characteristic for success? “Personal clarity – who you are and what drives you is important before anything else. Your own response to situations and things that drive you are the foundation you build your business on. In every business the entrepreneur is the biggest asset and the biggest liability”.

“Just don’t park yourself – for success, failure or perfection. Go on!”

This article was originally published in emerging stars.

Interview of the Day: ‘Workflex no longer implies low value, but a strategic way to manage diverse talent’

A  finalist at the Cartier Women’s Award Initiative for 2012 Sairee Chahal, co-founder of Fleximoms, is an ardent workflex advocate and industry influencer

What was the inspiration for Fleximoms? Going by the name, is it only for mothers or for any woman who needs work flexibility?

Inspiration for Fleximoms is really every home and every family of this country, where women limit their ambition, do two jobs or just do not get the professional attention they deserve. Fleximoms is symbolic of the care giving economy – millions of women who take care of their children, run homes, take care of the elderly, move houses, plan weddings and birthdays, be on spousal duties and much more. Many of them take breaks, re-tweak careers, take up less deserving jobs, run home-based businesses and what not! Fleximoms was set up keeping them in mind.

Till date, how many women has Fleximoms helped take a second shot?

Fleximoms is the largest community of women professionals in India. It is the place to go to for women who are returning professionals, making comebacks, transiting careers, re-tweaking careers, rethinking work-life choices and diverse options available to them. Over a 100 thousand women are in touch with Fleximoms directly while the community touches over 200 thousand. Over 5000 women have taken considered, conscious career steps.

Can you tell us about the thought behind the programmes and services offered? How did you visualise it?

The programs are built to help and guide an individual work on the personal-professional roadmap. Women have diverse and dissimilar lives and each has to take decisions that work best for them. Fleximoms facilitates this through various interventions, taking into account each one’s personal and professional needs, including duration of break, level of skill, personal interest and the intensity of approach.

What is the kind of response you generally get from employers and corporates?

Owing to the spread of awareness about the how-tos, which includes formats, policies, doing pilots, and sensitisation, corporates are realising that allowing flexibility to talented and skilled women makes business sense for them. However, given that we are a patriarchal society, gender awkwardness is part of our DNA. We have a long way to go before we find the ideal social solution but technology and a high number of qualified, bright women are a big plus.

Have you seen any change in mindset from the time you started?

Huge. From being considered scammy, cheap internet-based work to being part of business strategy at town halls, we have come a long way. Workflex no longer implies low end, low skill, low value but a strategic way to manage diverse talent. And I can easily say that companies who accept this willfind themselves at an enormous advantage.

What is the way ahead for Fleximoms?

The way ahead is to continue strengthening women in their professional-personal pursuits, adding efficiency, scaling, and experimenting ways and means to find more positive and effective solutions.


This was first published in TimesJobs

Fleximoms – Sairee Chahal

Sairee Chahal is Co-Founder, Fleximoms (www.fleximoms.in).

Fleximoms is a work-life and career destination for women in India. Fleximoms works towards creating, enhancing and co-creating workflex opportunities for women professionals. It also helps organizations harness flexibility as a value driver. Seen as a change leader and pioneer in the women and work conversation, Sairee is an ardent workflex advocate.

Sairee has worked in start-up mode as well as in large set-ups in research and consulting capacities. This includes setting up Russia and CIS practice for Heidrick & Struggles HSII http://www.heidrick.com and Confederation of Indian Industry.

Sairee started her career as a journalist with Advertising & Marketing magazine and quickly moved on to set-up world’s first daily for mariners —http://www.newslinkservices.com.

Sairee is a finalist for the Cartier Women’s Award Initiative for 2012 and has been featured on shows like Young Turks, Pioneering Spirit and What Women Want and is an industry influencer shaping the future of work conversation.


This piece was originally published in Enterprisers.in

Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards

sairee_chahal Sairee Chahal, Fleximoms, India. Finalist for 2012 Asia Pacific, Cartier Women’s initiative award.

