In the press

A Place Where 600,000 Women Look for Work That Works for Them

Sairee Chahal built a platform that connects women across India with flexible careers, allowing them to balance the competing demands of family and a job.

When Sairee Chahal attended a high-school reunion in Muzaffarnagar, India, several years ago, she found that most of the women she had studied with, despite being highly qualified, were no longer working. She’d heard the statistics, but was nevertheless surprised to see them borne out in real life: According to a 2013 report by Catalyst, nearly half of the women in India’s workforce typically quit by mid-career, in part due to the difficulty of balancing careers and family responsibilities.

As a mother of a nine-year-old and an entrepreneur, Chahal understood that difficulty. After founding a startup during India’s dot-com wave, Chahal had largely been working for herself since 2006—the flexibility she got from running her own company made a huge difference to her. She wondered if the growing number of new companies in India could result in increased opportunities for women to both pursue a fulfilling career and manage their families.

This was the root of Sheroes, a digital platform founded by Chahal two years ago, which aims to connect women seeking flexibility in their careers with companies that are open to the idea. Based out of New Delhi, Chahal leads a team of 40 people at Sheroes, and true to form, many of the employees work flexible hours or remotely. The platform, which evolved from a previous incarnation called Fleximoms, boasts a user base of about 600,000 women from 6,000 places in India, with almost 9,000 companies signed on as potential employers.

I recently spoke to Chahal about her work, women’s careers, and why they need to be allowed to define leadership on their own terms. This is an edited and condensed transcript of our conversation.


Sharmilla Ganesan: How did Sheroes begin?

Sairee Chahal: A few years ago, I had set up a boutique consulting firm. We noticed we got lots of applications from women, highly accomplished ones, despite being a fairly small company that didn’t have many positions to fill.

Then we realized that it was our workplace flexibility that was attracting them. From here, the cognizance grew for me of a disconnect between women and the workplace, particularly as women became older and started balancing family life and work. Despite the fact that in India, women are encouraged to seek out highly qualified professions like medicine or engineering, many of them are unable to continue progressing in their careers once they get married or start families.

So Fleximoms was a small hack of an experiment, an online service that connected women who wanted to return to work in a flexible format, with companies willing to hire them. This threw us into something much bigger, and the more we worked on it, the bigger it became.

Soon, though, we realized that we were fixing the problem after it had happened, without learning why it happened or what it meant. So Sheroes evolved out of that, a platform with a lot more learning thrown in: career resources, success stories, a place to for women to talk shop. And we also added a community arm, a career helpline where women can reach out via phone, chat, or an app to talk about their careers.

Sheroes’s aim is to put women’s careers on the map, which means both creating conversations with those who are still building their careers, and helping them custom-fit their careers as they navigate the working world.

A career is a result of the networks, resources, skills, opportunities and mentorships you have. While men seem to often have immediate access to these, women tend not to. If you look online at the content that is geared towards women, it tends to be of the “pink” variety: fashion, recipes, entertainment, childcare, and so on, but very little on building a career.

We’re trying to put all those things in one place, where women can access them, especially women in small-town India, where careers don’t actually exist because of either distance or a lack of opportunity.

We’re saying, irrespective of whether you’re a graduate with no work experience from Gauravpur, a home baker in Banares, or a creative writer in Pune, you have your own version of success and you deserve to find it.

Ganesan: What is your day-to-day role at Sheroes?

Sairee Chahal (Sheroes)

Chahal: My heart lies in staying engaged with our community of users, figuring out how we can keep helping women. So my role is coming up with new ideas and conversations, by making sure we keep talking to the women in the community. As founder, I also do other things like fundraising, talking to companies, and so on, but community engagement is my favorite role.

Ganesan: And who are the women who make up your community of users?

Chahal: Right now, it is largely an urban, middle-class group, the majority of whom have at least a bachelor’s degree and can speak some English. The largest group of users come from the 25-to-34 age category, but what surprised us was that the fastest-growing is 18-to-24. More and more young women are engaging with the career conversation, and taking charge early on.

We would eventually like to be able to reach every woman in India who wants to work, or at least wants to talk about her work. And that does include women who don’t speak English, or those who work in blue-collar positions.

Ganesan: What was the driving force for you in this endeavoChahal: It comes from a deep, personal place. I grew up in small-town India. And in most Indian families, in conversations, men always discuss work with each other, “talk shop” if you will, and women never do. Even as a child, I noticed this, but I didn’t know what to make of it.

I come from a very traditional Punjabi family. The women in my family, most of them don’t work. It’s a template: You graduate from a good college, then get married into a family well-off enough that you don’t have to work. But I’ve always felt very agitated about that, and always wanted to get away from that concept to do my own thing.

Then, when my daughter was born, I was building my first company. I realized I was working doubly hard as most men, because both required my attention. These stereotypes keep reinforcing themselves: that women ultimately don’t have a permanent position in the workplace, that women cannot have a career and fulfill their responsibilities at home.

