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Bhavana Issar, Founder of Caregiver Saathi, shares how employed women experience caregiving when responsibilities force them to choose between careers and home.
If you were to pick the ‘natural caregiver’ in your family, who would it be? Did you instinctively think of a feminine figure, perhaps a mother or partner, or as a woman, yourself? Bhavana Issar shines a different kind on spotlight on what we take for granted routinely.
Often, in India, women are associated with caregiving responsibilities. Most Indian women spend an average of five hours on unpaid care work daily. From maintaining the house to the sanity of the home, society expects women to be primary caregivers.
Employed women carry the weight of these expectations differently. Under socio-cultural pressures and amidst myths attached to women as caregivers, we see them juggling personal and professional responsibilities. Moreover, if there is burnout, they must let go of their careers to become full-time caregivers.
Can workplaces solve this problem? Yes, and Bhavana Issar is extending help.
Bhavana Issar founded Caregiver Saathi to highlight the emotional and invisible labor caregiving entails. Given that women in families are the majority of caregivers, we spoke with her to discuss how employed women experience caregiving.
Caregiver Saathi works with all caregivers, including women who are homemakers. However, for this interview, we will focus on women who are employed and also are responsible for caregiving at home.
Bhavana Issar was a caregiver early in her life when her father was diagnosed with a neurological condition. She says, “My life experience includes supporting my father, but also my mother, who was the primary caregiver for my father and also a working woman.”
For Bhavana, caregiving is a responsibility that exceeds the physical care of an individual. She says, “Caregiving is not a role. It is an identity. It is an invisible and emotional responsibility to which women contribute 300 minutes of unpaid labor daily.”
Caregiving can become a double-edged sword for career-oriented women. If a woman chooses her career over caregiving responsibilities, she faces stigma. But, if she prioritizes it over her professional growth, she is considered unambitious and immobile.
As an example, Bhavana shared how an acquaintance had to resign from her job to be a primary caregiver. The organization simply could not accommodate her because she could not contribute 14-15 official hours daily.
It is clear that we require broader discussions at organizational levels for better sensitivity to this reality of women as caregivers. Bhavana Issar founded Caregiver Saathi with this agenda – to embed empathetic leadership and make caregiving more accessible.
What can organizations do better to make caregivers feel included?
The first step, Bhavana says, is to build a conducive work environment. Often, caregivers refrain from announcing their identities because of the biases organizations attach to this responsibility.
Nevertheless, Bhavana says, “Organizations are a great place for social change. When organizations recognize employees are specially capable because they are caregivers, they enable empathy and gender parity.”
Caregiver Saathi helps organizations identify best practices that support employees. They help include and implement caregiving-focused policies across organizational levels.
At its roots, Caregiver Saathi believes that women can experience more parity as caregivers with the involvement of leadership. Therefore, Bhavana strongly suggests employers learn and relearn how to be compassionate leaders to employees across caregiving stages.
While discussing this, Bhavana Issar also shared a trivia with me. She said there is no word equivalent to caregiver in any of the Indian languages. If at all, we call them ‘Dekhbalkarta’ or ‘Sevak,’ there is an outsider connotation. The context does not work in India because, usually, family members, in most cases women, fulfill those responsibilities.
Bhavana says, “In 74% of families in India, the caregiver is the daughter-in-law. It is expected of her to fulfill these responsibilities. If not, she is frowned upon.”
What can organizations make of such statements and statistics? They can spread awareness and sensitivity through workshops to make workplaces more accessible and inclusive for caregivers.
Caregiver Saathi makes organizations caregiver-friendly by teaching skillsets to leaders and managers who can act as catalysts for change.
Bhavana says, “Caregiving is unseen, unrecognized, undersupported and underserved. By recognizing and implementing pragmatic services and gender-neutral policies, workplaces can extensively support their employees who are caregivers.”
Caregiver Saathi also provides toolkits for on:
Based on this, it becomes easier to share with business owners and leaders what they can best do to sensitize themselves to the personal situations of caregivers.
Caregiver Saathi also extends its services to individual caregivers. Bhavana and her team understand the fatigue and burnout caregiving causes. To help caregivers reenergize, they provide the following services:
Similarly, at the organizational level, Bhavana and her team help chalk out plans and policies to improve the well-being of full-time employed and active caregivers. They provide:
As a caregiver with a job, caregiving responsibilities can become taxing. However, it is your right to demand support at the personal and organizational level. With Caregiver Saathi’s help, you too can effectively enroll leadership and organizations in acknowledging the realities of caregiving.
Find Bhavana Issar at LinkedIn here.
I am a researcher working toward understanding the complex fabric of society. I have a Master's degree in Sociology and am currently exploring Diversity and Inclusion in corporate spaces. read more...
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