Fleximoms connects women and mothers looking to enter or re-enter the workplace with job opportunities, information and mentoring

India’s GDP may have slowed in 2012, but the country is still growing: its middle classes, labour needs and higher education levels are on the rise, with women students now outnumbering men on certain courses. Yet a mere 22% of all female graduates go on to enter the workforce. ‘Women in India experience a lot of social pressure,’ says Sairee Chahal, 36, an entrepreneur who wants to help change these figures. ‘They are expected to look after all domestic matters, from the extended family to the home and the pets, and frequently end up blunting their ambition.’

Yet educated and qualified women could fill India’s burgeoning need for professional and managerial staff – a shortage of which is restricting the country’s growth, as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently declared. Overall, women make up just a quarter to a third of the nation’s workforce, and nearly half have dropped out of work by mid-career. Take Sairee’s own experience, when she recently attended her high school reunion: ‘we were a class of 60 with 35 girls, only five of whom are working today. And nobody found that odd!’

Back to work

For Sairee, the key ticket is flexibility. ‘I want to help relieve the burden many women feel returning to work would involve – be it through the stress of social responsibilities or their reticence about going back to work after starting a family.’ Her company, Fleximoms, a workflex website for women and mothers, is ample testament that women are eager to join the fray: ‘technology has brought about a revolution in the way we work that fits perfectly with flexible solutions for work-life balance. Just because society wants them to stay at home doesn’t mean women don’t feel left out of intellectual pursuits – just like anywhere else in the world!’

To help them get back in the saddle, Fleximoms has created a thriving community sharing advice and information. ‘Joining Fleximoms opens up a whole support network,’ Sairee explains. First there’s the job board, which posts opportunities from SMEs and corporations, 80% of which have flexible hours or conditions. ‘We screen jobs to make sure they’re not “reverse flexibility” i.e., full of unfeasible conditions! They have to offer a basic salary and decent working hours.’

Services catering to women

Fleximoms markets a series of coaching services, from basic CV-writing to full-blown seminars. ‘The very first service we launched was our Second Chance Back to Work programme, for women who have been out of the job market for a long time and are looking for a life change. It covers current work trends and draws up a personal roadmap to establish what steps need taking.’ Career advice sessions target those who have been out of the market for lesser periods; women in work looking for new options are also catered for, with an in-depth skills review.

Revenue comes from subscription to the coaching services and a commission on each job offer, plus a finder’s fees to headhunt the right applicant on request. Further streams range from specialist consultancy to programmes on gender policy that aim to help women feel more confident about tackling sectors dominated by men. Fleximoms itself employs 12 people – seven full time and five on a flexible basis – to manage the 250 companies who now use the job board and the 2,000+ job connections that have been made since its launch in 2011.

Boost the economy and morale

You could say that Sairee is a bit of a trailblazer: ‘I’m the only woman in my family who has ever worked! ’ When she became a mother six years ago, she was in the midst of setting up a consultancy venture: ‘I realised how lucky I was to have a network of people to help on all fronts. It inspired me to seek ways to help other women break through and avoid being denied opportunities and choices.’

With an estimated 30 million women between the ages of 30 and 55 in India, Sairee intends to get her message across to as many as possible and can serve as a vibrant role model. In many aspects, Indian society is still driven by tradition for women: the divorce rate is among the world’s lowest, single mothers are rare and women have not generally been seen as an economic power. ‘Women have only recently won the right to an equal share of assets if divorce does occur,’ notes Sairee, ‘we weren’t seen as needing access to economic resources! Yet more women in work would boost the economy, income and consumption.’ Not to mention morale and personal fulfilment.

Watch the Video here





Interview with Sairee Chahal

Personal clarity – who are you and what drives you is important before anything else. Your own response to situations and things that drive you are a foundation you build your business on. In every business the entrepreneur is the biggest asset and the biggest liability. 

