women’s web

What I Gained From Mentoring

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

By Ruche M Mittal

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

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

Why I needed a mentor

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

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

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

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

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

The mentoring program

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

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

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

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

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

Challenges with mentoring

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

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

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

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

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

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

This article was originally published in Women’s Web

Managing an IT Career Transition

Tips for managing a career transition (especially for IT professionals, but also relevant to others):

Assess your strengths. While this is easier said than done, working on this objectively may pave the way for a long term roadmap for you.

Don’t shortsell. Never begin a career conversation that begins with “I will do anything.”

Assess your skills and competencies. Imagine if you were to redefine your CV by telling the other person what skills you have or more simply put what you can do – rather than your designation and programming platform you work on. Feel free to use professional assessment tools to view this in relation to the job market.

Interest areas Are you a programmer with a gift of the gab or way with words? You love Bollywood and are known for getting projects with multiple stakeholders done on time? If you have specific interest areas, things that excite you or you haven’t let go of – these might be your clues to your next career. At Fleximoms, we have alumni who have gone from being project managers to culinary divas, from being IT Analysts to Tech PR pros, from being internal programmer to specialised consultants. What binds them is a conscious decision to reshape their careers and lives and ability to take help where it exists.

Network. Where are your networks? Do they know you exist? Are you valuable? Are you seen and heard often? An average man is more likely to know people in his domain than an average woman – alumni networks, colleagues, geek communities, start ups, tech events, clients – people work with people they know everywhere.

Coaching and mentorshipUndervalued propositions, especially in the context of women making career transitions. A good coach can be the bridge between your aspirations and your reality. A great mentor can be the support system you never imagined you had. Behind every success – big or small there is an objective brain and a committed heart of a mentor pinning for you. Don’t let that go waste!

Things are changing, especially with the emerging opportunities and availability of new terms of engagement and there are women who are transiting and not leaving this industry. An encouraging sign after all!

This article was published originally in Women’s Web

How To Make Flexi-working Succeed

Work from home options or flexible working hours – working women in India are benefiting from the career possibilities offered by companies

Pallavi Mathur Lal, mother of two and Associate Director, Qualitative at Synovate India Pvt. Ltd returned to work 2 ½ years ago. A flexi-working arrangement helps her fulfil her need to work and also take care of her kids. The flexible working hours enable her to manage both house and work without feeling guilty about letting either side down – on one hand, and getting a kick out of both, on the other. Pallavi heads a team and her responsibilities include handling research projects, client services and business development.

Although she has a flexi-time job, her responsibilities are no less than a person working full time at the same level in the organization. She is part of the Senior Management and involved in all business aspects across Synovate. Her flexible working hours arrangement is such that she is required to bill a total number of hours in a month. She does not have any fixed number of hours or days that she has to work in the month. She also has the freedom of managing her work from home in case a need arises on her personal front. She intends to continue this arrangement for as long as she can.

The fact remains that it is still very much women who shoulder most responsibilities at home – whether children or elderly people. Keen to retain talented employees, companies are now more open to employing women who want to work flexi-time. In December 2009, Regus, a company in the field of workspaces, found in its survey (called ‘Flexible working mums’) that 64% of Indian business leaders were keen to hire more mothers on a flexi time basis.

Part time work, work from home & other ‘flex’ formats

Flexi-working is usually an arrangement between the company and the employee to work for x numbers of hours in a certain period. This arrangement could involve a person going into work each day for the specific period or in some cases, work from home options. It could mean part time work such as working for a fixed numbers of hours per week or flexible working options such as working for only a few days a week. Such arrangements vary from one company to another and often vary for different employees even in the same company, depending on individual needs.

Companies however do expect flexi-working employees to stay back or come into work on an unscheduled day, if the need arises. In other words, Flexibility is a two way street. Industries where flexible working hours could work well include knowledge based industries, software companies, non television media, publishing, recruitment and marketing firms.

Sairee Chahal, Co-founder, Fleximoms, a portal that connects women to employers willing to offer flexible working hours, feels that with advancements in technology, remote working is now more possible than earlier. It is necessary, she feels that employees have a thorough understanding of the job and the deliverables expected. Chahal says, “Flexible work is not freelance work. The same rules apply, even if you are working from home.” What is important is the commitment one brings to the job.

Flexible work is not freelance work. The same rules apply, even if you are working from home. 

As far as salaries are concerned, flexibility by itself need not mean lower pay. The salary structure usually depends on the nature and delivery of work for most white collar jobs. There are times however, when pay cuts may happen, for e.g. if the quantity of deliverables is substantially lowered.

A flexi-working career for women: Dos and Don’ts

Lumiere Business Solutions Pvt. Ltd., in Mumbai was founded almost 14 years ago and the company’s target community is women professionals who want to return to work after taking a break. Deepa Soman, MD of Lumiere states that the actual premises seat only 25 people. People have the option of working from home while others come in to work at the office. There are regular meetings however, at the office, where everyone has to be present – even those who work from home.

She says, “It is essential for a company to have a back up plan in place in order for flexi-working to be viable. It is necessary for communication systems and processes to be very strong”. According to Soman, the fact that this company has 300 deliverables a year and has never missed a deadline is testament enough to this.

Lumiere has a Pool Manager responsible for tracking employees’ work and their deliverables. On joining, employees are made aware of the company’s expectations in terms of commitment and that at times, they would have to go the extra mile. All employees have Blackberrys and laptops, enabling a smooth flow of communication between them and the Pool Manager.

On joining, employees are made aware of the company’s expectations in terms of commitment and that at times, they would have to go the extra mile. All employees have Blackberrys and laptops, enabling a smooth flow of communication between them and the Pool Manager.

Making Flexi-working work

Lumiere also has an intranet where employees can track the work. The system is very transparent and information is available at the click of a button. There is a regular feedback and monitoring system for each employee. Soman feels that “A flexible employee must show responsibility, personal leadership and integrity.”

Neville Postwalla, Director, People Functions at MindTree, Pune, says that the company has ladies who are working on a flexi-time basis. However, this depends on the person and the circumstances for the flexi-time. The workload and the salary is adjusted accordingly for such employees. He feels that such flexi-time jobs would work for technical and staff employees where it is feasible and practical to do so.

Flexi-working is still a relatively new concept in India and unfortunately, some managers perceive those seeking flexible hours as not ambitious or committed enough. Not all companies have an evaluation system evolved enough to measure the quality of deliverables rather than the face time or number of hours put in at the desk.

Although it is taking time, more companies are realizing that flexible working hours does not mean a lack of commitment. By helping employees get the best of both worlds, instead, this is a mutually beneficial arrangement and one that can work – with a little effort from both sides.

This was published in Women’s Web