A few weeks ago, I wrote a love letter to Indian husbands. That column inspired a flood of emails from many of you; in fact, some of the more positive responses classified as love letters, too. But I also received hate mail, one from a man accusing me of “one-upmanship” instead of true equality. My column, if you recall, was targeted at female managers who need, and often receive, more support at home. Enter the liberated Indian husband, who picks the children up from school, handles the social calendar and ensures the house runs smoothly.
One reader asked me where she could find such a man. Another lamented that such support was great, but what about single mothers? A few of you complained that your husbands were just hopeless. A recurring question: Why not put the onus for work-life balance on companies?
While I pledge to write about the issue often, today and next week’s columns will be devoted to this theme and workers who have figured the juggle out—or at least look like they have, thanks to their employers. Stay tuned for a profile of a man who could have been the recipient of my original love note. But in the spirit of one-upmanship, ladies first... Here’s her tale:
Jyotika Dhawan works surrounded by dolls, a plastic slide and a toy jeep.
On a recent afternoon, she was on the phone with a potential hire from the Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi, imploring him to come to her office. “We must meet today,” Dhawan said loudly, not just to emphasize her point but also to drown out the sounds of The Munnabhai Show from the room next door. “You can come tonight after dinner, if you’d like.”
Dhawan is a human resources manager for Bharti Airtel Ltd. Most days, except for her in-laws downstairs, a maid and her two-year-old daughter, the human resources around her are scarce. The 30-year-old mother works from home, thanks to Airtel’s flexible time policy, just steps away from the most important human in her life.
As a new mother in 2004, Dhawan said, she thought her career was over.
For the last few years, Dhawan, a political science topper in Class 12 and an XLRI graduate, says she has received steady salary increases, stellar reviews and one promotion. And as the IIT student she interviewed quickly realized, her timings never really begin, or end.
A recent study by Korn/Ferry International, the global executive search firm, shows Dhawan’s progression isn’t the norm—even in a wired world. The study found that 61% of 1,320 global executives surveyed think people who work from home are less likely to advance their careers, compared with those in a traditional office.
While telecommuting is gaining ground in India, the findings reflect why Dhawan and her situation are still rare. A services economy built partly on the theory that a job can be done anywhere has somehow not applied the same lesson to its workers.
According to an ICICI Bank study, women represent 26% of workers in the services sector. The benefits for working mothers are apparent. But companies, too, might find their most productive employees in the inherently multi-tasking sex who, by not setting fixed hours, end up working more of them.
All along, through her ambitious 20s, a smooth pregnancy, even her first month as a mother, Dhawan thought she would slip right back into her old job. When an infant Nandini started to coo and cry for her mother, Dhawan requested a one-month, extension and then another month and so on. By the sixth month, Dhawan’s supervisor advised her to invoke Airtel’s sabbatical policy and pursue an executive MBA. Dhawan arrived for a campus interview with a nursing baby.
So began the blurring of work and family life. “My husband is running an IT company,” Dhawan said. “It is very important for one of the parents to be around.”
As Nandini celebrated her first birthday, Dhawan told her boss the same thing—and was granted a schedule where she could come to office in the morning and be home by her daughter’s afternoon nap. When the office moved to Gurgaon, Dhawan began working from home full time.
She heads the Young Leaders programme, which recruits trainees from top universities. “I used to shy away from saying I am good. I used to think the company was doing me a favour,” she says. “But if I wasn’t performing they wouldn’t have given me this kind of benefit.”
This year marks Dhawan’s ninth at Airtel. There are drawbacks to working from home, she points out. Her time seems to belong to her employer or her family. She can’t remember the last time she entertained at home. “You try harder. Because you work from home, you have to prove you are working,” she said. “But I guess women have an inherent capacity to manage multiple tasks. Although one does feel stretched at times.”
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