Sairee Chahal, Co-founder – Fleximoms

Sairee shares her views about entrepreneurship and lots more with The Hatch.

The Hatch: A bit about yourself and a bit about your current venture

Sairee : I grew up mostly in small town India, in and around steel plants and industrial townships. So it was a regular middle class childhood – as one would have in 80’s – days of a solitary TV channel, no internet, lots of reading, book fairs and Russian books, days of pop music and crappy movies, time spent with family, doing things, exploring, just day-dreaming. College was JNU and studied Russian language and International Relations. Got an M.Phil from JNU and decided to get an executive MBA from IMT Ghaziabad just to undo the effect ;)

Started work very early in my career and have dabbled among various things in research, translation, PR, setting up of embassies, writing etc. My first job was at a magazine called A&M and since than have worked in leadership consulting, set up world’s first paper for shippies – Newslink have worked with CII among others.

In 2006, we set up SAITA Consulting to work with SMBs and businesses reinventing themselves. Fleximoms came into picture in 2009 and in 2011 Fleximoms was incorporated as Workflex Solution Pvt Ltd and that occupies a large portion of my time now.

Fleximoms (www.fleximoms.in) is a Workflex readiness specialist – which in simple words means being able to use alternate formats to stay connected to work and workforce – for women professionals and corporates. Fleximoms works with women making work-life choices and helps them connect to opportunities – using community, information, network, coaching among other elements. Fleximoms sanitizes the Workflex pipeline for corporates by connecting it to their business case.

The large part of Fleximoms caters to women professionals – offering them services like the Career Advisory service, Fleximoms 2nd Chance – Back-to-Work-Program for Women, Skill building programs like Seal the Deal, Business Refresher, Growth programs like Money and You, among others. The Corporate team works with companies to build the business case for WorkFlex. It design policies, systems and processes to enable WorkFlex, including flexibility consulting, Flex Work Programs, customized corporate programs, inductions for line and HR teams, diversity audits etc thereby driving the overall adoption of Workflex. The Fleximoms FlexConnect team finds and matches great opportunities and options for women professionals with business interests. These include franchise businesses, associate programs, partner programs etc.


Planning your business – a skill building program organised by Fleximoms.

Fleximoms Community is strung together using online and offline reach. The offline community chapters meet once a month and the online community is growing every day. We also actively partner with the enabling ecosystem for Workflex by working with a network of partners and service providers – like care giving industry, daycare industry, remote-work enabling technology companies etc. All of this is supported by the core team, facilitators, Fleximoms Professional Associates, moderators and evangelists.


The Hatch: What motivated you to be an entrepreneur?

Sairee : I always knew I had be one, not because there is something intrinsically sharp about it but when you can’t stick in a job long enough, have too many questions and have trouble following rules without reason – that is where you head. I dabbled a lot – media, consulting, start-ups and writing – and the process of seeing a business grow and creating one was the one that stuck. So I couldn’t have gone elsewhere.


The Hatch: Describe the challenges and joys of your entrepreneurial journey

Sairee : It is too early to really start reminiscing about it but if one has lasted without realizing how time has flown it can only be good. There is a lot of first-degree experience and learning as one goes about doing things. It is also the best way to find out who your real friends are!

Personally, the most joyous part of the having done what I have is being able look at perspectives beyond me, connect with ideas, people, experiment – I call it ‘joy of creation’. When one is attempting something beyond themselves, failure is bound to show up often – and no one likes that. One just has to learn from it and move to the next thing.


The Hatch: If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently?

Sairee : I would start even earlier. And say NO more often!


The Hatch: What are the three things you would ask aspiring entrepreneurs and startups to focus on?

Sairee :

  • Personal clarity – who are you and what drives you is important before anything else. Your own response to situations and things that drive you are a foundation you build your business on. In every business the entrepreneur is the biggest asset and the biggest liability.
  • Open and organized at the same time – Being responsive is important but also you can only chase one goal at a time. Figure out which one.
  • Find people – There are people out there who do pretty much everything better than you – find them, align them. Stop being your own bottleneck.


