Living in conflict !
As the career of any young graduate /post graduate starts with zest and passion, set out to conquer the world with a degree in hand, life takes it’s own course for women. The first 3 years are focused at giving their best and staying focused on work. Between year 3 and 5 , women start getting married. This is the first sharp turn in their lives as new relationships bring in new demands from each of them. One possibly gets to see the first level of drop off at this stage. Cultural pressures are high now to manage good relationships with new family members and living up to their value systems..
The second sharp turn comes between year 5 and year 8 with the first baby arriving and another fresh new set of demands cropping up in personal space. The daily anxiety to balance the demands of work place and the pull of the household needs gets stronger. There also comes about a feeling of guilt in every young mother as she leaves the child for work.
The third sharp turn comes with the second child coming in and her attention getting more diverted now towards the demands at her family front. This turn proves to be a key trigger for thoughts around taking time off from work (sabbatical/exit) as the individual is guilty of not giving enough time and required attention either to her home/family or her responsibilities at workplace.
At each of these above turns, she is caught in a dilemma of ‘the right’ prioritization for herself as a professional and as a mother/wife /daughter/daughter-in-law. She is unable to find a partner or a sounding board who can help navigate this life stage. Her own values and purpose are constantly being clouded by the values and purpose of her role models around her (mother, mother in law, sister, sister in law) who may have been full time home makers or may have left their profession at this juncture of their own life.
Needless to say that by now, the individual has climbed up the corporate ladder and has shouldered more responsibilities.
The path it follows is as under :
Leverage Coaching to find options to stay on ramped!
Some real life examples show a different journey to a different end:
Case study 1:
Nandini P, Asst. Vice President (AVP) in engineering team was ready to quit. Being nominated for top talent in the global bank she worked in, she was at crossroads between her career and home, both wanting a good deal of time and attention. She was keen to pursue her bight career and was getting tremendous support from her boss and the rest of the organization. At her home front, her daughter was growing up and needed her presence post school hours. As her current work profile required her to be in office between 11 am till 8 pm , being at home by 4 pm was ruled out. With a heavy heart, she decided to bid adieu to her outstanding career.
As she shared her intent, the organization and her manager started to converse with her to look for options which will help her solve both her concerns. After many rounds of discussions and looking at many options she found a win-win, for herself and the organization. She decided to work part time from office and part time from home (not a regular work option) till such time she feels the needs to be with her daughter. She is happy that she got into these discussions with her boss and HR partner, who played the role of a coach and explored options to stay with her career as well as spend required time her daughter.
Case study 2 :
Divya S, AVP in HR lost her mother in law all of a sudden . She was looking forward to her next level as a VP ( Vice President ) in HR , all thanks to her mother in law , who was a pillar of a support to manage her 6 yr old son while she was at work. Her son was under trauma of sudden loss of grand mother and Divya knew she had to choose one thing over another i.e. her child over her career.
As she disclosed her intention, her boss was keen to attempt some discussions with her to look for options based on her priorities as she was an employee of choice. Initially reluctant and keen to go on a sabbatical for 6 months, she got into these conversations and started to re-look her role to suit her concerns around her home front. Over a couple of weeks and many rounds of discussion , Divya took up a different project based role in HR and decided to work part time till 2 pm., and be in time for her son’s return from school. This was the first time the organization allowed part time work and Divya created history in the organization by being the front runner .
She is glad that her boss had nudged her into these discussions and had not quickly agreed to her idea of sabbatical. She was happy to have a sounding board, a well wisher and a co-partner in her organization who could help her navigate tough life situations.
Case study 3:
Kinnori B, head of operations in a Global Investment bank was at her nerve’s end. She was completely exhausted with her parent’s ill heath, repeated hospitalization and a large ops team to manage in office. It was taking a toll on her health and peace of mind. Although she knew that her home front and her health were a priority but she was keen not to give up her career so early in life but didn’t know how to balance all this. The corporate world wanted commitment in terms of hours and at her level she knew working for 12 hours was a given and in her current situation was impossible.
She choose to talk to her Managing Director known to be a good listener. As she started to table her concerns, he asked her to visualize a role in the organization which along with her demanding role at home would work for her. As Kinnori came up with a couple of options he helped her to lay out her next action steps and work on it. As she moved ahead with her action plan , she was able to move out of Ops and get a role in HR in areas of Diversity and Employee satisfaction, which were key areas for the bank. She was really relieved and happy to have found a coach in her reach and get him to partner with her through this crisis. She continues to work for the bank
What happened differently in all the 3 real life cases was that conversations with a coach at made them pause and reflect on possible options and take a chance to try out a non-traditional approach to work. This helped each of them come out with unique solution to their problems.
However for each of the above persons who found a coaching conversation come their rescue, there are 10 such persons who don’t have this sounding board.
A recent in depth study tabled by McKinsey in 2012 corroborated some aspirational barriers for women’s continuation in workforce and their success in reaching the C suite .
- Structural Obstacles (organizational) ….lack of management will to truly embrace women in workplace at all levels (inclusive mindset)
- Lifestyle Choices…..women are breadwinners as well as care givers for family, hence navigating a tough corporate terrain in addition is avoided. If financial compulsions do not exist, they will opt out and if financial compulsions exist, there is a natural shift to staff jobs.
- Institutional mindsets…expectation of male profile of women , not really accepting the differences and leveraging the same
- Individual mindsets….…natural tendencies among women not to seize opportunities as they themselves hold themselves back from accelerated growth .
The last bullet above is worth understanding better. As coaches, we all know that mindsets are self created and can be changed. In situations where women want to move forward and feel limited by their self doubt, coaching can work wonders. It can drive self awareness, energise, empower to move forward as we observed in 3 real life situations above .
A must hear and see in this context is a talk by Sheryl Sandberg ( now a board member at Face Book) on TED.com on mindsets and what women can do to change that.
Sheryl Sandberg: Why we have too few women leaders
As we look at the other end of the spectrum, of highly senior women in the corporate world , they seem to have found ways to navigate these barriers and mindsets .
How did they manage similar work-life crisis? As told by some of them, pointers are as under:
- Turn adversity into learning opportunities …..reframe perspective
- Persistence in building relationships and not burning bridges…respond not react
- Take a leap of faith and move out of comfort zone ……trusting self and taking action
- Maximise the positive energy …….energising and visualisation
- Enhance self awareness to make right choices….power of intent
How did they do the above? Their life stories speak of seeking formal or informal coaches within the organization/ industry using the networking platform. This helped them to share their perspectives, understand their own source of power and energy and finally raise self awareness.
As long as the coaching intervention is being sought by the client and she is in the mode to receive, the coaching conversation will help navigate off-ramping situations unless absolutely necessary.
Towards Gender Balanced Leadership ( Claire Schaffnit-Chatterjee)
Off Ramps and On Ramps ( Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Carolyn Buck Luce ) , HBR on Women in Business
From Affirming Action to Affirming Diversity ( research by Thomas Roosevelt Jr.), HBR on Managing Diversity
Winning the War for Talent in Emerging Markets Why Women Are The Solution, Sylvia Ann Hewlett , Ripa Rashid )
Questionnaire used for the above research contained the following questions asked:
- What workplace practices do you think women need to support their continuity in workplace?
- What channels does/did your organization have/plan to have, for the women employees through which they can seek to address and improve their working conditions and to voice their grievances or seek support on career development?
- What barriers do you see which hinders women employees' greater continuation in the workplace, particularly in the middle to senior levels?
- Please share your views on understanding women's career aspirations and in considering the whole career life cycle.
- Why is it imperative today to arrest the brain drain or off ramping in organisation?