India has among the highest number of female graduates in the world; maybe the reason for that is more matrimonial prospects than career, but there is so much potential there. If this isn’t the group that is going to break stereotypes and get financial freedom, then who is?

And this is just the right time to do it. The technology works well; business models are changing, with modular work, remote work, and entrepreneurship all on an up trend. I think women are the biggest beneficiaries of these changes. But where I come from, women are still not playing in the big leagues, because a lot of work needs to be done to fit in those circles.

Ganesan: How much of that is due to women still not being associated with holding higher positions? What is the perception in India of women in leadership?

Chahal: Leadership is a very territorial thing here. People will say women run homes—they have complete authority on so many things. But the moment they start transcending that space into one that is not traditionally associated with women, such as the workplace, there is a flutter. The sense I get from talking to women is that we’ve been given a zone to operate in and we should stay there.

There is a lot of subconscious bias about what women in leadership look like, whether in politics, business, or the workplace. It is like they are saying, “You can be a leader as long as you follow our template.” This means to dress a certain way, to behave a certain way, and to operate in specific zones. For example, even now, when I walk into a meeting and the client is a male CEO, he is very likely to say “Talk to my wife.” It happens all the time! These spaces in which many workplaces operate, it is a walled garden, and it seems like the people within don’t even realize it is.

Ganesan: So what can be done to empower women to be leaders?

Chahal: I strongly believe leadership can’t be taught. Instead, I see what we do at Sheroes as being driven by ownership, purpose, and a sense of self. We shouldn’t tell people what their success should look like. We should work on catalyzing that success instead of prescribing it.

By creating opportunities for women to define their careers for themselves, we hope to break down the stereotypes of what leadership looks like. A woman can absolutely be a leader in the workplace while also managing a family at home; she just needs to be given the flexibility to do it.

Ganesan: Do you think of yourself as a leader?

Chahal: Yes. I’ve always thought that, even when I was in school and didn’t have a name for it. I was always the person in the group who had an opinion, who had something to say. To me, it is about how you view yourself, who you want to be in the world.

Ganesan: Who were your role models? Who gave you an idea of what it meant to be a leader?

Chahal: My parents. Even though the family was traditional, my mom and dad were very clear that this was not for us. I was given a lot of space to navigate.

My mom was the first leader I saw, the first take-charge woman I knew. And my dad, I get my curiosity from him; a lot of what I’ve managed to do comes from a place of curiosity, and a hunger to do something. My idea of leadership is to ride against the wind and do it my own way.

Clueless about how to become a career woman? Sairee Chahal of Sheroes has a way for you

Success Quotient is a weekly feature that appears every Friday on Firstpost, which looks at the pains and joys en route to success for a head honcho – whether a CEO, MD or an entrepreneur. The column looks at the ideas that helped launch a company, its highs and lows.

The entrepreneurship bug bit 40-year-old Sairee Chahal, CEO and Founder of Sheroes.in, a website that focuses on women and the career space, when she was 25. By then, Chahal had a multi chequered career having worked in magazines specializing in advertising and marketing, working for Central Asian countries and setting up their embassies, heading the world’s first magazine for mariners, to working at Confederation of Indian Industry (CII)’s Russia desk. She decodes her success and shares her observations of women who want to have a career for no reason other than for wanting to have one!

Excerpts from the interview:

Sairee Chahal, CEO & Founder, Sheroes.in

Sairee Chahal, CEO & Founder, Sheroes.in

Were you raised in an environment to tackle challenges?

I come from a middle class background from Muzzafarpur district in Bihar. My father was working as a consultant for steel companies and his job took us to the fringes of small cities and towns across the country where steel plants are located. My mother was a home maker who was involved in local chapters of Family Planning wherever my father’s job took us. We had a TV for entertainment, but had rich experiences from having traversed so many small towns and cities. My parents encouraged my younger sister and I to go out and chase whatever we believed in. We were told that we could do whatever we wanted to. That led to a strong sense of self-belief.

What was the first challenge you overcame?

I studied in a school that catered to Plus Two studies. However, it had no stream for Humanities. I walked up to the principal and suggested that the school have one. I was only 15 years old then. The principal could not offer to open an entire section for just two students who wanted it. However, besides economics and business management studies, we were offered a language — Hindi (which they did not offer earlier).

You studied Russian and pursued an MA degree at JNU.

Yes. Part of the reason for joining Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) is that we were a generation that grew up on a diet of Soviet magazines and had many Russian friends in the steel plant community. It seemed logical then to pursue an education in the Russian language. I come from a politically diverse family. I have three uncles who are staunch followers of diverse ideologies – Akali, Congress, Leftist. JNU is a great place to learn and an even greater place to be an academician. But I realised soon enough that I was not cut out to be an academician. So to sort of undo the JNU effect, I pursued a diploma in business from IMT, Ghaziabad! I then pursued an M Phil in International Relations. Nothing I studied is connected to what I do. I understood later that education is not the way to go about looking for a job. Anything I did in my life with regard to a career is what I took a shot at. Education is a nice way to expand your horizons, though.