The Hatch: What are the common mistakes entrepreneurs make?

Sairee : There is a whole sub text of macho success and chest beating that accompanies entrepreneurial activity these days, almost implying everything is right. Is it? Most entrepreneurs ignore issues of personal growth, organizational skills and corporate governance. Almost all start-ups I know have issues of shareholding, financing, negotiation, fairness and almost all entrepreneurs don’t come with these skills, they are building product and business – but these issues need timely attention. Asking for help – paid or voluntary is a good sign.

The Hatch: What’s your mantra or a one-line thought about entrepreneurship or for entrepreneurs?

Sairee : Don’t park yourself – for success, failure or perfection – go on!

This interview was published in The Hatch 

Female Entrepreneurs help women find their niche

Starting small and then growing big isn’t just a description of childhood. It is also an accurate statement about the development of the business vertical or niche market. Verticals, including cloud-computing services, form a sector of entrepreneurship in which women excel.

One of those success stories is Amy Rutt, who founded her IT company Ciracom in 1999. Although still small in some respects — Rutt employs only seven staff members — the Alexandria, Virginia, Ciracom has an “A+” rating from the Better Business Bureau and provides cloud services to federal agencies through a contract with the General Service Administration.

Up in the Cloud

Ciracom’s specialties include helping to securely migrate information from in-house IT departments to remote cloud servers and providing additional cloud backup. Speaking with the GovWin website, Rutt said it takes up to 60 months to help a government agency negotiate a move to cloud services and storage.

Roughly speaking, you can think of cloud computing as storing data and other information in “electronic vaults” in order to avoid the costs and delays of maintaining your own server systems and IT staff. Cloud backupis a service that duplicates and stores your information already on file, at remote servers.

Businesswomen from many fields are succeeding by narrowing their focus to a specific niche need within their service or product areas. By specializing in a niche market, they sharpen their ability to meet specific client needs and provide excellent service.

Women Helping Women

In order to work, women around the world need the help of niche businesses such asFleximoms, a company started in India by Sairee Chahal. Fleximoms advises working mothers on seeking flextime and achieving work-life balance in a country where more and more women are holding jobs outside the home. Florida Today notes that Fleximoms is now India’s major networking tool and job board for working mothers.

Many female entrepreneurs are finding niches in which they can assist other working women. The Open Forum website, which focuses on fueling small business success, reports that 250 women registered to participate in the U.S.-based working women’s network Project Eve within the organization’s first 24 hours online.

Project Eve helps women who own or are thinking about starting a business. Its goals include helping women to help each other by sharing information about business practices and career journeys. Owners Meredith Dennes and Kim Oksenberg say they are hoping to create an environment of collaboration, as well as a network in which women hire women.

The organization CloudNOW is an even more sharply defined example of a woman-to-woman niche organization. It is a nonprofit consortium of female cloud computing executives intent on strengthening their role in that industry and aiding the technological development of women worldwide.

According to The Wall Street Journal‘s MarketWatch, the female vice president of marketing at one Seattle cloud storage and backup company demonstrated the power of sisterhood by persuading her company to sponsor CloudNOW.

Researching Your Niche

Whether carving out a niche in the IT industry, helping other women gain a foothold in the entrepreneurial world or creating a bakery based on designer cupcakes, it appears that women are finding career growth in business verticals.

How do you develop a niche? Communications executive Claire Munn, writing at the Women 2.0 website, says that two of the most important rules are to make sure your idea is relevant to other people and do thorough research. Striving to meet a need that few other businesses are meeting will move you toward success and satisfaction.

 This article appeared in Wowelle 

Candid with the Co-founder

Sairee Chahal, Fleximom, works towards creating, enhancing and co-creating work-flex opportunities for women professionals. In a candid interview with Interweave, Sairee shares insights gained while helping women and enterprises negotiate returning to the workforce.

