Anita Vasudeva

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

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.

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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  

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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