work

Marriage can make you Sexist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This article was published here

Interview of the Day: ‘Workflex no longer implies low value, but a strategic way to manage diverse talent’

A  finalist at the Cartier Women’s Award Initiative for 2012 Sairee Chahal, co-founder of Fleximoms, is an ardent workflex advocate and industry influencer

What was the inspiration for Fleximoms? Going by the name, is it only for mothers or for any woman who needs work flexibility?

Inspiration for Fleximoms is really every home and every family of this country, where women limit their ambition, do two jobs or just do not get the professional attention they deserve. Fleximoms is symbolic of the care giving economy – millions of women who take care of their children, run homes, take care of the elderly, move houses, plan weddings and birthdays, be on spousal duties and much more. Many of them take breaks, re-tweak careers, take up less deserving jobs, run home-based businesses and what not! Fleximoms was set up keeping them in mind.

Till date, how many women has Fleximoms helped take a second shot?

Fleximoms is the largest community of women professionals in India. It is the place to go to for women who are returning professionals, making comebacks, transiting careers, re-tweaking careers, rethinking work-life choices and diverse options available to them. Over a 100 thousand women are in touch with Fleximoms directly while the community touches over 200 thousand. Over 5000 women have taken considered, conscious career steps.

Can you tell us about the thought behind the programmes and services offered? How did you visualise it?

The programs are built to help and guide an individual work on the personal-professional roadmap. Women have diverse and dissimilar lives and each has to take decisions that work best for them. Fleximoms facilitates this through various interventions, taking into account each one’s personal and professional needs, including duration of break, level of skill, personal interest and the intensity of approach.

What is the kind of response you generally get from employers and corporates?

Owing to the spread of awareness about the how-tos, which includes formats, policies, doing pilots, and sensitisation, corporates are realising that allowing flexibility to talented and skilled women makes business sense for them. However, given that we are a patriarchal society, gender awkwardness is part of our DNA. We have a long way to go before we find the ideal social solution but technology and a high number of qualified, bright women are a big plus.

Have you seen any change in mindset from the time you started?

Huge. From being considered scammy, cheap internet-based work to being part of business strategy at town halls, we have come a long way. Workflex no longer implies low end, low skill, low value but a strategic way to manage diverse talent. And I can easily say that companies who accept this willfind themselves at an enormous advantage.

What is the way ahead for Fleximoms?

The way ahead is to continue strengthening women in their professional-personal pursuits, adding efficiency, scaling, and experimenting ways and means to find more positive and effective solutions.

 

This was first published in TimesJobs

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.

Fleximoms_workshop1

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 

Motherhood And Career Networking

Is motherhood the end of career networking? Let’s find out from some mothers who’ve been there, done that!

Does the fact that you now have a baby leave you feeling lost and not connected to the world? Or, even if you choose to continue working, does being a mother make you give up networking because you need to get back home soon?

Networking from home

Teja Lele Desai used to be a full time journalist with several leading newspapers. After working full time for 11 years, she quit to have a baby. Teja’s baby is now 9 months old and Teja freelances from home. She is the consulting editor for an architectural magazine and also has regular columns in various magazines such as Good Housekeeping. Teja feels,“Things would have been different if I had continued in a workplace”.

 

…when you are single or without a child, it is much easier to network.

She feels that there are more opportunities available when you are working full-time and you are able to make use of these opportunities and build on them. However, she does not feel that she has missed out on networking while working from home. This is largely due to the fact that she has got in touch with people online and through phone calls. She does not feel that motherhood has really made her lose out on a career as she is still able to get work.

She admits that when you are single or without a child, it is much easier to network. However, Teja’s priorities have changed and she is not so career oriented anymore. Online business networking works for her.

Networking is a conscious choice you make

Anamika Chakravarty is a consultant with Destination Outdoors. With a total work experience of about 18 years, Anamika had achieved whatever she set out to, career-wise, before she quit to have a baby. She admits that she had put having a family on hold till she reached the top of her career, “I was very career driven. Motherhood made me reprioritize. My career has now taken a back seat and I am looking forward to do other things that I never had the time for earlier”. As far as networking is concerned however, she is still very active. She reaches out to people, as this is in an integral part of her work. There are networking opportunities in her line of work that she takes advantage of.

She tries to network as much as possible, even if it means going for an alumni get – together. She does not hesitate to go out and network, although at times, she has to forgo certain meetings if they are in the evening as she feels she has to be with her daughter at that time. Anamika admits that the Internet is a good networking tool if you have not gone back to full time work. She says that she even received an offer to translate a book; this only happened because “I was actively networking”. She feels that one does not have to go into office to network – not in today’s world. She adds, “It is your decision to make. You do not have to shut yourself off completely.” 