1. Eight out of ten career women don’t go back to corporate careers after a break. What could improve these numbers?

Women re-entering the workforce or making successful career transitions challenge internal and external barriers. Internal barriers include motivation, confidence, spouse support and family issues; and external barriers include flexible work opportunities, workplace resistance, and mentoring/peer support. Gender stereotyping and lack of support systems also impacts women re-entering the workforce.

If comebacks are second careers, then they do need a certain amount of career support and induction. Psychologically, fresh career decisions are easy to make and are unbridled. Second careers are harder, since a lot of personal clarity is needed to make your choices work for you.

A change in choices or options is often sought with a need for flexibility – an imperative that businesses are recognising now. The work-flex movement is steadily gaining acceptance in corporate India.

2. To integrate back into the workforce, as seamlessly as possible, what would you advise: (a) the employer and (b) the prospective employee?

My suggestion to both is – hire for value, negotiate for flex and seek recourse in process.

There is a reason the person had to quit the workplace in the first place, and any comeback cannot be successful if the expectation is pegged at the same level and within the same framework as before the break. The same also stands true for the person making the comeback. The workplace and businesses have changed and one needs to respond to the reality of today.

At the heart of this success is a welcoming mindset committed to creating seamlessness and value in delivery.

3. What strategies should women employ to remain on the path without losing out on positions and options; on managing motherhood and work?

There are few options that comprehensively prepare women for making strong, effective comebacks.

a. Invest in yourself – If you are the best that can possibly be hired, why wouldn’t employers make way for you to come in keeping your needs in mind.

b. Stay connected – One can never underestimate the power of professional networks and peer support.

c. Seek and provide value – One can never underestimate the power of professional networks and peer support.

d. Prioritise – Only you can decide what is important to you but knowing that helps action it.

e. Bring up your support system – Your support system is the best investment you will ever make: whether it includes a nanny, driver, tablet, double broadband or that car pool.

f. Widen your horizons and seek, help, share – Your struggle is not only yours, there are many others in the same pool and sometimes co-learning, co-creating throws up brilliant solutions.

g. Alternative choice of opportunities – Invest in alternative talent pools, formats and eco-systems

4. Career options narrow down when a woman goes back to work for a second time. What kinds of opportunities are available for her?

Let me begin by saying that, opportunities are gender and age neutral; it is our perspective of them which changes. While one set of opportunities become unattractive, unsuitable, there is a plethora of opportunities waiting to be tapped: Mobile Apps, Cloud Computing, Digital Marketing, Publishing, Social Media, Retail, Education, Learning, HR, IT – however, each of these opportunity marketplaces is competitive, intense and fast growing – which is what the opportunity and challenge is all about.

5. Despite proven results such as access to a trained, experienced talent pool, cost savings on facility management and as an employee benefit, most Indian companies are not embracing flexi work.

Deploying more flexible work practices means moving away from tried and tested conventional methods for most corporates, where time, resources, and attention span is at a premium. Unless the business case and readiness for work-flex becomes more acute, companies will have a buy-in without the actual buy.

Having said that, work-flex is a business mindset and a lot of young, new economy businesses see the value in that. Many are experimenting with the idea and using alternate talent pools to create business value for themselves and their stakeholders.

6. Women shift gears mid-career, change vocations and have a whole climb up the path all over again. What coping strategies could they employ to survive this and be more successful the second time around?

Mid-career transitions are for real – for men and women alike but women end up doing more career changes, since they are the one railing the care-giving economy. Career change is not a bad word. It really means a chance to try out new things, to explore, to experiment. Do it at your own pace – something a lot of men would give an arm and a leg for.

This article originally appeared on Interweave 

Meet the back-to-work moms!

Founders Sairee Chahal and Anita Vasudeva describe their company Fleximoms as ‘India’s first workflex readiness specialist’.

