women in the workplace

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

Thank you! Marissa Mayer

Thank you! Marissa Mayer

Yahoo jolted everyone this week by banning remote work for its employees. The story has not stopped making headlines since then. The great thing that emerged was that the seemingly global majority undecided on workflex turned out to be its supporters. We have to thank Marissa Mayer for spotlighting the issue.

Traditionally, it is not new for businesses to deem workflex as ‘not for us’. For years, businesses have left un-extracted value on the table. For the fence-sitters and cynics, it might be interesting to go over key work-life trends in this context.

In case you haven’t noticed, businesses need to acquire, retain and grow trust from all their stakeholders, more than ever before. The open information network, the rise of global citizenship, the younger workforce have all meant that trust is the core around which businesses need to maneuver themselves. The trust economy lends itself to what is termed as the rise of creative collaboration – multitude of skills, backgrounds and energies combining to solve common problems.

There is no absolutism in business anymore. Blended business models, complex eco-systems, shorter business life cycles – have reduced the island approach in business. Never say never was never truer. Collaboration, blended models, constant reevaluation, fast change, constant communication – are some trends businesses have to live with now.

Isn’t 21st century an age of choice? The choice to be able to marry who you want, live where you want, learn what you want, have the world’s information at your disposal? And that applies to corporations too. Variety and variation in everything – from products we buy, to services we choose, to lives we lead. Workplaces need to acknowledge that needs and aspirations vary from individual to individual, from geography to geography and that workforce is not a lump of homogenous large group with no individuality. It includes everyone – global migrants, the natives, the digital citizens, the DINK couples, the single moms, gay families, elderly, veterans, the Gen X, Y and more.

Remote work, telecommuting, work from home is just one page out of the workflex formats. There are over a dozen other formats that fit various business and strategic needs. These include flex work day, flex work week, job share, part time, core team flex roles etc. Carving out flex formats to suit an organisation’s growing needs is a function of business needs and needs to be thought through as part of the core planning process. However, many business teams find them at a loss when it comes to curating these engagements. Workflex formats are not one size fit all but. Workflex formats are not one size fit all but when applied in business contexts, will be key to business results. Businesses, which commit time and resources to plan these as part of their core, yield better long-term gains – of productivity, cost saving and engagement.

Virtualisation of work and life is a real thing. For every 100 texts, IMs, Skype calls, there are perhaps five meetings. It is only going to grow, as we raise of children with smartphones in their hands from day one. They know no other reality and it simplifies things to enhance adaptability for us, who came in with a different version of work-life fit. Work will never be fully virtual or fully cubicle. Both will stay but the trend is weighing towards higher virtualisation.

The uncertainty surrounding global economic conditions, the fall of the big global corporation, the result of the industrial age environment fatalism have shifted the pointer towards Small and Medium Businesses (SMBs). Anyone who follows the changing workplace trends will be able to tell you that SMBs are the big adopters and drivers of workflex. They are agile, adoptive, extract business value and are ready to make that investment. They are the ones who employ a large percentage of the workflex employees and build flexibility as a core business value. Home based work is only going to grow as technology gets better, work more knowledge driven and work-life choices more diverse. In fact, teleworkers is the fastest growing category of workers globally.

The central resource in a knowledge led organization is the disposition and discretion of the worker. A CEO’s task before the balance sheet is to tilt the mindset of the knowledge worker in favor of the organisation and its mission. Leadership today is less about whom you lead and more about who wants to be lead by you. Physical, mental, cognitive well-being is the most valuable unwritten column in the P&L statement of a company and its impact is only set to grow.

No organisation of today is built on industrial age principal of silos. Flow, fluidity, constant change leading to increased sharing is the form of new age business. One thing leads to another, the world is a networked place, we want to share more, participate in the open sharing economy, learn through open streams of shared knowledge and align ourselves with communities that catch our interest, irrespective of their global locations. Businesses need to be cognizant of this fact and respond to the fact. The future is now.

The original article was featured as a opinion piece in The Times of India, Crest Edition

Work and the Joy of Creation

Work and the Joy of Creation

“It’s all about the work you are willing to do,” said poet and award-winning Yale professor Elizabeth Alexander, at President Obama’s swearing in ceremony in 2009, reading from her poem ‘The Praise Song for the Day’ which highlights the virtue of work. In the context of women and work, nothing could be truer. By definition, work is not only “anything, which is produced as the result of labor” but among other things is as much an “act, deed, service, effect, result, achievement and feat.” There are clearly, two aspects to this definition: work as productivity and work as defining an individual or being an achievement.

