moms at work

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 

Mommy matters

Walk into any Mom&Me store, and you will find mothers. No, not just shopping. At work. The chain, run by Mahindra Retail, began by intuitively tapping into the “Mother knows best” philosophy, says CEO K. Venkataraman. “We do encourage more recruitment among mothers because they add value to our customers. We find their understanding is high, and though all our employees receive empathy training, obviously when you are a mother yourself, the empathy levels are naturally higher.” Labelled Supermoms (the store also recruits a few Superdads and Supergrandparents, just to be fair), the job profile involves hanging out at their stores and doing what a mom does best—counsel, advise, lend an ear, recommend solutions and listen to what a worried mother or mother-to-be has to say. “One of the greatest indicators of our success has been seeing the instant faith parents develop in us. I was at our first store in Koramangala, Bangalore, one day when a lady handed her infant over to a Supergrandad while needing to take out her cash. She said to him, “Here Dad, hold her for a while.” The Supergrandad was so touched because it is such a gesture of trust.”

A large percentage of women drop out of work in urban India alone, with an average work experience of four years and average education, a post-graduate degree, according to Sairee Chahal, co-founder of Fleximoms, a Delhi-based consultancy that helps mothers reconnect with the workspace. The mother of a four-year-old herself, Chahal says the channelling works both ways. “Not only do companies need to accept the flexi-culture, because a workplace is essentially gender-neutral, but women also need to invest in getting back to being professional. Work is work, and at the end of the day, it’s a business case study irrespective of gender.”

Companies like Johnson&Johnson (J&J) periodically recruit mothers for focus groups and in-depth interviews for feedback on their products. “We engage with mothers to understand their lives post motherhood and discover their emotions as mothers. Spending a day in the life of a mom helps us identify gaps, needs, product preferences and routines,” says Anil Nayak, director, communications, J&J. There are other companies also which have an eye out for mothers. Future Group gathered together housewives and mothers in Mumbai recently for feedback on their high-end food mall FoodLand, as also to understand consumption patterns on their indigenous brand of noodles.
Apart from focus groups, programmes like Tata Second Career Initiative Programme and the Godrej Revival of Opportunities for Women encourage mothers to return to work after childbirth, often offering workshops and training to allow them to rejoin fields like accounting, finance or human resources which they exited to tend to their children.
There is a definite increasing workplace momentum that recognizes mothers as responsible, mellowed, patient, capable of handling a team, working with values such as loyalty, commitment and integrity, say recruitment experts. Companies are beginning to put a numerical value to the loss of talent and the ability to regain it. Such recruitment stances are a far cry from the traditional practice of believing a woman’s career is over the minute she becomes pregnant. “IT companies are ahead of the rest in this. Infosys and IBM, in particular, are very open to what a mother brings to the table. If a mother is given a work-life balance, she is less likely to jump jobs in today’s hugely competitive environment for merely a raise, where other unknowns can throw her off gear,” says Aruna Sampat, director and founder of Career Catalysts, a Mumbai-based software specialist recruitment consultancy. Thanks to the widespread availability of technology like Skype and conference facilities, the mindset that one needs to be physically present to accomplish the job, is changing. “As long as the goals are clear and the delivery is prompt, the world can be your office,” Sampat explains. The burgeoning of Indian businesses has also meant that there is an acute shortage of experienced talent, and corporates are unwilling to waste hard-to-come-by experience.
At the end of the day, it’s about drawing on your strengths as a mother. At Mom&Me, sometimes, mothers with grown-up children, are seen as people best equipped to hand out advice—for everything from an earache to organic vitamin supplements safe for consumption during pregnancy. Sometimes, mothers with small children, who are only able to take on a part-time position, come in for a few hours a day. “We find mothers have the time to spend with customers and understand why they need guidance in practical terms. Mothers are very valuable to us because they perform a transfer of knowledge to a next generation of mothers who come in to shop,” says Venkataraman. One product the store plans to introduce after Supermoms gave them feedback is Indian wellness products. They’ve already started a line of stretch maternity wear based on their inputs. It’s not a short-term gain for Mahindra Retail either. They’re looking at it as a process where mothers “begin to own this space”.
Whaddya know, supermoms can do it all!