In lay (wo)man’s terms, what they offer is a second chance for women looking to re-enter the workplace, and a vast, under-used talent pool for corporates to tap into! Fleximoms does this through a host of solutions, like job boards that connect employers with prospective employees, and ‘readiness’ workshops and advisory services for women.  Founded in 2009, the company had partnered with over 200 corporates and reached out to 1 lakh women, with a presence in 25 cities by August last year. (Source: CNBC TV18).

“We used to run a management consulting firm and because we were a women heavy, workflex ready team, we would get resumes from other women who wanted to join us. We obviously couldn’t hire most of them for our needs,” says Sairee. That’s when Chahal, along with her associate, Anita, decided to start Fleximoms.  “The first lot of resumes uploaded on the portal were from our inboxes!” she says.  Over a period of time, they realised they could offer far more than just job boards and devised a host of programs that prepare women to find jobs and careers that suit them – second time around.

Fleximoms’ programs, like ‘2nd Chance Back-to-Work‘, are  scheduled across multiple cities and offer women not just training but also a chance to connect with others like them.  The program, according to the company’s website, “helps you achieve Balance, align your Approach, assess Realities, and finally make Appropriate Choices to take your next steps in reaching your professional and personal Goals. “

Others are tailored to help fulfill specific aspirations, like Seal the Deal and Setting up Shop, for building a sales career and becoming an entrepreneur respectively.
One-to-one advisory services are also popular.

Do they work?
We talk to two women who’ve used their services and discover what they gained.

Anu Singh Choudhary
Fleximoms Career Advisory alumna, Delhi.


Anu Singh and her twins.

I started working when I was 21. I had a very active life. I used to work well into the night, often clocking in 20 hours at a stretch. My last job was with a news organization, and you can imagine what the newsroom set-up must have been like. It was a big change, when I got pregnant and faced medical complications that hit the brakes on my professional growth. This was 5 years ago. During this time, I would take up the odd project that came my way, without striving for any particular assignment or planning my work.

But I don’t regret taking the break. Spending time to have and bring up your kids is important too. But when they began to go to school, I realised that I had to be more productive. I was working, but in a very unstructured manner. I heard about Fleximoms through a friend and started following them on Facebook. I even went for a couple of informal meetings and became friends with a few women who were part of the network. In many ways, that was a reward in itself.  I come from a family, where none of the women from the previous generations have worked.  So, I have no role models or access to experienced women who’ve been in this position before. I could always talk to my husband, but I knew his advice wouldn’t be entirely objective.

A few months later, I decided to sign up for their career advisory services. I sort of  knew what I wanted. It’s just that I needed to sit down and talk about it to someone who would be objective and had experience in these matters. In fact, during my session, I was told that I didn’t need the counselling because I was asking all the right questions. But, I guess, it was good to have someone to sit and talk to. There hasn’t been a huge change in my career trajectory or anything, but I am trying to imbibe some of the more tangible tips, like not cluttering my schedule with too much work, being realistic about how much I can handle and so on.

Am I a happier, more hopeful ‘fleximom’ today? I guess, you could say so.


Saumya Dahake
2nd Chance Back-to-Work alumna, Pune  


Saumya with her daughter Swara

I have had a very emotional journey with Fleximoms. When I first heard of them, I was the mother of a 2 month-old daughter, and I didn’t want to go back to the same ‘back office’ job I had. You can understand the kind of trauma I was going through. A first-time mom, with sleepless nights and a crying baby, trying to figure out her career! My maternity leave was running out and I was feeling extremely uncertain. That’s when I signed up for ‘2nd Chance Back-to-Work’ and also the Career Advisory program. I was desperately hoping they would say, ‘just quit your job’. But, thankfully, they were more honest. I realised that running away from a difficult situation was not the solution. Also, I realised it’s far too easy to fall into the trap of ‘I am a care giver and I also hate my job, so let me just give up.’

