Women, and increasingly men, want to spend quality time with their families, without compromising on their work or feel like they are neglecting either, says Schonali Rebello.
Photograph: Romeo Ranoco/Reuters
To drive educated, skilled and diligent mothers to restart their careers, workplaces must evolve to accommodate the modern Indian family, the cornerstone of our society and economy.
So we asked mothers to send us their opinions on what constitutes a woman-friendly workplace and what they expect from employers.
Here’s what they said:
1. Project / Target-based work options
The ability to work flexibly and be judged on deliverables vs. face-time at the office is something that people are asking for more and more.
In our hyper-connected world this modus-operandi is not unimaginable. People are realising that a 40/60/80 hour work-week does nothing for either the workplace or the home.
In fact, it probably destroys both slowly, over time.
Sabrina, a digital marketing expert, is able to handle clients in New York, Dubai and Bangalore from her laptop at home, by implementing a few smart tools and online (genius) services to make it all work very well. She delivers results at work while managing a home as a newly-married woman, spending quality-time on both the loves of her life.
Ashlesha, a psychiatrist, reminisced about her work-experience in Australia -- "Being able to work part time helps... Many managers used to tell me they preferred to hire mums who worked part time, because these mums valued time and were very efficient at managing the time spent at work because they had given up a lot to get there and made it count."
The reasoning for the 8-hour workday as we have come to know it lies way back in history in the American Industrial Revolution. It was implemented to give factory workers a fair and healthy lifestyle of "8 hours work -- 8 hours leisure -- 8 hours sleep", instead of the 10 to 16 hour workdays that they were dealing with before.
The Ford Motor Company found then that decreasing their workers working hours and increasing their wages doubled profits within 2 years, which led to other companies following this principle quite quickly.
Maybe it's time to revisit the drawing board for the modern working world and the accompanying difficulties it poses to women who are returning to work and need to ease back in gently because of existing ties to work at home?
2. Culture of awareness and support
A key requirement is training for HR departments and senior management to help create a culture of awareness and support for working mums, mums returning to work after their maternity break, people with ailing elders in their families, people with disabled family members for whom they are a primary caregiver.
Also people who suffer from a chronic ailment themselves, may require time-outs every now and then.
Many women would love to return to work within 6 months of having their babies, but may require discreet facilities like a lactation room, instead of using the general women’s bathroom for this vital and immensely beneficial service to their children.
Such a facility may also be used for days when an employee isn’t doing so well and doesn’t want to waste an entire day at home, but instead just needs a little pick-me-up rest from a migraine or a cramp.
Clear indications that the management is on your side come with policies like the Zero Sexual Harassment Tolerance incorporated by Madura Garments, which helps to boost a woman’s confidence in her workplace.
Developing a culture of support within your organization ensures that employees are helping each other reach goals and targets as a team in every way, building your bottom line and growing your company from strength to strength.
3. Adequate and empathetic leave/Time off
Women, and increasingly men, want to spend quality time with their families, without compromising on their work or feel like they are neglecting either.
By implementing and ensuring that employees access benefits like paid maternity/paternity leave (6 months or more), sick-leave (for self or children or elder, dependent family members), and medical insurance, in addition to vacation time and mandatory holidays, companies will see a significant change in the quality of an employee’s work.
Being able to attend to one’s family when they need you, stress-free from workplace accusations or judgements, enables a person to give their work all the attention it deserves when at work.
Gayle, a UK-based Bangalore mom loves the family-friendly policies at her workplace there. "(At my company) I can buy additional leave so I take one day off each week to spend with (my son).
"I have found that people are supportive of me leaving at 5pm so that I can spend time with him in the evening and surprisingly (to me at least) I find the fathers at work very supportive and encouraging.
The one thing I have to keep reminding myself is that now I'm a mother first so if I can't go to a client dinner in the evening it's OK. We can't do it all and we need to find the balance that works for us and our little family."
4. Childcare facilities or benefits
Children, to their parents, are the most priceless commodities with which they’ve been entrusted. To entrust them to the care of another is nerve-wracking.
Companies that provide on-site day-care or crèche facilities, where parents can check on their kids at different times of the day, are valued and loved beyond their calling.
There are many women (and men) whose jobs require them to be on-site for work to happen, like Ashlesha, who worked within a hospital facility.
"What helped me most when I returned from maternity leave in Australia was a child-care facility within the hospital grounds and a supportive ward staff that allowed me to go feed my baby when needed (and a super strict boss who made sure I gave my 100 per cent in the short time I was at work). Not all jobs can be done from home (especially not mine) so reliable backup options for emergencies worked into a roster is very helpful."
Alternatively, companies that provide ample childcare benefits, which would enable a parent to leave their child at a reputed, competent and well-staffed day-care facility, would retain that employee -- happy and productive -- far longer than those that don’t.
Most of us love what we do. However, our world is galloping minute by minute, and we want to keep up, but most times it's impossible.
And women, more than men, are prone to waning self-confidence when all their ducks aren’t always in a row.
By investing in reskilling to help employees keep up and stay in touch with new technologies, companies also keep their workforce engaged, challenged and happy.
Women, as much as men, want to be recognized for a job well done and they want to know that they have done all that they can to achieve that.
Ashlesha theorised that, "While having flexible bosses is good, having the same expectation of quality as other employees is also good. Showing the employers that part time/working-from-home mums can also deliver quality work could be a selling point for increasing flexibility."
Romola, another UK-based Bangalore mom told us that her husband’s company in the UK had "Keeping in Touch (KIT) days, which are fully paid days when mum goes into the workplace to meet colleagues, attend team meetings etc., to keep abreast of what's happening at the workplace and also to connect with colleagues."
Gayle agrees, "...the KIT days were very useful to help me ease back into a working day." This type of touch-factor works miracles to boost a mother’s self-esteem and her transition back to work.
The author Schonali Rebello represents JobsForHer, a company that helps women get back on their careers after a break.