From homemakers to working moms who come flying through on all fronts... the achievements attributed to women often touch mythic proportions, setting extremely high and sometimes unrealistic standards for the women of Gen Next. Sharing their secrets to success, are a few remarkable women who strike a fine balance between work and home
How not to live your life
In my first job at the RBI, Delhi, I met a woman who washed her entire family's clothes, cooked breakfast and packed lunches as well as three flasks of tea that she and her husband (who worked in the same office) shared, before she came to office. She did it of her own will and was proud of it. Needless to say, after work, she cooked dinner, did homework and probably gave her mother-in-law a back massage. As romantic as the story was, it left a deep impression on me, of how not to run my life.
One does find women working towards being everything to everyone. Invariably, this approach is not consistent with success, which requires making choices, and NOT being everything
I am a partner at PricewaterhouseCooper and lead the banking and capital markets practice. I have gained the ability to come up with an idea and execute it with the support of a network of people. What made this possible, is my persistent sense of wonder at what lies ahead. In practical terms, it has always been family, friends and help. When I took time off to study in the US, my mother came there to be with my three-year-old son for the first semester. My grandmother, sister-in-law and dad have all been part of raising the kids as much as the babysitters, cooks and cleaners that have walked in and out taking care of various things.
While in the US, I studied and worked as a Research Assistant while raising our three-year-old. For a large part, I was alone; but the system's flexibility as well as the ability to create support groups of similar women was amazing. Once, when I had a classroom test and my son was too ill to go to his Montessori, the professor told me to bring him along and made us sit in a separate room while I wrote the test. It was fabulous that everyone accepted Shantanu as a part of me. In India, workplaces are a lot less flexible and one falls back on family and hired help. I am lucky to have an incredible husband who takes as much ownership of home and children as I do.
Of course, delegation is important. Unfortunately, I am one of those women who can cook, sew, knit, paint, draw and be patient with kids. So, the idea of giving up some or all of it was not very pleasant. I figured I was more comfortable consciously choosing to do certain things; so, depending on the stage of my family and career, I opted to focus on certain things and give up others. Then, I read an article about making time vs making choices and figured I was one of those who could not make more time in my life as I needed my sleep, my leisure and my reading, so I learnt to make choices!
A lot of mothers drive themselves crazy, believing their success is judged by their children's
success. I have always felt children belong
to a wider, societal context and my primary
role is to set a good example to them as far as conviction or the ability to go against public opinion is concerned. They are smart enough for the rest. It's important to "be yourself". More importantly figure out what that means before you get arthritis.
Shinjini Kumar, Partner, Pricewaterhouse Cooper, India
Don't bend over backwards
I believe that a super woman's 'existence' is dependent on the people around her, who have stood by her side through thick and thin and supported her decisions.
As a working woman, I have multiple roles to fulfil—mother, wife, daughter, professional. In 20 years as a professional, I have been lucky to have worked with big brands such as BlackBerry, Mahindra Satyam, TCS and Fenner India Ltd. This journey was possible, and more importantly enjoyable, because of the support I received from my husband, friends, colleagues, employers, as well as my domestic help. They are the reason I have been able to balance my personal and professional life. Employers and their policies play a huge role in helping strike this balance. My present employer, BlackBerry, is a perfect example of how workplace policies can help bring balance to your work life. With BlackBerry's HR policies, I can work from home efficiently and not waste time and effort travelling at the end of the day to spend enough time with my kids.
I do believe that delegation is extremely important to strike the right balance. While I do delegate regular household chores like cooking, house-keeping etc. to the domestic help, the duty of being a responsible mother, wife and daughter cannot be delegated. As a homemaker, I can delegate certain tasks but the responsibility of making our house a home will always remain mine.
I do not believe that I'm a 'half-a-mom' just because I'm working. I often ask my daughters if they would rather have me home and looking after them, rather than leaving for work. They reply that I am more of a fun person when I work than sit at home. They don't mind not getting the hot food; but they like to see me happy when I do things that I like. I'm as much as a mom to them—working or not working.
My various hobbies and common interest groups have helped me attain balance. I assign allocate time for family, friends, religious activities, and also for myself; I'm very protective of these times. Over the years, I have realised that to strike the right balance, one should not bend over backwards to please everyone, but prioritise and allocate time accordingly.
My definition of success has changed at various points in life. What I do know is that my success is tied to my family's happiness as much as it is to achieving professional goals.
My children and my parents have always been top priority; consequently I have sacrificed many opportunities like doing an MBA earlier on, foregoing a plum job that would take me to another country and so on. I don't regret any of it; I believe that if you are capable and have the right attitude you can still reach your goals, it's just that the path may be different.
It's essential to understand what matters most to you and deliberately set time aside for it—family, work, religion, friends; and most importantly for yourself and your health as well. Remember to have fun along the way.
Annie Mathew, Director, Alliances and Business Development, Blackberry, India
...shouldn't feel like half-a-mom
More than society setting high standards for women, we envision the impossible for ourselves: to be perfect moms with beautiful houses, manicured gardens, cooking fresh meals thrice a day and handling highly demanding careers. A woman shouldn’t feel like half-a-mom or hesitate to get all the help she needs at home or at work; there will be challenges nonetheless.
Delegation is critical, because it is impossible to do everything on your own. My mother and father-in-law pitch in when my husband and I travel. We plan, to ensure someone is always home with our children. While I may wish I was home to prepare meals for my kids, I value the fact that they are independent. At home, anything that adds value to my family like spending time with my kids or helping with homework is important. I outsource everything else, from cooking and cleaning to gardening. I use apps—to have groceries delivered, to book movie tickets, to shop for household gadgets—to make my life easier. At work, I focus on adding the right kind of value by building a well-networked team; the rest can be delegated. I feel successful when I see my team and family happy and empowered to make the right decisions.
My work-life balance strategy involves prioritizing and combining activities. e.g. I go for walks with my children, so I exercise while spending time with them. Or I call my mother on my way to work.
It is crucial to make choices based on your criteria for success. For me, success is watching my kids grow into good human beings, being a loving family member and a good leader at work. I have given up some of my passions, along with my social life. As my teenage children discover their interests, they are rekindling my passion for movies, music and reading.
Seemantini Godbole, Target Technology Services, India
It's all an experiment
For every woman to do what she has to do, her ecosystem has to support her. This does not mean everything goes right all the time; but understanding how we can work with our support systems or office policies is important, as is planning and being upfront.
I have a packed-to-brimming career and a busy home life. To me, success means being happy and satisfied with my contribution, at home, at work, or in society; setting new challenges and overcoming them harmoniously.
What's in a sacrifice? There is always some gain in terms of experience. If there is only guilt, you need to rethink what you're doing.
Collaborating at work means success not only for you, but for the workplace as well. Prioritising at home and at work is critical, to ensure that you can do things outside your home and workplace.
I love cooking and spending time with my family, and make it a point to put food on the table every day. It's my catharsis after a day's work. But, each person needs to identify what is cathartic for them, and indulge in that activity.
Follow your heart. It sounds simple, but it isn't, because sometimes the heart is in many places at once. Who, or what work needs me most? Will my absence prevent it from moving on? How can I ensure things go on in my absence?... are questions I ask myself when I reach a crossroad. Finally, it's all an experiment; nothing is set in stone. Because that's the best way. And remember, every woman is a superwoman!
Visalakshi Subramaniam, Retail Practice Lead, Thoughtworks, India
Coordinated by Averil Nunes