Sunday, 17 January 2010

A post for a friend - and many others like her

A dear friend posted in her blog, a couple of days ago, something that brought a lump to my throat. She’s a brilliant professional – great academic track record (a national gold medalist, no less), top drawer performer, highly regarded in her company. And yet she faced the same choice that confronts every Indian career woman – family or career. As 90% of Indian woman do, she chose family. She passed up an opportunity for career advancement. Others applauded her for her “sacrifice”. But as you can imagine, her heart was heavy. And she wrote this wistful post, which continues to tug my heart. I won’t link her post, as she may not want it to be too public, but you can more or less guess what it would be.

Another dear friend, wrote this sometime ago. The blogosphere, and terra firma, is full of such situations. This is something that confronts every single Indian middle class woman who has a career interest. In many cases, their husbands are incredibly supporting. They are not MCPs – they are sensitive and help as much as they can. And yet, the gut wrenching dilemma confounds every woman.

I am going to pass on the more familiar solutions – family support, nannies, etc etc. I am writing from the perspective of the employer.

I don’t think employers get it. They are missing a great talent opportunity which is under their very noses.

Let me tell you a story. I know of a lady who was hired by a company – both shall remain unnamed. This company wanted somebody to create a new function in the company. Something that was resisted by other departments, but one which the leader believed was absolutely necessary. In came a lady who had taken a career break for the same old reason, and was still not ready to come back full time. But the company said, that was fine. Come in part time. Work when you can. Work how and where you want. And this lady created something that became one of the pillars of that company. Because she was so good. Because she brought passion to the job. Because she brought commitment of a variety which is rarely seen. She worked her socks off. Home, office, everything. But she enjoyed the slogging because she wasn’t in an apology of a job, she was doing something very important, she was doing nicely in her career and she could see what she was creating. I don’t think the company would have achieved half as much with a full time traditional careerist (man or woman). They understood it. They promoted her. They put her on a fast track career path.

Employers – If you are listening, here’s a secret. Employees who have other commitments or handicaps, actually make better employees. I have seen this with physically challenged colleagues. I have seen this with single mothers. I have seen this with women who are juggling work and home. I have seen it in men who are widowers bringing up children. Pound for pound they are actually better performers. They bring passion and commitment – two qualities which are not so common in the business world. They actually work harder and more effectively. They can be more trusted upon. They show higher loyalty. They appreciate victories better and take defeats in their stride. And more often than not, they are better people managers.

So here’s the secret. If you are an employer, you should actually seek out such people. And not make my dear friend write a post like the one that has triggered this one.


  1. a topic so close to my heart. I can really empathise with your friend who has had to pass on a wonderful career advancement sure it must have been a tough call for her, oscillating between 'should i? shouldnt i?' and im sure, it will take her a while to come to terms with her decision..
    at the risk of sounding extremely feminist and not really connected to this post, why is that such decisions mostly hound moms and not dads?
    Employers (by and large) are also not helping the cause..I really wish this issue is addressed and given its due.
    Thanks for a lovely lovely post Ramesh and once again, thanks for linking me..(ajcl)

  2. @AJCL - Thanks. Of course, I was hoping you'd make your trademark comment.

    Yes, it hounds only moms. Social mores evolved over hundreds of years and it may change only ever so slowly.

  3. Thalaiavary...intha postkaprum..thaaikulam elaroda supportum ungaluku thaan :D ward councilorlenthu..Loksabha varaikum...entha constiuencyla neenga ninaalum victory uruthi :D

  4. romba sensitive topic...a decade back people wouldnt even have bothered to consider this as a topic..but with growing education and equal opportunity employers springing up..ladies who give up their career for families might obviously feel missed out on the spate of opportunities which lay out there. I think..soon there would come a special department of sorts for SAHM in companies. This would be the next big source of exlent human resources and i guess that day is not so far in the future.

