"Work-life balance is 100% in my company", shares Archana Mandati, a clinical research specialist based in Chennai. "We have 60 work-from-home days in a year that is, one work-from-home day in a week. We can even take five at a time, plus weekends are off," she elaborates. These benefits are a huge comfort to Archana, mother of a one-year old son. Additionally, her mother plays babysitter, when Archana is at work, making it unnecessary for her to leave her little one in daycare. However, most young moms are not as lucky as Archana in this day and age.
What working moms want
Flexing It recently conducted a survey to get an insight into the needs and aspirations of working mothers in this age of super-parenting. Two-thirds of the respondents possessed either a postgraduate degree or a PhD. A majority of the women had over six years of work experience, with a quarter clocking over a decade. They were skilled in IT/technology, marketing, sales, HR, research and general management, and had experience in the advertising/media, IT, banking/ finance, consulting, healthcare, development, training & education domains. Yet, while 97% of the respondents were working professionals before having children, only about 20% of the respondents worked full-time now with another 20% that worked part-time. Close to 60% of these qualified professionals were on a break. Also, of those who were still working, over half were no longer with the same company after their child was born! Clearly, as an ecosystem, we are not making it possible for these qualified and experienced professionals to be effectively absorbed in our workplaces!
Of career aspirations and identity
The survey threw up interesting results, some predictable and a few surprises. 50% of the respondents indicated that monetary independence coupled with the ability to fulfill career aspirations were key drivers for them to work, and an additional 35%+ felt that their careers played a huge role in shaping their very identity! Challenging work and learning opportunities, a focus on deliverables, autonomy and fair remuneration were common themes in defining what these professionals were looking for.
Despite the desire to have a fulfilling career, the current contours of fulltime jobs present many challenges – the inability to find a trustworthy and affordable day care centre, too much commute time and an inflexible schedule. Not surprisingly, a flexible work arrangement scored high on the wishlist of respondents, and 70% of the respondents were keen to explore working in freelance, part-time and consultancy arrangements with an additional 25% driven more by the work content vs. simply how its structured. The main reasons for this were a desire to better manage personal commitments and having greater control over one’s schedule. Number three was revealing; one-third of the respondents said that being self-employed or working independently, would help them leverage their skills much better than in a fulltime position!
Leveraging skills and flexibility
Priya Paramesh is one such respondent. In her current role, this Chennai-based IT professional and mother of a two-year old, is the project lead with an IT company, which helps pharma clients conduct their clinical trials more efficiently. But as an expert in her domain, Priya sees herself growing more as a knowledge worker and feels she could leverage her skills better as an independent consultant. Deeksha Sharma, an independent Health & Nutrition Consultant, was forced to explore the independent route when she moved from Delhi to Bangalore post marriage. As the mother of a young child, working from home is a necessity and her original job profile did not allow her to continue in a fulltime role. “I worked for international and Indian non-profits in the area of community health research and had to go into the field often to do surveys,” she shares, her passion for research in community nutrition brimming through. But field work is out of the question in her current status as mom.
The desire for flexibility amongst the respondents was close to unanimous – whether it be through a mix of remote and on-site working, flexible timings or a focus on output versus input.
Deeksha has had to reinvent herself by seeking opportunities outside the development sector. She writes articles and blogs on nutrition. While not being able to do research herself, she helped a US-based company compile all their research, and is open to similar assignments in the future. Currently, she works part-time with a restaurant and her role is to evaluate the nutritional content of recipes for a restaurant. “I work three hours a day and go for a meeting once a week,” she shares. But sourcing clients is a constant concern for Deeksha, and 65% respondents anticipated this to be the biggest challenge in becoming an independent professional along with negotiating the right fees with clients. “There seems no organised way to find part-time roles in my field in India, and I usually connect with potential clients through LinkedIn, or write to the concerned people if I come across a project in the papers, that interests me,” she shares.
This is where platforms like Flexing It come to the rescue by providing a transparent and structured approach to help professionals explore project-based and part-time opportunities with quality organisations. Professionals register their profiles on the site, and have access to opportunities in several domains and functions, ranging from strategy consulting, IT, Marketing, Copywriting and Design, to Finance, Human Resources and Legal. Currently, over 3000 professionals and over 400 organisations are registered with Flexing It with projects ranging from remote and onsite opportunities to a mix of both.
Top concerns and starting out
According to the survey, after sourcing clients, fee negotiation was the top concern with professionals unsure about their ability to strike the right deal in line with skills, experience and scope of work. Brand building as a freelancer was the third concern. “When approaching potential clients I don’t want to be viewed as a fresher. But showcasing my work is difficult as a lot of the work I do involved data security and is highly confidential. I would like guidance in this area,” shares Priya. Repositioning one’s skills and roles, to suit jobs that can be performed remotely, or need a percentage of onsite intervention, is a first step. “I have a strong IT background, and could help clients with areas like automation of manual jobs, building technology-related applications, or even be a consultant for the healthcare and licenses domain. Training people in soft skills is also something I could explore,” shares Priya, off the top of her head when quizzed about her potential to be self-employed. How to negotiate fees, network, and getting savvy on how to leverage social media, is another area where structured solutions would help. Relevant industry information, targeted training ‘bootcamps’, access to mentors and successful case examples, and most importantly, career counseling, can help professionals in this segment make a smoother transition and live up to their own career aspirations. Of course all this needs to be supported by appropriate policies in the workplace that encourage flexibility, and the creation of the right eco-system.
Making the twain meet
While motherhood has, no doubt changed their lives, the professional women of today are keen to have productive and rewarding careers too. Employers are also realizing the need to better tap this potential, and either retain women professionals or devise programmes to get them back into the workplace successfully. A lot clearly needs to be done on this agenda, and structured platforms like Flexing It(www.flexingit.com) represent one part of the solution and are a step in the right direction.
Merril Diniz is an independent writer, and content development strategist based in New Delhi.
*The survey was conducted with the help of mycity4kids and BabyCenter India. Special thanks to all the mothers who took the survey!