Tuesday, May 10, 2022

“Be so good they cannot ignore you”- Four things women should do to control their destiny in the workplace.

                                     Photo by Matilda Wormwood from Pexels

Women face a range of challenges that prevent them from taking up demanding assignments. They cannot, therefore, achieve their goal of becoming leaders. It diminishes their ability to get ahead in their careers and business. While the numbers had improved, the COVID19 tsunami has undone a lot of the good work that went into improving gender equality. Women are bearing the brunt of the disruption caused due to COVID.

Unlocking the challenges faced by women post the pandemic

The pandemic has taken a toll on women’s careers. McKinsey, in partnership with LeanIn.org, published the latest women in the workplace report. The report highlights that women are more burnt out because of the pandemic. Data shows that one in three women have considered downshifting their career, and four in ten women have considered leaving their company or switching jobs While the data is from corporate America, things are not much different in India. Women have taken on more responsibilities at home like child care and supervising online learning for kids, elder care, and doing basic household chores. All these activities put pressure on their time and stress them out. There is no bandwidth left for women to think about their careers or pursue their passion.

A more extended career break can cause skills to become stale. Getting back on track by picking up a new job will in itself become an arduous task. Until companies decide to improve their working environments and allow flexible working, women will find it difficult to get back to work. Flexible working can become a game-changer for women’s careers. Their day-to-day lives have changed, and this will impact their career progression.

Those women who continued to work remotely felt the pressure of being “always-on”, or available on demand. Virtual work means they are required to be available for work at all times. The working hours extend much beyond the regular office hours, leaving less time to complete their personal responsibilities. This causes mental fatigue and slows them down, taking a toll on their well-being.

Has the pandemic proved to be a threat to women’s careers?

Global surveys conducted by Deloitte have indicated the pandemic’s impact on women’s mental and physical well-being. There is concern about women’s long-term career prospects. Those that are working, are juggling caregiving responsibilities with longer working hours. This is also taking a toll on their career prospects. Job satisfaction, productivity, and motivation are severely impacted.

The 2021 Opportunity Index Report by LinkedIn highlights that more than 40% of women have reportedly been affected by the unnatural development of dual workload. In a report released by the World Bank in June 2020, female labor force participation in India fell to 20.3% in 2020 from 30% in 1990. According to the CMIE November 2020 report, for urban women total employment in India reduced by 22.83% between November 2019 and 2020. All these statistics indicate the gravity of the situation regarding women’s careers.

According to the IMF staff discussion paper, in the next two decades,11 percent of female workforce jobs will be lost due to automation. Even in the textile and apparel manufacturing industry, 80 percent of jobs will be done by “sewbots”, as per the ILO study.

In many cases, women are also facing a range of non-inclusive behaviours. Not much support is offered by the organisation in terms of policies or reporting bias and discrimination. This makes matters worse. Women hesitate to voice concerns fearing negative career impact. It chips away their confidence and they are plagued by anxiety.

Organizations are required to rebuild workplaces that provide an empowering environment, making it possible for women to stay and grow in their careers.

Transformation through Reskilling

While coaching a women leader from a mid-size IT company, I noticed that she was constantly under pressure to deliver some of her tasks and she would be working late nights to complete the work. Her manager showed no empathy to understand her world. Both her parents were hospitalised due to covid and she could not visit them. When she requested leave, she was told she can take leave but she will have to attend a few zoom calls. She finally decided to let go of her job. After about six months, she enrolled herself in a course on AI and successfully completed it. Once things started improving at home, she found a job that offered the flexibility she needed.

Cal Newport, in his book, “Be So-Good They Can’t Ignore You”, talks about the concept of building a Career Capital. He justifies the importance of the craftsman mindset by arguing that the traits and skills that make for a great job are rare and valuable and therefore if you want a great job, you need to up-skill and build up rare and practical skills to offer in return. This is what he names Career Capital.

While Newport’s wisdom is gender agnostic, it applies to women who desire to build a career in the present-day context.

In an article from the World Economic Forum, by 2022,42% of core skills required to perform existing jobs are expected to change. According to the article, the world is facing a reskilling emergency.

The COVID-19 crisis has accelerated digital transformation and AI projects across industries. This has also resulted in the requirement for new skills to deliver on business objectives. Companies worldwide are struggling with an urgent need for new skills. McKinsey’s Global survey shows the urgency for reskilling employees and closing the skill gap.

According to the World Economic Forum article, automation and technology will affect the nature of future work. Women would be impacted more unless reskilling measures are taken to ensure that deserving women employees are provided with the skills, they will require to be successful leaders in the digital era.

Women who have dropped out of the workforce during the pandemic, or have left their jobs because of child care, elder care, or other responsibilities, should consider upskilling themselves so that they can re-join and take up jobs that will ensure good career growth.

While corporates should sponsor women for reskilling and create more gender-balanced pipelines, women themselves should also strive to build the latest skills and prevent themselves from being phased out by technology. This will help them develop their career capital and help corporates to hire them back. The number of job opportunities that they explore will significantly improve post reskilling.

Statistics highlight the impact of the pandemic-induced lockdown on working women across all sectors and all levels. Technical and Managerial roles have also seen a significant decline.

The future of women at work

Technology adoption can be a significant disruptor as many jobs would get automated. Businesses worldwide are adopting the latest technologies to remain ahead in their respective fields. Companies are, therefore, heavily dependent on highly skilled employees. To overcome this disruption and excel in the tech-driven business environment, women will have to up-skill and reskill themselves and be more technology savvy. Those already working in technology companies, will also have to invest time and effort in upgrading their skills. There would be many new opportunities for women in STEM roles.