Work as productivity

Productivity is linked to remuneration. Overall, there is enough research to prove that work-for pay has been a male domain. Thus it is clear that whether by design or by default traditionally women have been distanced from the ‘world of work’, especially of a remunerative nature.

Yet, it is said a woman’s work is never done. But is it ever valued? Why has the unpaid work done by women at home come to be undermined / ignored? The answer goes back to the advent of modern day commerce which moved the means of production into hands of men. This was a major factor in alienating women from the workforce. Did you know that women form 2/3 of the world’s workforce but occupy only 1 per cent of the assets? In this process, women have become the temp staff (workers with little stake, ownership or rewards) in the global economic engine!

How can this change? Women need to build and display greater ownership of the world of work and perhaps rediscover that work is more than just a means of earning an income. The ownership of the world of work will come through owning accountability, responsibility, as well as the risks and rewards that come with it. I know quite a few mothers who only want to ‘marry daughters up’. It is almost like having very little faith in the ability and ambition of our daughters to think for themselves, to dream and achieve big. Why won’t we tell our children and especially our daughters that they can wish for anything they want, a large wedding, a business, a Tiffany’s stone as long as they work towards those goals? Recent research by Dr Catherine Hakim has thrown up uncomfortable questions about the choices and preferences women make: she says there is proof that women choose to undervalue themselves despite equal opportunities…

Work as a yardstick of self-worth

Which brings us to the second critical aspect of work: as a means of defining self-worth. “Work is an expression of who you are. So who you are is what needs to be worked out,” says spiritual mentor Sadguru Jaggi Vasudev. Work can therefore imply or be:

A sense of purpose: Work has the ability to put purpose into our lives. Thus, for instance, empty-nester moms can find a new raison d’être in work, and housewives can find fulfillment in using and honing their inherent skills.

Ideation: The human brain has the potential to create, envision, and share. Ideation is the biggest joy of work.

Contribution: Work makes us contribute to a larger whole and brings in parts of millions of contributions to us. Not being part of this circle of creation is a sore loss.

Circle of Support: Work creates a circle of support, a network of peers, a range of experts to learn from and an eco-system of interdependence – one that is hugely social in nature and essential to individual development.

Wealth Creation: Work provides that essential access to a system of wealth creation. Wealth is also the single largest factor in determining the access to resources and level of development.

A Change Agent: Work allows each one of us to be our own change agent – to change what we don’t like, build on what we do etc in a continued effort to better the best in us.

A Tool for Sustainability: Global economic development needs women to display greater participation in global socio-economic affairs. One of the objectives of the global sustainability movement is equitable distribution of access and resources and bringing more women into leadership positions across the spectrum.

Enterprise: Entrepreneurship is empowering. Being able to choose a dream, create it, mould it, execute it, risk it is the ultimate path to embracing fearlessness. 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 – the joy of enterprise.

Let us give ourselves the power to create, lead, make, sculpt, change, build, acquire, dispose, envision and grow. There are seeds to be sown, ideas to be propagated, rewards to be harvested and future generations to mentor. Let us get to work!

The original article was featured as an Opinion piece on Accenture’s website here

Woman’s Initiative Awards

Woman’s Initiative Awards

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 fulfillment.

Sairee is a 2012 Cartier Woman’s Achievement Awards finalist. Her profile appeared on the Awards website.

Home is where the work is

Yahoo! chief Marissa Mayer may think working from home hampers productivity, but those lucky enough to be able to do it in India say they have the best of two worlds, says Varuna Verma.

Priya Rao took a six-month break from work when she had her baby last year. The Information Technology (IT) professional had thought that it would give her sufficient time to bond with the child and help her regain her strength before getting back to work. But when her maternity leave was drawing to an end, Rao realised that she couldn’t leave her infant son at home in the care of a nanny for the whole day. “But I did not want to give up working either,” says Rao, a software architect at a Bangalore-based software company.

That is when Rao approached her company’s HR team to figure a way out. And she found them willing to make adjustments. “For the next one year, I worked half days and put my son in the crèche on the office campus. This way, I could check on him between meetings and conference calls,” Rao says.

With the growing number of women in the workforce, the practice of flexi-hours (which particularly helps women mind both their jobs and homes) is slowly catching on in India. Not surprisingly, Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer’s recent decision to annul a company policy that allowed employees to work from home has triggered a debate on the pros and cons of the practice.

