The COVID-19 pandemic has changed every aspect of life, including the way we work. But one thing is clear: Though we stumbled, we learnt to navigate and tried to adapt to the unforeseen, unplanned and unprecedented threats to humanity. It may be years before we actually realize the effects – positive or negative – of the pandemic on society and workplaces, particularly on working women. But, women have always been able to successfully lead while taking everyone along. A recent case in point: Some studies showed that countries led by women leaders did systematically better in COVID-19 management than countries that weren’t led by women.
I think that the pandemic has helped in bringing in flexibility and more choices to women employees, which women in leadership roles have tried to normalize for long. For years, women dealt with a situation where they had the guilt of choosing between work and family, given the fact that women take a disproportionate share of house responsibility. But, that has changed drastically, thanks to the flexible work options such as remote and hybrid in the post-pandemic world. While I am well aware of the difficulty and exhausting efforts involved in balancing their career and family together because of the work-from-home arrangement, several women folk were able to manage both with the flexibility and choice the situation presented them with.
Maintaining work-life balance in the new normal
Pandemic or no pandemic, work-life balance is something I’ve always advocated. In my capacity, I have always vouched for flexibility in working. We have people from across the globe working even before the pandemic struck the world. We have no set office hours, we have unlimited sick leaves, and we have round-the-clock counselors available for the mental, psychological and emotional wellbeing of our employees. We encourage our employees to take mandatory time off from work and also organize master classes for their personal growth. We also have learning allowances.
Personally, I try to balance my professional life and personal life, but the lines get blurred sometimes, especially with the remote and hybrid way of work. But, one has to remember that it is not about how efficiently we try to do the balancing act, but about the conscious steps, we take to make things work without getting burnt out.
Women are the best crisis managers
Women have always been the stronger lot with a high emotional quotient. Although empathy is gender-neutral, women’s innate ability to be more empathetic while taking tough decisions, their ability to wear many hats at once, and bring in a holistic view and approach make them stand out. I have seen that women tend to be clearer and more effective in communication as well. Needless to say, effective communication has become all the more critical in the last two years when, for the first time ever, all of us had to work from the confines of our drawing rooms through screens when COVID-19 completely caught us unawares.
All these factors help in building a more open work environment and come in handy in the face of adversity.
Things I’ve learnt as a woman in a leadership role
- Conviction matters: Important to always have a vision and equally important is conviction in your idea.
- Ignore the noise around you: Ignore the surrounding noise and the stereotypes and raise above them. Don’t limit yourself and believe in your caliber.
- Feel free to reach out for support: It’s important for women to reach out to mentors when they need guidance. There are now a lot of women-focused groups so one knows they are not alone in the journey. A lot of women leaders I know of are open to mentoring people.
- Go beyond tokenism: Initiative should not be restricted with the sole aim of bridging the gender representation gap but should be taken up to create a gender-equal working environment where talent and skills are rewarded. Leadership recognizing talent just on the basis of merit will organically help create a no bias environment.
- Let go of the guilt: Women are prone to feel guilt a lot with the weight of balancing home and work. Apart from figuring out what works best, letting go of the guilt is liberating. Of course, it is easier said than done but one must make a conscious effort to not let it play on the mind all the time.
Organizations have to walk the talk
If you ask me, put women in a challenging situation and they are resilient enough to groom themselves. But, that said, organizations can do it on a larger scale, provided there is conviction. The key here is for the organizations to walk the talk. They should be mindful of the values that their actions reflect.
For instance, at ZestMoney, we have a women’s group that organizes monthly events. We do multiple panel discussions where various issues, such as problems and challenges faced by working mothers, are discussed openly. This paves way for gender sensitivity and inclusivity. In addition to this, making flexi-hours a norm, leading with empathy, rewarding talent and merit without bias, and above all making diversity, inclusivity and respect a non-negotiable integral part of the work culture will encourage more women to take the lead.
Note: The above are excerpts from an interview for W-SUITE, a special initiative by Adgully that salutes and honours women managers and leaders across diverse fields. The interview was first published in Adgully’s W-SUITE column on April 6, 2022.