A few key things that women should do to increase their immunity against all odds and control their destiny,
1. Align with the demands of the evolving job market and your work domain. Currently, the technologies in great demand are artificial intelligence, machine learning, data analytics, robotics, and blockchain. Upskilling or reskilling oneself in these technologies will safeguard your jobs and will enable you to help your organisation with innovation.

2. Virtual learning options are available for upskilling and are best for women as they help save time and money. It also supports ensuring that one stays relevant and updated with trends without sacrificing a job or taking a sabbatical.

3. While you are reskilling or upskilling and putting your newly gained skills to practice, build your personal brand. Find someone you admire or consider as your role model and request them to be your mentor.

4. Network for both career and personal growth. There are many women’s networking groups available for AI and Data Science. Try joining such groups as it helps to share knowledge and grow your career.

Jack Welch has very rightly said, “Control your destiny or someone else will”.

By upskilling and embracing new technologies you are opening all the locks to new beginnings in your career and taking control of your own destiny.

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Short Story- A lonely achiever.


                            Photo by Praveesh Palakeel on Unsplash 

Sumi was the youngest daughter of Mr Sharma, a clerk in a government office in Mandya. Mandya is a small city about 45kms from Mysore and about 100 km from Bangalore in Karnataka in India. Sumi was in class 10th, and her elder sister, Radha, was in 12th class. Sumi was more intelligent and hardworking, whereas Radha was average in her studies and had no intention to continue studying after her board exams. Sumi was good in her studies and consistently scored good grades. 

Sumi had big dreams. She wanted to be an IAS officer. The IAS is a competitive exam and takes a lot of hard work and focused studies to crack it. 

Mrs Sharma was a cancer survivor. She is dependent on the girls for household chores and cooking. Both the girls would get up at 5 am cook meals for the day, clean the house, complete all work and then rush to school at 8 am. 

The Sharma’s had a small house close to the busy market square. Since the school was not very far from their home, both the girls would cycle to school.

The elder Radha was very talkative and fond of watching television. 

Sumi was an introvert and loved solitude. It was difficult for her to find any quiet place in the house. Radha would always keep the television, or the radio switched on while working in the kitchen. 

The house was surrounded by neighbours who had dogs that relentlessly kept barking throughout the day. The cacophony of the marketplace and noisy neighbourhood forced Sumi to take refuge in a private library for her studies. Sumi was very sensitive to noise. Even when it was her turn to cook meals, she would close the kitchen door to shut out all the surrounding sounds. 

My friend Mary owned a private library in Mandya and had a good collection of books, magazines and daily newspapers. It was in a quiet locality. Sumi met her and discussed her problem with Mary. Sensing Sumi’s earnestness, Mary offered to help her. She allowed Sumi to use the library for studying during the evening hours, free of cost. In return, Sumi would help Mary run a few small errands and help her with a few chores. Sumi’s silent nature and hardworking attitude had impressed my friend Mary to no end. In a short time, Mary had become very fond of Sumi.

Her school years glided away, and it was time for Sumi to try for college admission. She passed her school board exams with flying colours and won a scholarship for further studies. Sumi wanted to join a college in Bangalore. Mr Sharma was concerned about her safety, and the fact that Sumi and her sister had never stayed away from their parents added to his worry. 

Sumi took admission to an Arts college in Bangalore. Since she needed solitude, she would spend hours in the library reading and preparing for the IAS exam after college.

Sumi managed to stay away from all the distractions that girls her age can get addicted to while staying in the hostel. Since her parents could not afford to give her a smartphone, laptop or any other gadget, she had no presence on social media. This proved to be a boon for Sumi as she spent all her waking hours studying. During weekends she would visit her parents. She had just one goal in life. To become an IAS officer and make her parents proud. 

While Sumi was in her second year of college, her mother relapsed from cancer and had to be admitted to the hospital. Sumi had to let go of her classes and travel to Mandya to help Radha and her father look after Mrs Sharma. While she attended to her mother in the hospital, she would carry her books and sit and study next to her mother’s bed. When her mother recovered a little, she was discharged from the hospital. Sumi then went back to Bangalore but continued to visit Mandya every weekend. She was very close to her mother and found it emotionally challenging to be away from her home while her mother was bedridden. 

She was worried that she had not fully prepared for the upcoming UPSC exam and may not be able to sail through. Her mother’s cancer worsened, and doctors gave her three more months. Her father insisted that Sumi move back to Mandya, and he would arrange to get her admission to one of the colleges. Luckily her college principal was a kind-hearted soul, and with his help, Sumi was able to get a transfer to another college in Mandya. 

Unfortunately for Sumi, her mother passed away a week before her UPSC exam. It was a difficult moment for the family. The two girls were inconsolable. Sumi found it very difficult to cope with this loss. She would visit Mary in the library. Mary encouraged her to appear for the exam. Sumi had prepared for this exam from the time she left school, and therefore there was a good chance that she would be successful. She cracked the exam. Her father was ecstatic and did not stop praising his daughter’s intelligence and determination. It was the first time in many days Sumi had smiled. Her name appeared in the local newspaper, and her friends, relatives, school, and college classmates poured in congratulatory notes. The only thing she felt terrible about was that her mother was not alive to see and celebrate her success. 

I met Sumi last year after the pandemic. She had completed her studies and became an IAS officer, and her first posting was in Bangalore. Sumi was still the same shy, introverted girl who loved to work in isolation. She rarely socialised, and her house reflected her love for solitude. Her home had bookshelves neatly stacked with books. Sumi very neatly did up her reading corner and working space. Her job involved travelling to different places in the state, and she loved it. 

Sumi was always a lonely achiever.