Hundreds of women in India would disagree with Mayer. “Flexible work routines are a growing trend in India,” says Sairee Chahal, founder, Fleximoms, a portal that connects women to companies offering flexi-work job options — such as work from home or doing suitable hours. “Workflex is gaining currency because of better access to technology, a lack of traditional care giving and the rise in double income households,” she explains.

Launched in 2009, Fleximoms claims to have a community of 1,00,000 virtual women members, of whom 5,000 have found suitable flexi-jobs. Its corporate clients include Honeywell, Intel, the Royal Bank of Scotland and Castrol.

Many companies have been encouraging employees to adopt flexi-time. PricewaterhouseCoopers India has several options on offer. Telecommuting is an option where employees working in their local office may sometimes work one day a week at home, while Flexitime is an arrangement where an employee starts and ends the workday outside the “normal” working hours.

“Individuals continue to work the standard 40-hour work week, and receive full-time income and benefits,” says Mark Driscoll, leader, human capital, PwC India.

Those in favour of working from home argue that the practice gives employees, especially women, the opportunity to work and look after the family. Studies have shown that this jacks up productivity, makes employees happy and leads to lower attrition rates. And, of course, it cuts a company’s infrastructure costs.

“At PwC we believe that flexible working arrangements are alternatives that assist employees in balancing work and personal commitments while meeting business needs and objectives,” Driscoll stresses.

Sangeeta Lala, senior vice-president and co-founder, Teamlease Services, a Bangalore-based staffing firm, believes that women professionals in India don’t seek work from home options on a priority basis. “Flexi-work ranks below job role, salary, proximity to home, work load and bonus on the checklist,” she adds.

Those who don’t believe in flexi-hours hold that they hamper employees from performing to capacity, take away the opportunity to network or exchange ideas or scale up the career ladder. Bosses are often left wondering whether the employee is taking a power nap or picking her children from school during work hours. “The practice only works in jobs where there is a clear output requirement,” Lala says.

But those who are in favour say that it gives women the opportunity to work professionally, as well as take care of domestic and familial needs. “I work so much better from home,” says a media group employee who often edits from home. “At home, the telephones don’t ring constantly, visitors don’t keep streaming in and colleagues don’t tempt you with coffee and gossip,” she says.

Many organisations encourage women to work from home to retain staff. Chennai-based consulting firm Avtar Career Creators (ACC) conducted a survey in 2005 which found that 18 per cent of all attrition in Indian industry was caused by women who stepped off the career track, never to return. “This totalled around 50,000 women quitting their careers every year in the major metros,” says Saundarya Rajesh, founder, ACC, which specialises in providing flexible work choices to career women.

Started in 2000, ACC has a network of 26,000 professionally qualified women. In the last five years, the company claims to have created second career and flexi-working opportunities for 3,500 women. Its clients include Goldman Sachs, PepsiCo, Unilever, Heinz, Standard Chartered Bank, Google, Microsoft and Cadbury Kraft.

The Tata Second Career Internship Programme, started in 2008, also helps women who want to return to a career after a break by offering them flexible work schedules to help ease the transition process.

“There is a great deal of emphasis on flexibility as well as relevance of business projects,” says Amit Chincholikar, vice-president, management development, Tata Group HR, Mumbai. “Technology that enables telecommuting (or working from home) provides participants the flexibility so that they can balance their personal situations as well as deliver on deadlines,” he says.

Rajesh, however, feels the Indian corporate sector still has some navel gazing to do on diversity and inclusion at the workplace. “The investment made in empowering women goes waste as they often do not get the right work choices or the infrastructure to manage home responsibilities along with a career,” she says.

But it may not be long before India Inc embraces the practice of working from home or flexi-hours. For one, it’s slowly catching on everywhere. Polling firm Ipsos found that in a survey published recently almost a fifth of over 11,000 workers from 24 countries surveyed said they telecommuted “frequently”, while 7 per cent said they worked from home every day.

Another study — this one by Stanford University and the University of Beijing — found that telecommuters at a call centre in China handled calls more efficiently, took fewer breaks and were 13 per cent more productive than those who worked from office.

On the other hand, American retailers J.C. Penney found last year that a third of its headquarters’ bandwidth was taken up by employees watching YouTube in office!

This was originally published in The Telegraph

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 

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