Does Sheroes.in come from a leftist point of view then?

Sheroes.in was driven to bring together opposite ends of the spectrum of women and business from all over the country for mutual benefit. Therefore, the model is designed in such a way that everyone can use it. It is the freemium model. It was to make available career opportunities for every woman. You don’t have to login to Sheroes as a job seeker. We are here for a shared goal for women and a career she wants to pursue or is pursuing. You could be someone who aspires for mentorship, opportunities, career resources like learning or want to be part of a community of like-minded women.

What is the revenue model?

There are paid services for job coaching and allied specialised services. Organisations have to pay for hiring services, for online brands and marketing projects.

What do you consider as the high point of your entrepreneurial venture?

I started Sheroes in January 2014, with seed money of Rs 50 lakh. We broke even soon enough and was able to raise an angel round of less than a million dollars from seasoned entrepreneurs in August 2015. Our user base has grown by 300 percent – 600,000 users across 6,000 localities in the country. We expect a million dollars in revenues in 2017. We have grown as a brand and connected with women across the country who are looking for careers, who want to get back to a career after a break, etc.

What are your observations from your close association with women and their career aspects working on a portal that is focused on the subject?

There are lot of opportunities to custom fit one’s career. However, society has a narrow definition of success and that puts us in a box. I feel every person can custom fit their success. You don’t have to follow a template for success that is a stereotype. So what if you can’t be a Vice President (Marketing), you could be a writer if you have those skills or a yoga teacher. I would say to every woman (who is seeking a career), to do what works out for each of them.

What is life beyond work for you?

I am interested in yoga and enjoy it. I don’t timeline my yoga on a daily basis, but I do it daily and skip it when I am neck-deep in Sheroes.in. As I am growing older, I find other things that interest me like gardening, for instance. I love working with Nature. I love reading sports magazines, too.

What next?

Perhaps, one day I will open a yoga retreat. Who knows?

 

From the Newspapers

From the Newspapers

IndianExpress_280612

Mother’s Day Out, Indian Express June 28, 2012

Chandigarh Punjab Kesri, June 24, 2012

Chandigarh Punjab Kesri, June 24, 2012

 

Chandigarh Dainik Bhaskar, June 24,2012

Chandigarh Dainik Bhaskar, June 24,2012

 

Chandigarh Tribune, 24 June, 2012

Chandigarh Tribune, 24 June, 2012

HT City, 24 June, 2012

HT City, 24 June, 2012

Marriage can make you Sexist

“All she needs to do is sit and look pretty”; “They shouldn’t have let her helm the project, I hear she’s trying for a baby”; “This job is too stressful for women”; “She gets to leave work early because of her kids”; “She’s PMS-ing. SCARY!”

Raise your hands if you’ve heard these conversations directed at a colleague. While the gossip is often relayed as a whine or with outrage, have you wondered why in this post-feminist age, some prejudices run deeper than others?

According to a recent study, it boils down to the male employee’s marital structure. The study suggests that men from traditional set ups — where the husband is the breadwinner, and the wife stays at home — are more likely to carry a negative attitude towards women than those whose wives hold fulltime jobs, said Sreedhari Desai, lead author of Marriage Structure and Resistance to the Gender Revolution in the Workplace.

Desai, an assistant professor of organisational behaviour at the Kenan-Flagler Business School,University of North Carolina was led to examine the difference in men’s attitudes towards women thanks to a family member.

“In India, I couldn’t help but notice how women were sidelined even in domestic decision-making. However, I observed that one of my uncles treated women with dignity, which reflected in the language he used even when women weren’t around. What set him apart was that his wife was a working woman. I wondered how having a working wife as opposed to a stay-at-home one influences a man’s psychology?” said Desai, who co-authored the study with Dr Dolly Chugh of New York University’s Stern School of Business and Dr Arthur Brief at the University of Utah’s David Eccles School of Business.

Earlier workplace studies confirm that we are “daily bordercrossers” between the domains of work and family, so the attitudes and emotions generated at one spill over into the other.

“Men with stay-at-home wives are in a situation where their spouses take care of the home and family so that they can be the breadwinners. As such, these men may become accustomed to the notion that women are meant to fulfill a domestic role, whereas men are uniquely qualified to work,” said Desai.

Sairee Chahal, co-founder of Fleximoms, a New Delhi-based organisation that helps companies employ women with flexible working hours, has first-hand experience. Chahal found the attitude that Desai talks of rampant among several senior executives and investors whom she met while setting up her firm in 2010. Interestingly, recalled Chahal, all were men and of them, many had stay-at-home wives.

“Several executives I met were supportive. But when asked if they would employ women with flexihours, they would either direct me to their wives, or say, ‘our business is not for women’. I would be asked personal questions like whether I was married, or how many children I had. Would a man be asked these questions in client meetings?”