Face to face: Still makes a difference

Sairee Chahal, co-founder of Fleximoms agrees that being online has helped such mothers to actively network even while being away from work. The Internet allows one to stay on the radar, so to speak, but she is emphatic in her belief that it is not the same as a face to face conversation and meeting a person. She personally feels that online relationships cannot go very far. She says that when you meet a person, trust is built up and this can only happen when you actually meet that person, like at a networking dinner.

Sairee has a young child herself and has not given up networking but now chooses where she has to go. She also prioritizes. She herself has clearly seen the difference between being online and meeting a person. Sairee emphasizes,“Women DO need to network – whether they attend seminars or do it on a Saturday afternoon. It brings a new value completely to their lives. Your knowledge, your relationships keep on growing. Networking is not just about exchanging cards, but it’s also about building relationships, credibility and knowledge”. She admits that it is harder to network once you are out of the system and she feels that this is why it is all the more important for women to go out and do this. “Online gives it a boost but it cannot be a substitute for real networking,” she concludes.

Networking is not just about exchanging cards, but it’s also about building relationships, credibility and knowledge.

Planned and prioritized networking helps

Behroz Menon, the mother of a 3 year old, is an Executive Assistant at Pricewaterhouse Coopers, Mumbai. She has been with this company for 8 years and took six months maternity leave when her daughter was born. She was very sure that she wanted to go back to work after her baby was born. She says that she loved working for the company and more importantly it is a “very employee friendly firm and maintains a good work-life balance”. She realized that there would be problems initially but had planned and worked her way around them.

She says that earlier she might have attended all the events that could help her network, but now she weighs the options before going to one. For instance, she asks herself, “Am I required to do this, do I want to do this, will it add value to me?” If her answer to the above questions is yes, she attends the event. If she can avoid it, she does and spends that time with her toddler instead. Her career graph however, is pretty much on track as her company makes this possible. Her husband is also very supportive and she can always fall back on him to look after their son, if she has to go out and network.

Behroz’s advice to women in this dilemma is that they should try and work things out before deciding that motherhood is the end of networking. “Explore before you shut the door,” she says.

Motherhood should not be the end of networking, given the avenues available today. There are many opportunities out there, whether you go back to full time work or decide to freelance from home. But it does need some effort on your part to spend a few hours on yourself.

This was originally published in Women’s Web

Making Flex Work For You

“Flex” careers are becoming popular world over, but the responsibility for creating them does not lie just with employers.

Whether it is taking care of babies, pets, homes or the elderly – worldwide, the majority of that responsibility lies with women, and more so in India. However, women also need to work, more than ever before – for various reasons – fulfillment, money, career, independence etc. Women are making more work-life choices and picking those that suit their individual needs.

A flexible career or a workflex role is one of the many choices that women make, one that allows them to find a match between their professional and personal roles. However, making flexible work – work for you – is an opportunity and a challenge. Opportunity because it allows one to find a good fit, challenge, because it needs one to consistently learn and unlearn.

 

Understanding flexible work schedules

Flexible work may be broadly defined as a work arrangement outside the 9-to-5 format, that allows a person to manage responsibilities in more than one place, in a manner most suitable to her needs. Some commonly used Flexible work formats include: Work-from-home, tele-commute, part-time office/non-office hours, project based, job-sharing, flex-day etc.

The whole philosophy of workflex is centered on delivery, quality and timely completion of work, as opposed to spending a certain amount of time in a physical space.

There are two main aspects – Conceptual and Practical – to considering a flexible work format and failure of flexible work often comes from collapse of one or more of these aspects.

Conceptualizing a move to flexible work

Assessing Workflex needs – One of the first and biggest concerns in a Flexible work format is understanding of one’s Workflex needs. It is also important to understand that asking for a flexible format is not a reflection on one’s performance but an indication of changing choices one needs to make and managing them effectively. Meghna Khanna* used to be a high-flying senior consultant at a large firm. Once her son was born, she moved to a research desk role at the same firm with a half-day commitment. She still gets lucrative offers to join large consulting projects, but to her, time with her son is not negotiable and her flex career is built around that.

…asking for a flexible format is not a reflection on one’s performance but an indication of changing choices one needs to make and managing them effectively. 

Managing Workflex Readiness – Each kind of workflex arrangement has its own implications and one needs to be prepared to manage that well. For example the context of a Small Office Home Office (SOHO) entrepreneur will be totally different from that of a tele-commute flex worker. One’s flexible work needs may evolve over time but workflex readiness helps one navigate those changes.

Before you consider “flexi”, some practical aspects to think about

Level of skill – Workflex is not built for low levels of proficiency and skill. It is imperative that the worker has a high level of competence in generic skills such as communication, analysis, use of technology and teamwork, besides a core specialization. If one is considering a workflex career, the first thing one needs to do is upgrade skills, enhance proficiency and gain expertise.