  5. Kudos... one aweesome post! amidst all our time pass posts, such a post makes a world of diff... since i was in HR, i completely understand n infact tried implementing something like this where i worked.. unfortunately not all were open to the idea... but the ones who did made me feel good!! :)

    But i have come across companies that are open n flexi to ppl with spl needs n for moms.etc...

  6. Sandhya Sriram17/1/10

    niraimozhi maandar perumai nilatthu maraimozhi katti vidum

    Translation: From the words of the great men, the world identifies their vastness.

    Lucky to have known you Ramesh!!

  7. kiwibloke17/1/10

    Why is it that a 'career break' for raising kids/family reasons always associated with women giving up employment? I guess the typical stereotypes of the man being the hunter/gatherer and the women being the one who 'cares' for the offsprings and keeps the home in order. Curiously I was on a career break for about 10 months, working in NZ when my sonny boy had started school and my partner had just about moved on to a reasonably high profile role. Her Majesty's Govt in NZ was really supportive. I used to start work at 9 after school starts (every one starts at 8), finish at 3:00 to get to the boy at 3:30pm when school ended and used to take about 10 hours of work a week home to be done either late evening or on week-ends. As Bryan Adams would say, those were the best days of my life. Some times I seriously wish for those days again!

  8. //niraimozhi maandar perumai nilatthu maraimozhi katti vidum//

    WOWWWWWW :D kalkiteenga sandhya

  9. @gils - thaaikulam adikkatata pothum !! Yes, its a rapidly evolving issue in the last two generations and the Indian workplace is still adjusting to it. Two generations later this might not be an issue, but for now, it does hurt almost all women.

    @Aarti - Thanks for visiting and your comment. Yes there are companies which are extremely women friendly. But as you say, there are entrenched attitudes which make this a tough issue in most companies.

    @Sandhya - Whoa Whoa ...

    @kiwi - You are indeed a rare exception and for you no praise would be too high. Actually men don't know what they are missing. If they chose to be the stay at home parent, they'll enjoy the bliss of being with their little ones !!

  10. athivas18/1/10

    A heartful Ramesh speaking!
    Employers-please listen!!

    Atleast for now, awe at Kiwibloke. Let men of his genre abound :).

  11. :D if men stay at home...its more work for ladies :D :D so better send them off to office

  12. I totally agree that forcing women to make the choice is a missed opportunity. Currently, whatever women decide - to give up their career or not - they struggle with the decision every day and having more flexi options is crucial. Otherwise it is hypocritical of society to push girls to achieve academically, telling them constantly that they can achieve anything, only to turn around and say when she grows up and has a family - surely you didnt think that was really possible.

  13. This shows what a good friend you are to her. Also the post was very well worded , it has amazing insights for the HR and I really hope someone reading this.

    And as gils said its very interesting because there are loads of SAHM who have excellent talent to offer to this corporate world. Someday..

    Come to think of it, its not always women who sacrifies thier career for family reasons :)

  14. Hi Ramesh - I recently employed my first local hire - a single mum with the usual limitations on time. She used to work for me many years ago and I hired her on the basis that she was always extra reliable. I am glad to say that it has worked out exceptionally well. I never had any doubts in this regard. No credit to me - but I did this because it was my decision alone. However in most companies, consensus destroys common sense, and a false sense of equity prevails wherein the interests of the employer get greater weightage. Ideally, if people are held accountable for results for the most part, you might see managers hiring people who have constraints due to motherhood, family, divorce, illness, etc. Or at least I hope they do so..

  15. @athivas - Oh yes - kiwi is very special.

    @gils - Men staying at home will then have to cook for the lady, make tea for her ..... interested ??

    @J - Absolutely right. As you say, we bring up a daughter saying that she can achieve anything and then we say, not really. Not fair at all.

    @Sri - True there is terrific talent underutilised in India. And yes Sri - there are special people like you who sacrifice too.

    @Dada - you are right - many times its due to organisation pressure and inertia, but I also find many people (both men and women), who refuse to accept anything other than a 24 hour a day working robot.

  16. A heart-touching post, Ramesh! I did hear of few companies implementing idea of flexi-work hours in the recent past, but, indeed, there is a lesson to be learnt and companies should think on this matter more seriously and practically.