This attitude, said Chahal, stems from a couple of assumptions. The high-level executives saw women as inherently different on account of their specific needs. And they assumed that if a professional has other commitments, her efficiency at work would be suspect. Their blindspot was a gendered thinking that women’s personal lives are more important than men’s.

As a result, confirms the study, the presence of women in the workplace is viewed unfavorably. Organisations with higher numbers of female employees are perceived to operate less smoothly and qualified female employees are denied opportunities for promotion.

Out of the 134 countries surveyed in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2009, India ranks 114th on the overall index. Data from the Gender Diversity Benchmark forAsia report of 2009 offers supportive data, too. The Diversity & Inclusion in Asia Network of Community Business, a Hong Kong-based think tank, produced the report on companies operating in China, India, Japan and Singapore. Based on a sample of 10 multinational companies operating in the four countries, India came last in percentage of women employed at all levels.

“The reality is that some women have different needs. But that is seen as a deficiency, not as a challenge to be resolved,” said Chahal.

What of the women who choose to climb the corporate ladder? Chahal agreed they are the worst hit.

Twenty-eight-year financial consultant Rakshita Singh (name changed) says working professionals like her have learnt to take ‘jibes’ lightly. “Would I like to be considered only on the basis of my work? Absolutely. Will that ever happen?

I’m not too sure. The best thing is not to take sexism lying down,” she says. “Pun unintended,” she adds.

This article was published here

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.

A Business Case for Flexi Work

Flexi work is defined as being able to choose when or where to work. Surveys conducted globally show that employees are looking for ways to achieve a better work-life balance. Businesses on the other hand, are looking to maximize productivity and engagement with employees. Companies that have the business foresight to put flexi work policies in place are finding better productivity, better engagement and lower attrition in employees.  However, if the benefits are there for all to see, why are these policies not found in the mainstream?

A white paper released by Regus, a global workplace solutions provider came up with some startling findings in support for flexi work. Regus conducted its survey in 80 countries and interviewed over 17000 senior business people. A compelling finding was that 60 percent of the businesses globally, felt that flexible working practices, whether related to office hours or location, were more cost-efficient than fixed working schedules. This is in addition to the carbon reduction benefits gained from reduced commuting distances. In emerging economies, businesses believe that flexi working practices are an asset to them in periods of sudden growth as they allow rapid scalability.

Work-Life Balance

Let’s stop for a moment here to really understand work-life balance. Why is it such a buzzword today? In an environment where quality recruitments are a challenge and retaining existing talent an even bigger one, a good, hard look at employee engagement is needed. Policies are formulated, but as Chitra Jha, inner peace counsellor and author of Achieve Your Highest Potential says, “It has been seen that most people do just as much work as will not get them fired and most corporates just pay as much as would keep the employee interested in the job, no wonder we breed mediocrity.The real talented ones are hard to find and they can’t be controlled by any lure.” More and more employees are quitting at the peak of their careers because they are not able to balance home and work adequately. In the metro cities where the cost of living is high, nuclear families have become the norm. Better opportunities have led to social mobility in the domestic services sector, so support services at home are becoming almost scarce. In such an environment, talented young parents have very little choice but to quit. In addition, the long commutes to work at unearthly hours are taking a toll on the productivity of employees, while the pressure to stay ahead compounds the problems.  This has, in addition, a series of undesirable social outcomes in terms of broken marriages, road rage, stress-related lifestyle diseases… the list goes on.

Flexi Work and Gender

A lot of companies have woken up to flexi working, but tend to see this mainly as a measure to address gender diversity issues. True, women employees have a genuine case for flexi work, since women are still viewed as primary caregivers to their children. In double income nuclear households, it is more often the woman who compromises on growth in her career. Fleximoms is a company that is creating a space for flexi working practices, in the minds of corporates and young mothers. Sairee Chahal, co –founder Fleximoms, agrees that her company’s target are women, simply because there is a ready pool of women with domain knowledge, skills and competencies out there. Sairee reels off statistics, “India has the highest number of women graduates in the world. Almost 30 million of these women drop out of the work force for a variety of reasons.”  According to Sairee, “The caregiver process is completely owned by women at present. Men joining the caregiver process is just a conversation at present.”  Avtar founded by Soundarya Rajesh has been extensively profiled as one of the first recruitment firms to specialize on women recruitments and making a case for flexi work for women. Fleximoms have expanded their platform to include training corporates, in order to sensitize line managers on how to cope with gender diversity and flexi work practices. With a gender diversity mandate for businesses to fulfil, Fleximom’s and Avtar‘s services fit neatly into their niche.