Stay Connected – ‘Out of sight, out of mind’ is the hardest challenge facing flex workers. As a flex worker, it helps to put in place a communication protocol. Daily calls, IMs, mails, shared docs – or periodic face time – all help enhance cohesiveness between teams. If teams feel there is a consistent virtual presence, a work environment conducive to flex takes shape much more effectively and smoothly.

Equipped to handle – Flex is built on the backbone of communication and remote working infrastructure. If Internet is the lifeline of your work, make it a point to invest in it. Not being able to work, because ‘my Internet is not working’ is akin to ‘Dog ate my homework’.

If Internet is the lifeline of your work, make it a point to invest in it. Not being able to work, because ‘my Internet is not working’ is akin to ‘Dog ate my homework’.

Managing expectations – Make sure you let everyone in your work sphere know about what they can expect. If you are expected to have a weekly review meeting, make sure that happens. If you are going to be unavailable, let that be known well in time. There are few things worse for a team than having a flex worker not deliver on time, but not escalating issues while in process is one of them.

Creating back-up – The best thing one can do to make a flex career work for you is to make it as sustainable as possible. Pooja Saxena*, Associate Consultant, Legal at a Digital Media firm has been working with a large corporate set-up on a flex basis. She is their go-to person for all their legal queries. For over 5 years, Pooja has made it a point to have a peer manage work, while she takes her annual trip to the UK. Not only has she created a back up for herself, she has found a perfect flex fit for her company and herself.

Careers for women – making it work

Invest in Workflex – Being raised as a woman in India has its own nuances. Often we are conditioned not to make professional investments in ourselves. The idea of professional support and training for women in career-transition is hard to digest for many. It is a choice that one is making, because it will add a certain value to one’s life – (better balance, more time, money, greater opportunity or keep your skills alive). Don’t shy away from making that investment in yourself. It is unfair to expect companies to invest in flexibility at work, if those who need workflex options are ill-prepared.

It is also important to ramp-up one’s readiness in order make-up for time lost, if one has been on a career break. The changes in work environment, skills at work, growing level of solution-oriented approach and no recent proven success make it hard for someone who has been away from workplace to orchestrate a successful workflex career.

Being raised as a woman in India has its own nuances. Often we are conditioned not to make professional investments in ourselves. 

Think employer benefit – Flexible work is clearly a two-way street. It is vital to gauge the real scope and value of flexibility – both for employer and employee. In a lot of cases, a partial view of things or a ‘what is it in for me’ attitude without taking into account the context and suitability becomes a recipe for failure.

Play with formats, propose new ones – Flex is contextual. There are a host of best practices and policies but indigenous solutions are the way to go when proposing workflex for oneself. Think what works for you and the other party and feel free to propose it. When Rashmi moved houses to a sub-urban area, daily commute became a real hassle with more than 3 hours each day being spent on it. With her employers, she put together a solution, where she travels to work 3 days a week and works from home 2 days but with the same office hours. When an important project is being delivered, she makes it a point to keep up and be with the team. The arrangement proposed by her has lasted over 3 years and works for her company as well for her.

Deadlines are not flexible – The only thing not flexible in workflex are deadlines and if one keeps that in mind at all times, in all situations – there is no way that flex will not work for you.

One can adopt a flexible approach but it is imperative to stay committed to decisions and deadlines.

*Names changed to ensure privacy

This piece was originally published in Women’s Web.

The Female Boss: Fodder For Gender Stereotyping!

As they climb the corporate ladder, women at work find that being the female boss invariably leads to gender stereotyping.

According to the Work & Power Survey conducted by Elle and MSNBC.com, stereotypes about gender and leadership are still very strong. The survey found that negative attitudes about female leaders are still blocking women from reaching boardroom positions and that a lot of women employees themselves harbour negative attitudes about women leaders. Men were perceived as being more effective leaders as compared to women who were perceived as being either of the two extremes, too soft and emotional or total slave drivers.

We asked around to see what people think about female bosses, and which stereotypes prevail here in India.

 

Gender Stereotyping 1: The Emotional/Hormonal Monster

One commonly held idea about women bosses was that they are emotional and therefore less likely to be rational, whereas the male boss, most people felt is more likely to take decisions rationally. What can actually be a strength – being intuitively able to sense things and use one’s gut feel, is seen as a liability when it comes to the workplace.

Says Pankaj Ramanathan*, EA to a female Director at a media group, “She is empathetic, understanding, but quite touchy. Some days we have to walk on eggshells around her, because one never knows what can make her fly off the handle. We all joke, rather nastily, that maybe, she is PMSing.” But having said that, he also admits that his boss is more likely to listen to a staff member with personal problems, and try and counsel the person rather than haul them over the coals for any goof-ups.