So I stuck on with my job and continue to retain the position I had before my pregnancy.  My daughter is now 13 months old. Fleximoms is not just a service for women who wish to work from home. In fact, it helps streamline your professional thinking, offers you a great network of people and guidance. I have made the most of it, I cannot tell you how many times I have called up Anita (Vasudeva)!  I have set goals, re-organised my priorities and have also been encouraged to pursue my other interests like writing. So, let’s see what happens.

 This article first appeared in Money Chat 

What I Gained From Mentoring

Women in India running their own businesses find thatmentoring helps them address new challenges. A woman entrepreneur shares her story. 

By Ruche M Mittal

Before I moved to Bangalore (after my marriage), I had been running my business for a year and a half. I had a team of 4 people at ideaPerfect Communication and during that time, I experienced many challenges such as managing a cash crunch,time management, team management, client handling and building a company culture.

At this stage, I felt that I needed to share my plans of growth and expansion with somebody, and at the same time wanted to discuss certain business questions that I felt I needed guidance on.

Why I needed a mentor

I already knew the problems and pain points in my business and also my own shortcomings, but I had no clue on how I could organize/arrange things better. Since I had to close my unit in Kolkata and restart my work in Bangalore, I decided to use my time to not only explore the business culture and opportunities in Bangalore, but also find solutions to the problem and difficulties I experienced.

While one can talk to friends and family, there are times when you feel they are judging you or sometimes you don’t feel like sharing all your challenges with them; but with a mentor, the relationship is different. The entire relationship is based on a system where we know that we are both here to discuss challenges and shortcomings, mine as well as that of my business – and to explore solutions for the same.

The entire relationship is based on a system where we know that we are both here to discuss challenges and shortcomings…

I connected with my mentor through the Goldman Sachs 10000 Women program with ISB. I joined the program because I wanted to understand how other people look at business and business problems. I felt this was critical for me since I come from a design background and my understanding of business comes mainly from my exposure to others running businesses in my family.

ISB was a great platform to understand how business owners interpret the same problem in a different manner and derive solutions accordingly.

The mentoring program

The 10000 Women program is 3-month program where we have 3 weeks of classroom sessions in all, 1 week per month. We were assigned mentors during the first week and for the rest of the program we were to connect with our mentors and develop our business plans.

My mentor is Gopa Kumar, a soft skills trainer and a visiting faculty at ISB. I connect with my mentor once a month for an hour or two and apart from that, we talk on the phone as and when required. In times of emergency, he does give me more time.

I soon realized that Gopa was very different from me. I am more of a technology person while he keeps himself away from technology as much as possible; I come from a design background and he has nothing to do with that industry. But, the beautiful thing in our mentoring relationship is that when we brainstorm together, we write down our pointers and then discuss the same with an open mind and heart.

He never tells me, “Do this.” Instead, he leaves me with questions and helps me if I am limited by my own thinking. He would say, “Is there any other way of doing this?

Since he does not come from my industry, his glass was empty, as in, he didn’t have any preconceived notions about my industry problems and would explore them in his own way. This leads to more learning.

Challenges with mentoring

Having gone through the experience of receiving mentoring, I feel the challenge in mentoring is to set the correct expectations. People think mentors are supposed to hold their hand and tell them what to do with their business, but it doesn’t work like that. In a mentor mentee relationship , it is the mentee who should drive the relationship and learning curve.

People think mentors are supposed to hold their hand and tell them what to do with their business, but it doesn’t work like that.

The real mentoring is where your mentor leaves you with questions and suggests other paths for you to explore. He or she is not supposed to tell you what to think or foist her own thoughts on you.

A mentor is meant to listen to what you have to say and to your questions and then leave you with a question to answer the same. He is a sounding board where you can go and talk and never feel judged.

I feel that mentoring is definitely a tool that can be used by business owners (Read, Getting The Best From Mentoring In The Workplace), especially if they are the sole decision makers on their business and feel like sharing their challenge and growth plans with someone else.

