Is It a Myth That Women Cannot Have Both a Family and a Career?

By Smitha Sadanandan, Womens Feature Service

Imagine a life filled with music and holidays with a loving and supportive family, understanding peers (a nice boss would be a welcome bonus), good friends and a rewarding career in a good work environment – basically every working woman’s dream.

Fortunately for some, things have worked out this way. With determination, organising skills and a few dependable people – family members and domestic help – the myth that women cannot have both a family and a career can be firmly laid to rest. And that is exactly what working women in Gurgaon, Haryana’s booming city that has relentlessly worked to shed its rough-and-tumble image to become a key off-shore and outsourcing hub in India, are doing.

If “brand image, women-friendly policies, growth prospects and a safe work environment” prompted Heera Pratap, 32, to take up her current role as a manager with a multi-national company (MNC) in Gurgaon, Preeti Snehi, 40, a manager with another MNC here, chose her job for the “challenge” and the “work-life-balance” it offered.

“I wanted to have a successful career and yet be able to spend enough time with my family. In my current job, there is neither any undue pressure on me nor do I need to put in any extended working hours. However, when the need arises to wrap up some urgent work, each one of us in our office considers it our vital responsibility to do whatever it takes to finish the task and prevent delays,” says Snehi, who has been working with her current company for seven years now. “Some of us, depending on the job profile, also have the flexibility of working from home at times,” she adds. Both Pratap and Snehi are Gurgaon-based and living near their work place has enabled them to become efficient multi-takers.

Women have proven that they can handle work pressure, besides exhibiting a strong sense of professionalism. According to NOIDA-based Roma Nawani Sachdev, GM Corporate Communications-IBM Daksh, Gurgaon, professionalism and constant skill-enhancement are critical to a long-term career. She loves her job profile and feels happy working in an environment that instills in her a “joy of accomplishment”. “It is critical that I reach on time because very often my day begins very early. With my job comes a certain set of responsibilities and I will not shy away from them,” says Sachdev.

Delhi-based Swati Sehrawat, 27, Assistant Manager, with a multinational bank in Gurgaon, describes herself as a “punctuality driven person” and makes sure that she is at office on time. However, at times her plans go awry due to traffic jams during the 90-minute commute each morning from her home in Delhi. “If I reach office late, I end up having to hurry through my work. This further upsets all the activities I plan for the day.”

Family demands tend to interfere more with a woman’s career than that of a man, and without additional help, most women would be stretched to the limit. Thankfully, there seems to be some semblance of order in the lives of the Gurgaon career women in the form of familial support. Most often there is a mother or mother-in-law who pitches in with household chores, and domestic help to run errands and cook. For the recently-married Sehrawat, her mom-in-law is a constant source of support. “I get a lot of help from my family members and colleagues in office,” she says.

For women with children, the day begins with navigating through a maze of responsibilities: A race against time to get the chores done, getting the child (or children) off to school and rushing to office. The success on the home turf depends on how well a woman manages to pull it off. Without family support, everything falls apart.

“You need a 360-degree support system,” says Sujata Reddy (name changed), 29, an HR professional with a leading MNC. “I cannot travel and do late night shifts; I have a son and he is totally dependent on me. My in-laws stay with us, so I can count on them to take care of my son,” she adds. But when her little son falls ill, Reddy and her husband take turns to stay at home. “It is all about getting your priorities right in life.”

Those looking for the perfect work-life balance are heavily dependent on efficient time management but travel eats up a lot of time for any working professional. For those residing in Gurgaon life a little easier, but the daily commute for those coming in Delhi and NOIDA is killing. Some commute by their own vehicles, some have office provided cabs, but the traffic ensures that on an average at least four to five hours are spent on the road. However, the commencement of the Delhi Metro – which will be fully functional by July 2010 – to Gurgaon has provided many with hope.

Women who shoulder heavy responsibilities at home aren’t asking for fewer work hours but just a bit of flexibility in choosing their hours. Luckily for Reddy, her manager understands this. If she has to take her son for vaccinations, she can come in a little late to office. “Of course, I have to deliver the job at a given time, there are no allowances made for my gender on that account,” she adds. This is perfectly acceptable since women are more than willing to carry their weight as a responsible employee.

Bigger companies have better policies already set in place. With more global interaction, they are gradually opening up to the idea of providing flexible working hours to their employees. Multinationals such as IBM, IBM-Daksh, American Express, Infosys, HSBC, Genpact, Accenture, PWC, Agilent and TCS, among others, have an increasing number of women on their payrolls. They have multi-pronged programmes and initiatives aimed at empowering women and enabling them to play key roles “in the growth and development of the organisation.”

All these factors help to project an incredibly rosy picture of the work scenario for women in Gurgaon. The reality may prove a tad more complex, but there can be no denying that for women at the higher echelons of the corporate ladder, the scenario is changing for the better. Take, for instance, attitudes of men. Do men feel ever slightly “threatened” by the presence of an increasing number of women in the workplace? “Companies are not gender-biased anymore,” says Mukul Moghe (name changed), 34, Relations Manager with an MNC in Manesar. “Men neither feel insecure about working with women nor have problems reporting to bosses who are women. My boss, who is a lady, is highly knowledgeable and competent. She has been very understanding whenever I require time off for domestic emergencies.” Moghe feels that similar level of understanding does not come easily from men. “High-pressure roles, which also involve late nights, are often difficult for a woman who has a family. Because of this, there is a general perception that companies avoid employing women for such roles,” he says.

Insiders say that managements are now under pressure to maintain ‘diversity’ in the team and hence make a conscious effort is being made to recruit more women. Nevertheless, competency and aptitude are the only criterions for getting a job.

Times have changed and so have many things in the workplace. Yet, there are some areas that could do with more transformation. The biggest factor preventing a woman from achieving her full potential at the workplace is her own support system. Families, including spouses, still need to be more supportive and encouraging.

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