Gender Stereotyping 2: The aggressive and unemotional bitch

Some female bosses get flak for being assertive, demanding and playing the game by male rules. This is the stereotype of the female tyrant boss who is wedded to her job, has no personal life worth speaking of and expects absolute subservience from her staff as well as similar dedication to the job. MSNBC quotes Deborah M. Kolb, the Deloitte Ellen Gabriel Professor for Women and Leadership at the Simmons School of Management and author of “Her Place at the Table: A Woman’s Guide to Negotiating the Five Key Challenges to Leadership Success” on the subject. She says, “In our society, leadership has been coded as masculine. To be a leader you have to be decisive and take charge. That fits fine for men, but when women do it they get labeled.”

In our society, leadership has been coded as masculine. To be a leader you have to be decisive and take charge. That fits fine for men, but when women do it they get labeled. 

Some women bosses do manage to get the work done without getting into ‘bitch’ territory. Says Amy Fernandes, Editorial Director, Jade, “I emphatically believe that your content — the stuff that you bring to the table is what counts. Which is why in my line of work, I’m afraid I cannot be anyone but myself… I do realise that people expect you to behave like the ‘boss’. Act tough, walk tough, talk tough, dress tough. To that, my answer is – forget it. Be yourself. It’s why you’re boss in the first place.”

Gender Stereotyping 3: The gentle and nurturing Pushover

When a female boss brings what are seen as ‘feminine’ skills to the management of people and organizations, she risks getting termed a pushover. Some female bosses avoid a confrontational leadership style and instead use a management style that is nurturing and relationship oriented – for e.g. taking an interest in the family of her staff or focusing more on team building. Says Sonia Bhatia*, Marketing Manager, “They (women bosses) understand some things much better than the men, especially when it comes to domestic issues. So you can discuss personal stuff and take advice. They will probably understand much better if you need some time off for personal reasons, while the men won’t, since they are not much into domestic issues themselves.”

Many women who have risen to senior positions use their innate nurturing skills to add a personal touch to their relationships with their juniors. However, it is this gentleness and nurturing style which gets female bosses mistaken for being too soft on their staff, and being pushovers.

Gender Stereotyping 4: The Queen of female groupies

Female bosses also get accused of creating in-groups of favoured staffers, to whom all the plum projects, trips, etc go. The female boss is perceived to behave like the archetypal Queen Bee with the few favoured worker drones around her to ensure she stays in top mood and form. Also, some women bosses are accused of surrounding themselves with other women, which makes the male members of their teams uncomfortable, although women have no hesitation working in largely male teams!

Some women bosses are accused of surrounding themselves with other women, which makes the male members of their teams uncomfortable, although women have no hesitation working in largely male teams!

Says Sairee Chahal, Co-Founder, Fleximoms, “Personally, I see that discomfort creeps in when hiring young graduates from B-schools or professional colleges for us. The moment they learn we are a ‘women-heavy’ team, they are not sure they want to be here. It is part of social conditioning. A woman is more likely to break into an all male-domain but the chance of men breaking into women’s domains are relatively lower.”

Gender Stereotyping 5: The Personal and Petty Boss

Some we spoke to accused female bosses of getting personal with team members when differences arise. They can get vindictive, harbour grudges and resentments for a long time, and let these affect appraisals, according to some of the people we spoke with. Says Yamini Lodha*, Journalist, “I think the basic difference I’ve observed is that with women bosses everything gets personal. If they’re friendly they want to know about your relationship with your in-laws. If they hate you, they’ll ensure you never get that junket to Italy.”

Sonia Bhatia adds, “I have also found that female bosses will keep things inside and not tell you when they don’t like something. Male bosses will just tell you straight out.”

Of course, not everyone we spoke to had such negative perceptions. Meeta Sengupta, Director, Centre for Education Strategy, who worked at ICICI, talks highly of her female bosses. She says, “These women were all solid performers, very task oriented. As bosses, they were able to demonstrate high IQ and EQ, never forgot about personal issues, never forgot a mistake, never forgot to praise and never forgot to raise the game for us. They were even handed bosses, never afraid to speak straight. In fact they always batted with a straight bat with male and female subordinates. And that’s why they were loved, because they were firm, but fair.”

The frequency with which negative views came up, however, was startling. The prevalence of these stereotypes perhaps says more about the ideas held by society than about female bosses. There was this telling statement by a young, upwardly mobile male management graduate we talked to for this piece (from one of the top management schools), “I’m all for women’s liberation, but somehow I would be uncomfortable reporting to a female boss.”

Many studies have shown that women are no less capable as bosses, although the perceptions may be different. Sairee Chahal sums it up when she says, “As a role, being a boss is a tough place. The bucks stops with you and that has very little to do with whether you are a man or woman. Personally, I don’t think being a woman impacts my working relationship but the fact that when it comes to keeping up to the delivery promise, I am accountable.”

*Names changed on request

This was originally published 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