Flexi Work in India

In India, Genpact, Sapient, Agilent technologies, HP India, Accenture, American Express, Google, Microsoft, Bharti and IBM are some of the companies who have flexible working policies in place. Agilent Technologies views this as a part of its business strategy. Their website outlines, “We must be able to address work-life challenges and leverage diverse perspectives, talent and teams to meet global challenges.”   In fact technology plays a very big part in the flexi work model. Advanced systems have to be put into place for the business to track employee productivity and engagement. Fortunately, almost all large companies do have some of these systems in place for their senior executives, who need company resources at short notice when they are travelling to outside locations on work. Also, multinational companies already have these models in their offices outside India, so it’s simply a matter of replication of that model.
Genpact has pioneered flexi work with a section of its employees. Piyush Mehta, Senior Vice President- HR, Genpact says, “We have 55,000 employees worldwide of which 40,000 are in India. 83 percent of Genpact’s employees out of India are on the flexi work model.” He further revealed that around 2500 employees in India are also on flexi work. “Security systems are in place and some more are being developed to bring more employees onto the flexi work platform.” He conceded however, that one of the reasons why more employees were not in this was because of client mandate. The company is in the business of providing services on the strength of their employees, so it is on the client’s preference whether a particular process can be allowed to be done from a remote location or not. Piyush pointed out that Genpact’s flexi work policy is operational across all levels of employees and if a process permits flexiwork, then the employees are given the choice to work from either environment.  He says,”Even the lead hiring executive in Genpact works on flexi timings.” When asked how the company manages evaluations and team motivations, Piyush said that, “These employees report to office once a week where managers evaluate and assess performance and spell out deliverables.” He hasn’t faced many challenges in the flexiwork implementation process. Piyush Mehta in fact, prefers to call them ‘difficulties’ rather than ‘challenges.’

Sapient is another company that practices flexi work practices. Prashant Bhatnagar, Director-Hiring, Sapient was very clear about how he viewed flexi work practices. Sapient has about 10,000 employees globally, of which 7,000 are based in India. Like Genpact, employees outside India enjoy almost complete flexi work benefits. According to Prashant, “The flexi work model in other countries is much more evolved. They have different platforms at which flexi work operates – hot desks, telecommuting and much better internet access.” He asks,” How many homes in India till recently had broadband internet access? It’s true, data cards have eased the situation a bit but a lot more needs to be done yet.” There is some truth in Prashant’s argument and as this article was being written, Huffington Post reported the results of a global survey on internet speeds. Its conclusion was that Libya, Nepal, Nigeria, Iran and then India, (ranked at No. 5) was amongst the nine countries with super slow internet speeds. Prashant believes that need-based flexilbility was the better option at this stage, since Sapient was essentially a consulting firm and it was important to have employees in office to bounce off ideas and conduct brainstorming sessions among the teams. “Of course, employees are already accessing data, since systems are in place to accommodate employees on the move for work-related travelling.” RSA tokens and other intranet applications allow Sapient’s employees to take limited time off for flexi work, say, once a week to run chores at home, or working reduced hours for less pay. Prashant, however, was very supportive of flexi work options for female employees, again for certain periods of time. Once again the yardstick is need-based. He revealed that last year’s attrition figures showed that Sapient was able to attain 100 percent female employee retention, due to the company’s flexi work policy practices for women.

The Buy In
Flexi work practices are highly attractive for employees and businesses alike but the road to actual implementation is long and requires commitment from all stakeholders. The Regus Global Report reports that 59 percent of Indian firms believe that flexi work culture lowers cost as compared to fixed office working culture. True to the Indian paradox, 57 percent of Indian firms would only allow senior staff to benefit from flexible working practices. Why is this so? Is it the ‘trust’ factor? Kamaljeet Singh Ahluwalia of Excalibre believes that the Indian cultural ethos is tuned to a “touch and feel’ preference. He points out, “Look at the initial resistance to online shopping by Indians till Flipkart.com came and addressed that very issue to create a winning business model for the Indian shopper.” He says, “If the whole issue of trust can be channeled towards ownership and empowerment, then productivity and retention become easier to achieve.”

The Regus white paper identified the three top challenges facing businesses today:

  1. Getting top management “buy in”
  2. Identifying jobs that can be done flexibly
  3. Integrating flexi working jobs and flexi working employees into existing working relationships

The path to flexi work culture, then, is all about changing mindsets. This applies in equal parts to not just the top management towards a ‘buy in’, but also employees who are conditioned to structured office working schedules. Employees in India are rewarded with positive evaluation if they “stretch” their hours in office without assessing deliverables. As deliverables become clearly defined and the cost of reducing infrastructural resources becomes clearer, the way to flexiworking will correspondingly become clearer. However, it emerges that there is a lot of positive sentiment across major Indian businesses on the multiple benefits of flexible working practices. The trick is in viewing them as an inspired business strategy rather than viewing it as just another ‘benefit’ for employees.

This piece was originally published in SHRMIndia

Sairee Chahal- A sea of opportunity for women

About 75-80 percent of women who take a break from work are because of children or childbirth. This is a global phenomenon. At Fleximoms we help women get back to work and go about their job in a flexible manner. Fleximoms evangelizes work flexibility. The primary thinking is work and life needs to come together for women.

