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Want to keep women in the workforce?

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  • karmayog - tanya
    http://www.livemint.com/Leisure/1tstvIzmhoX8fKyNpYUFJN/Love-me-love-my-career.html?ref=ms Love me, love my career Want to keep women in the workforce? Then
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 7, 2013

      Love me, love my career
      Want to keep women in the workforce? Then understand what brings them there
      and how they want to grow

      Hema Ravichandar
      First Published: Sun, Mar 03 2013. 03 13 PM IST

      We work hard and gender-balance our recruitment almost 50-50 at entry. But
      as we get to the five-seven years' experience profile, the gender ratio of
      women dips so dramatically," said one diversity-conscious CEO to me.

      As companies take stock of their gender diversity initiatives around Women's
      Day (8 March), a statistic that will almost certainly engage CEO mindshare
      is the leaking pipeline of feminine talent. In India this pipeline leaks
      quite alarmingly, especially as we progress from junior- to
      middle-management levels-by some estimates, a full 48%. This drop compares
      poorly not just with the more developed nations, but also among several of
      our closer South-East Asian neighbours. It is therefore but natural that
      organizational initiatives for fostering gender diversity aggressively
      address attrition and try to fix this leaking talent pool.

      Nothing wrong with that. But in this obsession with stemming attrition, have
      we lost focus on what it is that actually brings women to the workplace in
      the first place and then encourages them to stay? What if we tried to
      understand these reasons better and celebrate them, using them as the prime
      levers to drive home the diversity agenda?

      These reasons become self-evident as we see women who in spite of so many
      odds-health, menopausal stresses, work-work balancing (yes, both at home and
      at work), maternal guilt, negotiations with the spouse and even "sacred
      family time compromising stay-aways"-still manage to retain their sanity and
      further, thrive and strive at work.

      Here's my list of the top reasons.

      It's all about work
      This genre loves their work. A young professional, the mother of a
      seven-month-old who has just returned to work, says, "I love my son, but the
      high of getting back to work is something else!" It helps that several areas
      have now opened up for women, giving them a level-playing field with their
      brawnier counterparts. In fact, in many professions they find their own
      métier since the job comes almost naturally to them. The adrenalin rush of
      the intellectual challenge is their raison d'être for staying. Deprive them
      of their oxygen and see them lose interest, however many "work from home"
      and flexibility sops come their way.

      The but obvious financial dimension
      The most common reason women enter the workplace is also the most obvious.
      The financial dimension has many shades. At one end stand the sole
      providers-either out of choice or of necessity. Single mothers, "son-like
      daughters" (not my words, mind you), rock solid siblings; or those forced by
      circumstances like the death of a beloved spouse to come out of homemaker
      duties and man this role (no pun intended).
      Further down the spectrum but in the same dimension are women who work to
      augment family incomes. Many moons ago, I remember one of my mother's
      friends telling her after her first monthly pay cheque came in, "Rayma, now
      not just the butter, but I can also buy the jam to go along with the toast,
      without thinking 'Should I or shouldn't I?'" More apt definitely in today's
      world, with high EMIs and costly English-medium private schools, where the
      woman is balancing the family budget. Cause enough to keep them at work.
      And finally, the sheer delight of financial independence. "The ability to
      take my own monetary decisions and flash plastic without a query is indeed a
      high that keeps me working," I have been very reliably told.

      The self-worth dimension
      From the financial to the existential! Almost equally compelling is the
      self-worth dimension which propels many women to enter the workforce. "It
      starts with the desire to make a mark, a mark distinct from being a
      homemaker, however cherished one may be as a wife, a daughter-in-law or a
      mother," a lady industry veteran tells me. The need is to step out and make
      a niche for oneself outside one's home and hearth. Not for a moment am I
      decrying those who choose to stay at home and enjoy it, who find their
      calling in being great life partners and mothers. More power to them. I am
      talking of those who feel they want something beyond. Who desire to be
      deemed worthy, as perceived by oneself, in the eyes of family and of society
      at large.
      They may enter the workforce to make a statement, but the next stop, the
      ability to create an impact is what will keep them there. Success motivates
      them to further succeed, much like the proverbial self-fulfilling prophecy.
      Smart organizations recognize this, assiduously invest in them and showcase
      their successes, thereby encouraging them to stay and progress.

      From presence to progress to power
      The ability to wield power in their jobs becomes the greatest motivator for
      many women to stay and succeed in their careers against many personal odds.
      Power motivates men too, but the workplace power for a woman is particularly
      strong because of the incremental positional benefits it gets her in her
      family circles and in larger social ones as well. "This deep need for power
      is what keeps my boss in her job against all odds," said one disappointed
      aspirant for the same role, to me.

      The camaraderie quest
      "A 'break' from traditional social circles, without a break," is how one
      woman professional described it to me. "I had had it with discussions on the
      next holiday or the best kitty party. I love the camaraderie that I get at
      work and the 'intelligent' conversation is such a godsend."
      Camaraderie yes, but also the "extra something" that one gets at work seems
      important. The deferential salaam of the watchman, the extra strings your
      administration team can pull for you when you need some quick holiday
      bookings, and the access your visiting card gives you into your child's
      principal's office are all great highs. Euphemistically called goodwill
      equity, this comfort quotient is a big driver in keeping women in their
      jobs. "Moving out is too much of an effort. I would have to re-establish
      myself all over again" is a refrain one hears over and over again when women
      contemplate a job change.

      Finally, the sense of inclusion you feel at work. Everyone, after all, has a
      circle of inclusion which he or she would like to be a part of. "The one
      question I ask myself every day is, 'Does this organization make me feel
      part of the circle I feel I rightfully belong to?' The day I get a 'No' on
      this one I am out.," said someone who otherwise has many reasons to stay.
      Inclusion motivates men too, but somehow I have found a stronger glue for

      So, diversity officers, by all means have your work from home (though it
      apparently has lost favour with even Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer now) and
      flexible policies, so that the stress of rigid norms doesn't wear employees
      down; find great organizational sponsors who can create generations of
      successful women professionals; encourage women to choose their life
      partners wisely, for they can make or mar a promising career. But remember,
      these policies, sponsors and career advice are in the final analysis only
      enablers. The real reasons why women enter and then stay in the workforce
      are different. And as another Women's Day rolls by, let us acknowledge those
      reasons, celebrate them and act on them. In failing to do this,
      organizations lose key levers for the success of their diversity dreams.

      And for those of you beautiful women who choose to pursue your career
      dreams, here's one from the irrepressible American singer Lady Gaga. "Some
      women choose to follow men, and some women choose to follow their dreams. If
      you're wondering which way to go, remember that your career will never wake
      up and tell you that it doesn't love you any more."

      Hema Ravichandar is a strategic human resources consultant. She serves as an
      independent director and an advisory board member for several organizations.
      She was formerly the global head of HR for Infosys Ltd.
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