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Mothers On A New Track (Part 2)

Posted: February 1, 2011

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While motherhood and career may not always mix, some women at work are negotiating to keep their jobs satisfying and vital.

By Aparna V. Singh

In the first part of this series, Mothers on a new track, we looked at how working mothers end up moving to a slower career track or waiving off raises, promotions and other recognition.

In part 2, we look at an emerging trend where women, while making changes to their career paths due to motherhood, nevertheless continue to work on roles that are vital to the organization and satisfying to them. They accomplish this due to four key factors – their own skills and reputation, their initiative in negotiating new roles with employers, a greater willingness at firms to offer such transition and increasing family support for their careers.

A word of caution though – these women are part of a very small proportion of the Indian population that works in the corporate world, and within that, usually, in sectors such as Information Technology, Media, Retail or Consumer Goods that are faster to adopt such practices. Employers in other areas such as Healthcare, Education, Research or Government, where many women work, rarely offer such career paths.

The trend cannot therefore be generalized, but it is likely to strengthen as more sectors see it as a great way to retain valuable employees.

Working mothers in India take charge of their careers

Madhvi Pahwa’s story makes clear the importance of developing networks, and skills that are transferable to related sectors. Madhvi Pahwa, 38, Managing Partner with a media investment agency, had been employed with the marketing department of a multi-national consumer products firm for 10 years when she realized that it was simply not compatible with her family life, which by then included 3 children under the age of 5. She says, “I actually did not have a life with 24×7 texting and emailing.”

Madhvi’s network proved useful; her ex-boss and colleagues were already with this agency, and being familiar with her skills, had no hesitation in creating a role for her in Training. Her experience in consumer marketing was highly relevant to the media industry, and while the new role was not as action-packed as her previous one, it still held importance for the organization.

Madhvi does not perceive this change as a setback. She says, “In the last 5 years, I have grown my skills in this area. I now work with leadership teams, and am on my way to getting certified as a coach. From working on India projects only, I now do some work for the regional and global leadership teams. So, what appeared to be a scale back has actually been a growth albeit along a different axis. The proof of the pudding is that I have been offered top line roles in the agency for 4 years now – I am too happy and excited in Learning & Development to consider it!”

While she has made trade-offs on money and on her market value as a marketing professional, she believes that she has gained immensely in terms of quality of life. She says, “I have lost 12 kgs, read more books in one year than I did earlier in a decade and have dinner with my kids at 7 p.m. We do at least 5 family holidays a year (including weekend getaways), and I can actually mentally switch off from work at 6 p.m.”

To keep her value to her company high, Sonali has volunteered to take on other activities such as team building and creating training modules. These are activities that she can do while cutting back on the pressure of client visits and generating sales. 

Sonali Das*, 30, Group Business Director with a research organization has a similar story. Post motherhood, she gave up business development, which previously included a good chunk of her work and now focuses on fewer but vital clients, working from home 4 days a week. To keep her value to her company high, Sonali has volunteered to take on other activities such as team building and creating training modules. These are activities that she can do while cutting back on the pressure of client visits and generating sales.

While some companies are hesitant to allow for such role changes, others do appreciate it if the employee can proactively identify ways to add value – even if not in the same areas as before. Even in cases where employers have well-defined flex-work or career-transition policies, the individual’s initiative in identifying new areas for contribution will be critical.

The changing roles of dads – a big help for women at work

Another factor that is enabling women to continue their careers, even if on a different track, is the changing role of fathers in many families. Fathers may not be the primary care-givers for children, but nor are they the distant, hands-off disciplinarians once commonly seen.

Sonali’s husband works from home once a week, which allows her to go in to office on that day and put in at least some face time every week. Although he runs his own company, it is a highly sales and people oriented job, and he has had to discipline his habits to stay home one day every week with their 1-year old.

In Madhvi’s case, at the same time that she left her old job, her husband was in line for a partnership at the prestigious consulting firm where he had been for 11 years. He too chose to give it up in favour of a more family-friendly lifestyle. We are still far away from a situation where enough men volunteer to share parenting equally, but these stories are heartening to read and a welcome beginning.

What has motherhood meant for your career? Have you been able to adapt and move to a new track that works well for you? What hurdles have you faced? Share your story with others in the comments here!

*name changed on request

Founder & Chief Editor of Women's Web, Aparna believes in the power of ideas

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