After returning from Russia in 2006 I teamed up with Anita Vasudeva to set up SAITA Consulting, a firm which deals with small and medium industries. SAITA as a consultant would help the enterprise in the internal matters of the company so that dealing with customers and clients was the sole focus of the company.

When we were running a consulting business we ended up hiring a lot of women. It was not by design but it so happened. However, the amount of women who wanted to join us far exceeded the numbers we could employ and this got us thinking.
On the other side every client that I worked with had a people issue.

There was no denying the fact that there was a lot of pain around hiring and retention. I soon realized that there is disconnect between what women want and the corporate format that main stream industries have when it came to work.
By 2009 I started toying around with the idea of Fleximoms. I set up the basic website and decided to start work on it. The hunch was correct and there were a lot of women who wanted that career support and a work life that fits them and not a prescribed fit.

Fleximoms provide career destination to women and evangelize work flex, which is not limited to the regular nine-to-five. Such jobs are difficult for someone with multiple primary responsibilities. Multiple primary responsibilities can be for example someone having a job and also studies. Another can be a mother and have a job. When you give your commitment then doing this becomes acute for the people who are parents or care givers because you can never go to a job and you can never say you will not take care the responsibility that comes with parenting.
We are social enterprise meets internet start up. What Fleximoms is doing and will do in the coming years will impact social structures, women at work and work flexibility.
But the way we operate is like an internet startup and we are very sure that we are not building a Facebook but Fleximoms.

Mental Impression
Women should not fall off the professional map by virtue of the fact that the world outside is not really catering to them.
We are not conscious about their needs but they still need to stay within the professional circle, they still need to be financially independent. They need access to the world of opportunities and that is what we want to provide. We provide various options of work whether you are a care giver or have other needs.
Between 2009 and 2011 the concept ran as a part of SAITA Consulting, after which it was decided to hive it into a different unit.

Fleximoms as an independent entity is a flexible employment model for women with skills and expertise seeking professional challenges and place them in organizations who understand the value of an experienced and qualified work force.

Not merely limiting it to help find a job, we also launched a programme called the ‘Second Chance’, which was a back to work programme for women who had been away from the job scene for a significant time.
We also launched various programmes like career guidance, interview preparation, resume guidance, work place coaching amongst others. These programmes were based on the aspirations and the present position of a candidate. No two people have the exact same solution that work for them. Work life choices for women are very heterogeneous and the importance for Fleximoms was to be the source they could come to when they were looking for jobs.

During education women and men are at par, with most women often being toppers of the classes. Then they get married and have kids and with household responsibilities they gradually fall off the career map. That is how workplaces change and as you go senior in workplaces, the number of women gets fewer when compared to men. Women are hugely under numbered at CEO positions, boards, etc.

We have reached to the women around the country, reached out to the corporate, started talking to women about flexible work. We had to put a lot of policies and process that majority of the companies use today. It was all done in one step at a time and now we are building on what we did – adding more women, companies and processes. It is just a big stone which we are continuously carving and fine tuning.

Feminine Power
Women make great managers, they have more integrity, they stay longer with the projects and they give their best shots to every task they do. And companies do prefer women as franchisees as many of them want to build their businesses on the back of women networks.

We do not employ women directly but still we have provided opportunities to 5000 to 6000 women and when we say opportunities, it is just not giving a job. It could be starting up, franchisees or becoming a part of an affiliated network. It is basically finding work that fixes their life and that is how we define a job.

On Franchising
Franchising is a very interesting format to build a business because for a company which does not have the bandwidth to start from a scratch. It is a great model but a lot of franchising is taken for granted, a lot of misuse of franchising happens at various levels and this remains an issue in industry. However, it offers exciting opportunities to many people and moreover, it is a huge push for women to utilize the resources they already have like space and time. They can fantastically build business around that.
Curves, a healthcare community came into India using Fleximoms. Another company, Vocaboom which is an after school program for vocabulary building for kids and it has been hiring and building their franchise network through Fleximoms.

With our support, other companies can use Fleximoms to reach out to women and set up their franchise model. If you want to open a preschool, salon, learning school then you can use Fleximoms to build your network.
Our challenge is to keep adding value to the needs and aspirations of women and that is a tricky place to be. Everybody is welcome to try Fleximoms and we even have men signing up to pick up jobs.
The platform is open to everyone and we are gender agnostic.

This was originally published in Franchise Mart .

Yes, I can – Flexing Muscle

It was after becoming a mother that Sairee Chahal realised the gaping need for flexible work options in corporate India. She could have been one of those numerous women who, after having children, opt out of lucrative, fulfilling careers because of rigid work formats of organisations. But she had different plans. “I often think I could have been a statistic had I not pushed back,” she says.

Chahal co-founded Fleximoms, a New Delhi-based company that helps women find flexible work options. “You don’t realise the need until it hits you in the face,” she says. Fleximoms, whose other founder is Anita Vasudeva, helps find flexible work options for women who have fallen off the career ladder and also provides them training to bridge any skill gaps.