    Thanks for sharing such good experiences and values!

  17. //Men staying at home will then have to cook for the lady, make tea for her ..... interested ??//

    LOL :D alo....unless it tail wont be straight...naangalam house husband sales kanapinaanu pichikitu pogum..veeday videogame parlour agumay thavira..velaiku aagathu :D

  18. Ramesh,

    Interesting topic! I think that most of Chinese women will chose to work. I like to write short poems. Hangzhou is one of my favourite places in China; I miss it a lot!

    - Dave's mom

  19. Landed on your post from Srivats. Damn good thought provoking perspective. There is no real appreciation for the 'unpaid labor' of a mother and which anyway cannot be gauged so easily. It is definitely hard on them as at one point in time later, they may be pushed to weigh if that decision at that time was right, which could lead to a guilt-pangs spiral.

    I have seen IBM, as a company, visibly do the welcome-back of career women who parked it for their family. About others, either they don't practice it or aren't much vocal.

    A long time back when I was at school, I heard a perspective from someone that the term husband is derived from "house bound" which kind of makes it a SAHH. I do not know if that is the true etymology of the word, however. Interestingly the word husband has another meaning of "gather together" or herding or keep-in-flock which actually is done by the wife. And women are so good at doing it. (Motherly instinct?) :-)

  20. @VA - Thanks. Many other countries have a better environment for this; something to learn from outside.

    @gils - you are a star; only you can bring a smile always. But sorry - no X box. only jadoo, pocha ..... :)

    @qin li - I suspected you are the poet in the household. Very nice writing in English. Amazing. Has Dave been to Hangzhou yet ?

    Oh yes, in China the situation is much better. Socially the expectation seems to be for the lady to work and the grandparents to take care of the children.

  21. @RamMmm - Thanks for visiting and your nice comment. Yes there are some companies with excellent policies - ICICI Bank comes ready to mind.

    Interesting take on the etymology of the word husband. Hopefully it won't be house bound - imagine the plight of people like gils if that were to be true !!

  22. Nice post and very close to heart. I came across many rank holders (CA Too). Well, I always say kiwi - one of my role models, it's great pleasure working under him to learn a lot.

    Hope things will certainly change - India will soon learn this from other countries :-) GOD BLESS!!

  23. @Lg - Well said. Kiwi is indeed a role model in many ways. Of course, things will change. Societal changes are slow, but we will get there.

  24. A topic very close to my heart too. (@ Chhotu's Mom) There couldn't have been a more straightforward and poignant depiction.

    But I have to say, being an ultimate optimist, I do feel this mindset is going to end somewhere. And I have personally met a few, who look at talent more sensibly than with a mind riddled with biases. And for all you know, you just might bounce back as an entrepreneur, fed up with waiting for someone else to recognize your talent. Cheers!

  25. @Deepa - For sure it will reduce in due course. many options will open up. Already its much better than what it was 20 years ago. But it is a slow process, as all societal changes are.

  26. A very true post and one true for all ladies in our country. I agree that while much of the adjustment must come from the lady herself there needs to be a level of social consiousness in the minds of the employer as well.

    I would like to bring to notice the "2nd career" option launched by the TATA's some time back. Applicants must be women who have taken a career break for 2 -3 years..An interesting option that allows flexi timings, part time work option, etc. Great foresight from an organization I respect.

  27. @priya - Thanks Priya. yes the Tata scheme is a great initiative and there a a few other companies who are very far seeing in this.

  28. Ramesh- Great Post and superbly written. My view is that it all ultimately boils down to choice which one makes. I personally beleive that when you make a choice, only you are responsible for that choice and no one can force it. It is then better to realise that it is your own choice - any thoughts!!!

  29. @Viji - Thanks so much. Yes, its one's own choice, but I wish the playing field was a little leveller. A situation where the choice is the only real choice is a bit sad. When the scales are tilted slightly more evenly, personal choices become a little more fairer.


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