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Traffic is an unnecessary evil that impedes everybody. But the noose is tighter especially for women’s careers and health. Is there a way to break free from its shackles?
Women’s careers often end up on the guillotine chop block simply because of poor transportation alternatives.
As working women, we are absolutely stressed out even before we arrive for work, and being stuck in traffic creates a unique hurdle – Opportunity Costs. Put simply, instead of being stuck in traffic, if we could be somewhere else doing something else, then this idle time comes with a steep tag.
In a country where women’s careers are still considered dispensable against mounting familial obligations, traffic is an alarming hindrance. Renuka Sharma, an executive at JP Morgan states that she simply cannot afford a long commute. Not only does she have kids to pick up, but needs to be available at short notice for emergencies considering her ailing in-laws. In addition she has to keep in mind bharatnatyam, karate, and swimming classes for her kids that she routinely races for. She jokingly remarks that she could as well be an Uber drive.
“Stuck in traffic” – a state of mind that is as stressful as it sounds, both physically and mentally. It is a well known fact that traffic creates productivity problems, pollution, and long-term health issues. Studies show that 45 minutes is a reasonable amount of commute time. But what is the situation today?
Ramya Rajagopal, an ex IBM executive used to love her drive to Electronic city. A while ago, she left the city to pursue an MBA, and then traveled abroad for onsite work. When she returned she was excited to embark on that morning drive. Only the year is 2018 and traffic is at almost a stand still. Her commute time has skyrocketed from a leisure 30 minute ride to a nerve wrecking 1.5 hr chaos.
“How do you cope?” I ask her.
“I freelance now.” she sighs. “I can’t afford to wait for the signal to turn green… even then, a motorist will cut me from the wrong side or a street dog might scurry dangerously close to my wheel. It’s insanely intimidating, and doing this dance everyday is frustrating. Now, as a freelancer, I decide the location and hours, with ample work from home thrown in. We have to adapt or stay inert.” But is she exaggerating? Why is traffic no longer just a nuisance but has metamorphosed into a sledgehammer, especially for women’s careers?
In 2005, traffic in India’s silicon valley Bengaluru moved at the speed of 35km (22 miles) an hour; in 2014, it had slowed down to 9.2km (5.7 miles) and it has only been spirally downward from there. The others metros sing a similar tune. Chennai has the highest vehicle density in India (2015 Study). In addition, arterial roads like the Choolaimedu junction are further congested with incessant expansion projects. Recently the city’s transportation authority reassured residents with the construction of two flyovers. But infrastructure is not always the solution as per the principle of triple convergence. Simply put, it is a matter of time before the new flyovers get clogged as well. Imagine the future if a bustling metro like Mumbai adds 700 vehicles everyday to its permanently choked, gridlocked roads.
Bina Deepak, a bank executive in Chennai commutes 1.5 hrs one way from her home in Vadapalani to work in DLF. The commute was negligible when her workplace was in the heart of city. But now it is a recurring nightmare. She is inherently travel averse, whether driving or being driven. Instead of squandering time in traffic, she could use that resourcefully if she could work from home. With the advent of smartphones she is able to clock in some work in her commute time. Still, she advocates that women proactively weave in flexible work schedules early on into their contracts or appraisals.
But not all bosses are forthcoming. Work from home or telecommute is often pitched against face to face collaboration and active in-person participation that foster strong work relationships. Also such pliancy often comes with a price – pay cuts or consistent showcasing of on-time deliverables and longer working hours. It is a indeed a delicate rope dance.
Rashmi Harlalka, a tech executive, spent hours on the meandering roads of Bengaluru. Work from home was offered initially but her manager assumed that this promoted negligent employees and retracted it. Rashmi half heartedly attempted the commute for 6 months before speaking up. She could not make it work. She was perennially late to pick up her son from daycare, and was reluctant to request her ageing parents and in laws to provide the much needed respite. When HR denied exceptions to the policy and colleagues were openly animose, she quit. After months of job hunting, Rashmi landed a job that was closer to home with a severe paycut. Still, she pacifies herself with the more mother-son bonding time she can get, and the opportunity to stay in the workforce. “It could have been much worse”, she confides.
For those who cannot adopt this, we have to learn to bite the bullet. But instead of resigning to our fate and letting traffic rattle the ladder of women’s careers, we can choose to turn this useless chunk of time more valuable.
Nalini Rajagopal, Vice President at a tech company, wields the wheel to her workplace. The commute from Sarjapur to Whitefield used to take around 15 minutes, but now it takes close to an hour on a lucky day. She uses this time to listen to podcasts and audiobooks, or to talk to family and friends. Working from home would conflict with client meetings and executive presentations, so she uses this time to bolster her knowledge and destress. She is adamant not to let traffic ruin her professional ethos.
Shilpa Bhatt, a publishing executive in Mumbai, says traffic time is planning time. She uses that hour on her company bus to organize her haywire schedule which includes meal plans, calendar syncing for her two kids, vacations charts, and even online shopping. Also if there is a chance to sign up for a yoga class or Zumba class that is closer to work to avoid peak travel times, then she pursues it doggedly.
Nalina Manjunath, an IT tech in Bengaluru, always looked forward to the commute time to unwind. Facebook, Whatsapp and other social media platforms eased her work tension. All that changed when she became a new mom. She could no longer stand the commute which lasted close to 2 hours, one way. She negotiated a work from home option, and her manager was empathetic. She makes sure to be on time for her meetings, and has never missed a deliverable. “It is time to think innovatively and make the best use of technology to substitute face to face communication. Of course we need compassionate colleagues for all this work out,” she cautions. This trust, and good use of technology has spared her career, and she has successfully overcome the barriers of traffic.
Traffic is a collective cacophony caused by unregulated parking, unprofessional traffic policing, absence of an integrated traffic system, and encroachments, along with an exponential increase in private vehicles. Traffic jams are a drain to the cities’ exchequer.
An April 18 report released by The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and commissioned by Uber states that travellers in Indian metros spend 1.5 hrs more than their counterparts in other Asian cities. Peak-hour traffic congestion is 149% higher costing up to $22 billion a year. Several smart solutions like adaptive signal control technology and CCTVs at critical choke points provide 24 by 7 traffic updates.
But while we wait for a comprehensible integrated and sustainable solution to our traffic woes, or accommodating work schedules and superiors that bolster women’s careers instead of buckling it, we can decide to carpool, avail public transport, or move closer to work. Working women already have an overstacked plate. Adding traffic to that equation tilts the scales of women’s careers, and sets them up for failure even before an honest attempt to succeed is made. But speak up, find innovative ways to alleviate your commute, and share your tribulations with us. We are all in this together, swirling in the jam.
Image source: YouTube
Meera R Corera (@meeraramanathan) is a SAP Consultant. She also pursues her passion for writing
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