Fleximoms rolled out as an independent company only last year. Chahal incubated it for nearly two years under Saita Consulting, a consulting firm that she and Vasudeva founded in 2006 to advise on small and medium businesses.

Fleximoms works with 300 companies. “There are a lot of companies that want to connect with this demographic,” says Chahal.

This Business Today piece appeared as part of a larger series of profiles with five unusual women entrepreneurs. 

Fleximoms is the largest aggregation of flexible jobs for women in the country

Fleximoms is the largest aggregation of flexible jobs for women in the country

Sairee Chahal seamlessly weaves her world between her business, her four-year old child, a household and varied other interests. As the co-founder of Fleximoms, Chahal, 36, is a pro when it comes to juggling work and personal life.

Chahal comes across as a person who is in control of things, a quality she has acquired in a career graph that is as varied as it is interesting.

Right after her Masters in the Russian language from Jawaharlal Nehru University, Chahal worked for Central Asian countries that were opening their embassies in the capital. She then joined a magazine.

After a while, Chahal decided to venture out on her own as she was not happy being an employee any longer. In 1999, she set up NewsLink Services along with a couple of friends.

This was the country’s first magazine for mariners and had operations in India, Philippines and Cyprus. Chahal was in charge for three years and during that period, the workforce was expanded to 130 members.

Chahal then moved out to set up Russian outposts for the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), and the executive search firm, Heidrick & Struggles.

Homeward bound
It was in 2006 that Chahal teamed up with Anita Vasudeva, Co-Founder, Fleximoms to set up SAITA Consulting Pvt. Ltd., a firm which deals with small and medium businesses. SAITA is a Japanese word for excellence, explains Chahal. It is also a combination of the first names of Chahal and Vasudeva. SAITA began operations by helping in the internal matters of organizations so that the management was free to deal with customers and clients.

“When we were running the consulting business, we ended up hiring a lot of women. It was not intentional. However, the number of women who wanted to join us far exceeded the numbers we could employ. This got us thinking,” says Chahal.

At SAITA, every client that Chahal worked with had a people issue—there was a lot of pain around hiring and retention. “We soon realized that there was a gap between what women want and what mainstream industries seek when it comes to work,” says Chahal.

By 2009, she started toying around with the idea that fleshed into Fleximoms. Between 2009-2011, the concept was part of SAITA Consulting, after which it was hived off into a different unit.

Fleximoms today is an independent entity offering a flexible employment model for mothers and placing them in organizations which understand the value of an experienced and qualified workforce. In fact, it is considered the largest aggregator for genuine flexible jobs in the country.

Step forward
Fleximoms has now expanded its scope to find jobs for women who have taken a break from work. The back-to-work programme, Second Chance, offers an opportunity for women who have been away for a significant time from the work force.

“We have also launched various programs like career guidance, interview preparation, resumé guidance, workplace coaching among others. These programmes are based on the aspirations and the present position of a candidate,” says Chahal.

The founder understood that work-life choices for women are heterogeneous and hence, it was important for Fleximoms to be the top resource for women while seeking employment.

Chahal also worked intensively with corporate entities. “We wanted them to hire women because it made business sense. A lot of work that we do with companies is to get them to accept flexible working hours as a business case and use it as part of their workday and not because it is something
good to do.”

Fleximoms currently reaches out to about 30 cities in India, and allows its customers to access the entire ecosystem for finding the right job— a prospective candidate can find a suitable job in a city other than the one she is living in.

Fleximoms also conducts online teaching, coaching and classroom training for long-term interventions in Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Pune. “A lot of women are also starting up and we have tied up with a number of incubators and accelerators to provide support,” says Chahal.

Robin Hood and the moms
Fleximoms is bootstrapped with an initial investment of about `2 crore. “We had the consulting business, so we call it the ‘Robin Hood approach’ of moving money from one to the other,” says Chahal.

The response to Fleximoms has been phenomenal—what started out as a small project has become highly successful, informs Chahal.

“We knew [from our experience] getting a job was a problem for women, but never imagined it was a problem of such magnitude. It has grown through word-of-mouth and we feel we are only scratching the surface. Clients, who have worked with Fleximoms, refer us to others and this has helped a lot in our growth.”

Chahal says that in April 2011, the first month of operations, Fleximoms had 16,000 members. Today, the company has local chapters and the community is 2 lakh strong. “We have consistently grown month-on-month and we have reached this number in practically a year and half.”

When a company, which is their client, wants to access Fleximoms’ database, it has the option of taking a subscription. These subscriptions form the primary source of revenue for Fleximoms.

“We also do a lot of custom work for companies with specific needs,” says Chahal. However, information and membership is free for women. Fees are only charged if they join a coaching intervention.

Chahal reveals that the firm’s current revenues are a little less than `1 crore and by the end of 2013, they are expected to grow three times over.