It is a way to reach someone who does not judge you, but listens to you with 100% attention and interest and helps you reach the solutions to your business problems.

This article was originally published in Women’s Web

The launch pad


Anita Vasudev, 50 and Sairee Chahal Co-founder and Director, Fleximoms

While most of us dream of building a business of our own, the majority of us give in to the hard reality of bank loans, lack of investors, and above all the risk of going out of our comfort zone to start something from scratch. This month three women, Anita Vasudev, 50; Sairee Chahal, 34; and Chitra Iyer; 35 of Fleximoms, Workflex Solutions, talk about the excitement of building their own venture.

For Vasudev and Chahal a chance meeting on an online forum, Caferati–a writers’ group that the former was moderating almost a decade ago-led to a lasting friendship. It grew into a professional partnership. Chahal who had just launched her local social networking site www.ryzi.com, connecting Delhi and the NCR at the time, invited Vasudev to join the hub and soon they found themselves sharing ideas.

They were surprised to find themselves connecting despite their age difference, although the thought that they would start a business together seemed like a far-fetched idea to the two at the time. But in 2006, when the two found themselves out of jobs, coming together for business seemed like a great idea. That was when then their maiden venture SAITA, a general management consulting company, focused on small and medium businesses was born.

Within three years of working together the two realised that they felt a sense of empathy towards woman professionals. “While we were consulting with businesses and people, we wondered why corporates weren’t using the available talent pool of women?” says Vasudev. Chahal enunciates saying, “Why weren’t we, as a country, creating an eco-system that encouraged women to get back to work keeping in mind all variables? Why weren’t women ramped up to work flexibly? The story was the same everywhere, the constant fight between juggling home and work,” she says.

Every year, thousands of women who are just about entering or are at midmanagement leave the professional workspace, succumbing to what is popularly known as the ‘leaking pipeline’ (mostly due to care giving responsibilities). With a focus on connecting women professionals to employers Fleximoms was launched in 2009.

Chitra Iyer, 35 , CEO and Director, Fleximoms

While the idea was at a nascent stage they met Chitra Iyer, 35. She showed a keen interest in their idea.”I had started my own venture back in 1999 as well, which continues to be run by other directors. I moved on for personal reasons and worked for the corporate world,”she says. “But. the desire to have freedom to experiment and leave a legacy that was beyond a role or a title brought me back to entrepreneurship,” she says.

Meeting Vasudeva and Chahal was an aha moment for her. “I felt excited at the work they were doing and the role I could potentially play in this journey. I had always wanted to do something around enabling women and when they offered me an opportunity to come on board, I knew it was the right thing to do for me,” she says.

In the two years since its launch, the company has made a name for itself as India’s premier web portal focusing on women professionals and life has become hectic for its three founders. Iyer, a self-professed workaholic, is responsible for the corporate profile of the company in terms of planning and growth targets, while Chahal deals with the online content and operations, Vasudev brings in business.

By defining specific roles, they feel they have avoided the clashes that come with too much interference into each other’s work.”Trust is important when you are building a business and you have to learn to respect each of your team members in order to perform better,” says Chahal.

For Vasudev, the joys of starting a business together have outweighed the stress, she is candid about it. “Sairee had a baby who grew up as we worked, I had a son who finished college and turned pro, and I cared for ailing parents. We shifted office, and many in the team moved homes and cities, some of us were working in office three days a week. Some of us were on tour, but we made it happen.”

Women are natural entrepreneurs. “That is how they are always making things work for their family, homes and friends.” She sees entrepreneurship as the real road to empowerment, as it allows a woman to be economically independent, gives her flexibily and find her own little place in the world’s 45 per cent working population says Chahal. Not having enough women making this choice not only leaves us as a poorer society in terms of output but also leaves women poorer for not having experienced one of the most significant life changers.

This piece was published in India Today.

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