This piece originally appeared in Livemint

Rise of the Fleximoms

‘Balance’ is the new buzzword for career women who refuse to choose between work and children.

‘Balance’ is the new buzzword for career women who refuse to choose between work and children. They want to be around when their kids need them, and they also want meaningful careers. And now there’s finally some hope they can expect to have their cake and eat it too, as Indian companies, according to a new business survey, show an increasing readiness to recruit mothers on ‘flexitime’.

If you are on a call with Anika Parashar Puri, business head of services at Mahindra Retail, you’ll have to put up with the din of children screaming in the background. Her colleagues are by now quite used to her telling them to ‘stop crying’ and ‘get off the bed’ during an important discussion. “I work full-time from home and my kids are always around me,” says Puri unapologetically. Once, her four-year-old son Nirvann walked in with soiled hands while she was on a call with her boss. “Wash your hands,” ordered Puri, to which her boss curtly replied that his hands were already clean.

On the job, at home Puri isn’t willing to change any of this, not for the world. She refused to give up on the grind after she became a mother. “I am nothing without my kids, but I am also nothing without my work.” Today, she is responsible for everything, right from the fragrance that will greet her customers at Mom & Me, Mahindra’s chain of stores that sell baby products, to training child birth educators, and she does it all from a tiny cubicle she has built for herself at home. Working from home, however, does not make it easier, claims Puri. Her routine can leave a 9 to 5 professional panting. Apart from being at the beck and call of two children and stressful deadlines, there are constant interruptions to pay bills, change diapers and handle homework. Plus she is required to travel to another city at least once a month.

The first time she flew to Bangalore for a meeting she felt very guilty about leaving her kids alone, despite her husband staying back to take care of the kids. In fact, she cried all the way in her flight.

Thankfully, her children are growing up, and they now understand when mom is busy and leave her alone.

“I keep telling myself it can’t get worse than this. It will only get better.” These days Puri is busy with a new project — she regulary writes about her daily struggle on her blog she aptly calls, ‘The diary of a burnt out supermom’.

Working with a baby Rama Bishnoi, an advertising consultant, can identify with Puri. Bishnoi has been a stay-at-home professional for the last 15 years. She quit her 9 to 5 job for a simple reason — she enjoyed her son’s company way too much. “It wasn’t a tough choice. I couldn’t rely on nannies. I loved my work and I loved my son. I decided to give both my time,” says Bishnoi.

She took Sooraj everywhere — to client meetings, presentations and advertising pitches. Often Sooraj would be snoozing in her kangaroo pack while she was busy finalising a business deal. Her career never took a back seat and yet she was always around for her son.

Last month, Bishnoi took a trip with her son to Trivandrum to watch the solar eclipse. She still goes cycling with him every once in a while, and bird watching trails is a regular event on weekends. “I can do it only because I don’t have a job that ties me down. When I started consulting from home, it was a rare thing. But these days, with video conferences and everything done over the email, it is a lot easier.” No wonder mothers believe they can find that much sought-after work-life balance.changing work culture

Indeed “balance” is the new buzzword for newly-turned mothers. They don’t necessarily want to be on the “mommy track”. They are ambitious and want promotions and meaningful careers. But they don’t want to deal with the guilt of leaving their children alone either. The good news is that some companies are changing to keep them around.

In The Regus Business Tracker survey, 64 per cent of Indian business leaders said they will recruit more mothers on a flexible-time basis over the next 24 months. The finding indicates that Indian work culture is, overall, keen to help employees achieve a balance between work and family responsibilities.

Mothers have another reason to cheer as well. The last two years have seen the birth of three internet portals that seek to help women find employers who offer work that can be done either from home or on a flexible schedule.

“Gone are the days when productivity meant your workforce coming in the morning and sitting at their desks all day long. Plenty of well-qualified mothers will give you the same quality by working from home or on a flexible schedule. These are intelligent women who have taken a break to take care of their children. It does not mean they are incapable,” says Sairee Chahal, co-founder of Fleximoms, an online portal that connects women with employers who are looking to hire on a flexi-time basis. Soon enough, Chahal realised that simply setting up a portal wasn’t enough. “The unfortunate part is that after a five to six-year-long break, many of these women don’t have the confidence to get back to the professional sphere. There were women who called up Fleximoms to find out if resumes are written differently now, or if they should take a computer course to brush up on their skills,” says Chahal.