Fleximoms has now evolved into a site where any woman can search for a job opportunity—the website is not merely limited to a mother. “The ‘Mom’ aspect is symbolic for a care-giving economy. About 75-80 percent of women who take a break from work do it because they have to take care of their children. This is not restricted to India and is a global phenomenon,” says Chahal.

More to follow
With changing times and needs, Chahal feels that a number of firms now realize the value of what Fleximoms offers. “A lot of companies realize that this demographic can be a game changer for them,” says Chahal.

During the first month of its operation, Fleximoms had about 22 companies on its rolls, a number that has since grown to 400. Chahal says in the same month the firm found placements for 12 women. Since then, it has found jobs for over 5,000 women across the country.

Archit Gupta, Co-Founder and Director at ClearTax, a tax filing provider, says that he heard about Fleximoms through a friend. “We were looking to hire people remotely, so that we do not have to expand our office. We wanted self-motivated people. Three months ago, I sought Fleximoms’ services to hire for two positions: a support role and for content writing .”

Though Gupta was able to fill the positions he was looking for, he feels a lot more could be done with regard to filtering resumés. “Most of the leads [given by Fleximoms] were good but there were some which were outside our mentioned criteria. This is one area where Fleximoms can improve upon—[put in place] a better filtering system,” says Gupta.

Chahal points to another challenge—to keep adding value to the needs and aspirations of women. “That is a tricky place to be,” she says. To do this, Fleximoms will be looking at Series A funding in the next six months to add scale, she adds.

This interview by Pranbihanga Borpuzari appeared in Entrepreneur Magazine in March 2013

Can India Grow Without Its Women?

Can India Grow Without Its Women?

India: If you grew up in urban India in last three decades or so, chances are that the top achieving students in your class were women. Some of the men might have even passed because the women made all the notes and helped classmates. Most of these women would then go on to some great career opportunities or find interesting things to do. Revisit the same at a reunion few years hence and chances are the men are still managing to run up the ladder, while a significant number of women would have off-ramped.

Universality of marriages, child care, elderly care, spousal duties for traveling spouses, army wives, large traditional families, lesser access, fewer women friendly opportunities, a gender stereotypical society, falling confidence, lack of re-skilling opportunities, changing job market — the list of factors leading to the phenomenon is long.

When you do a little math, given that India produces the largest number of graduates in the world, is home to over a billion people, has a plethora of educational institutions and growing corporate classes and not to mention the over-arching environment that is not particularly great for women — it is easy to guess that something is majorly amiss. Work-life choices for women are rather heterogeneous and somewhere the homogeneity of career ladder and the weight of stereotypes make things tough. Almost 50 percent graduating class and less than 5 percent women CXOs, less than 15 percent women managers tell the tale.

Consider These Facts

113: India’s ranking on the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index (out of 135 countries), measuring economic, health care, education and political issues.

24 percent: The percentage of women in India’s workforce –117 million out of 478 million people.

5 percent: The percentage of senior level female employees in India. The global average is about 20 percent.

48 percent: The percentage of women who drop out of the workforce before they reach the middle of their careers. The Asia regional average is 29 percent.

62 percent: The percentage of a male counterpart’s salary that a woman earns in India. In the United States, it’s about 80 percent.

Source – CSIS

How can an aspiring economy be built by letting talent lie latent? Would you run a factory by leaving out your finest hands on deck out?

Women: Women globally shoulder the care-giving economy but in India the weight is doubled — gender stereotypes and patriarchal super-structures make the situation even more complex. There is an inherent distance between women and the world of work — especially, one with a fiduciary nature. In India, there are almost 300 million women who are working moms, housewife moms, housewives and working wives. About 100 million live in urban India. Growth in education, media influence and consumer focus has created an opportunity for women to pursue their ambitions and make active choices.

Organizing Work: The way work is organized for contemporary societies is a reflection of post industrial age but for centuries prior work was either an individual pursuit or organized in guilds. Modularity and integration are two significant aspects of worked, which got overlooked in the industrial age expansion. The industrial age also passed on the means of production and access to financial resources in hands of men worldwide.

One can look at this phenomenon through various lenses — a feminist’s perspective, a job seekers dilemma, a corporate productivity and talent management issue – the fact remains there is a challenge and an equal opportunity to serve the women workforce in urban India. The case for women at work has been illustrated before. What is required is to address the how to and curate the customer experience? That is exactly what Fleximoms set out to do when it rolled out commercial services in 2011. These included coaching services, corporate services for Workflex and a community to connect women making work-life choices.

Fleximoms 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 and businesses and helps them connect to opportunities, community, information, network and coaching.

As a team we stand by the credo: “Who we are and what choices we make is going to decide the life we have.” And we want that to be a conscious choice, and one each one of us is ready for. Fleximoms hopes to be that partner when one is making those choices.

The original article was featured as a blog/opinion piece in Huffington Post

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