Making a comeback A flexible work schedule has been top of the working woman’s wish list the world over. Now it is finally becoming an option in India and women are making most of it. Take Sangeeta Navalkar’s example for instance.

Navalkar, an MBA, continued to work as a full-time marketing executive with a media company after she had her first son, Akash. She soon realised what she was missing out on. “I heard the mother of Akash’s classmate talking about how yoga at school was helping her child. And it struck me that I wasn’t even aware my son was doing yoga in school. I was stunned when I discovered that the classes had been going on for over a month.” When she asked Akash, then four, he innocently replied, “But you are just not there when I come home. And by the time you come back, I forget.” When Navalkar got pregnant with her second child, Amar, she decided to quit her job and do it right this time.

After taking a six-year-long break, and raising her two children, she decided it was time to get back to work. “The world had changed by then and I wasn’t confident of my skills,” she says.

That is when Navalkar applied for the Tata Second Careers Internship Programme, an initiative that trains women who have been out of the workforce for two years or more. The key requirement is that applicants are required to have at least four years of work experience and a graduation degree. The programme involves the women in a project with Tata Services, and also helps them hone their computer and presentation skills. “By the time they are done with the 6-month programme, they are confident enough to take on another job. In the first 15 days of advertising our initiative, we got over 5,000 applications. There are plenty of women who are waiting to come on board. They just need an opportunity,” says Hitesh Chugh, sourcing manager for Tata group HR.

Navalkar currently works on a flexible arrangement with Tata Services, where she is allowed to work from home on certain days and can return early on most days.

Ashutosh Navalkar, her husband, says his wife has changed after she started working. “She is happier and more confident after getting back to work. My wife took take care of the family for six years. Now it’s her turn to go after her career.” Overall, things have become better after his wife started working, says Navalkar. He had to share the PTA meetings and open houses with her. As a result, he got to know his sons better. “I consciously spend more time with my children. My younger son loves astronomy, so we take our telescope and organise a BNO (Boys Night Out) without the mom. It has helped us bond.”

Companies bat for moms Companies, too, are slowly realising the need to make work schedules flexible for their women professionals. Apart from Tata Services, big players like Godrej, Accenture, and Pepsico have also introduced flexible working programmes. GE introduced a programme called Restart, in 2008, which was implemented at their technology centre in Bangalore. It was aimed at attracting women technologists who had taken a break from their career for personal reasons.

Accenture India, went a step further. Their Maternity Returners Program helped ease new parents back into the workforce by providing career guidance, so that they could tap into ideal re-entry roles. Along with flexible timing for women, it has also tied up with creches to make life easier for the mothers.

“These programmes help us retain our employees for longer periods of time, and also increase productivity. It makes sense to bring back good performers who understand the company and have worked with us. The flexible work arrangement is not just applicable to mothers but also women who take a break to study, take care of elders or any other personal reasons,” says Prithvi Shergill, head, human resources, Accenture India.

Still a long way to go Chahal, however believes that it is too soon to celebrate. “Unlike in the West, organisations in India do not have creches for women within the office space. The concept of flexible work schedules is only beginning to catch on. It is still very difficult for women to stick to their jobs after pregnancy. It also means a pay cut — the women on flexible schedules don’t get paid as much as other employees do,” she says.

More than 90 per cent of companies in Germany and Sweden have women working on flexible timing. Rajesh AR, vice-president, TeamLease Services, a staffing company that provides human resource solutions, believes that we still have a long way to go. “Companies often set up these initiatives to earn goodwill. Women who are on flexible timing arrangement are not put on important projects. Larger projects need dedication and longer working hours,” he says.

But most women aren’t complaining. The only grouse is that while juggling work, family and children, their social life takes a backseat. “My friends are cross with me. I don’t meet them for months.” says Puri. “I tell them to hang on. I’ll probably catch up with them when I’m 60 and then we’ll all play bridge together.”

This was originally published in DNA