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BACK ON WORK

Mom on the job

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Chahal (extreme right) helps aspiring entrepreneurs connect with the startup eco-system

The juggling act between baby and career often becomes overwhelming for mothers. Bosses, even those with the best of intentions, may sideline them, colleagues may resent covering for a mother who has to leave early to tend to a sick child, and the woman herself may be racked with guilt over not pulling her weight at work or neglecting the baby. To help women make the leap from prams to PowerPoints, Sairee Chahal co-founded Fleximoms in 2011. The company partners with corporates like Novartis, Intel, CII and CMO Axis and has helped more than 3, 000 women already. It is this effort that has won the 36-year-old Chahal the distinction of being chosen as the Asia-Pacific finalist for the upcoming Cartier Women Initiative Awards to be held in Paris on October 10. With over 1, 000 applications from across the region, the competition was tough. But not enough to faze this mother of a five-year-old, who is billed as 'India's first workflex readiness specialist'. TOI-Crest speaks to Chahal on what makes her experiment tick

How did Fleximoms come into being?


As the owner of a business and mum to a toddler, I was aware of the challenges on both sides. So my co-founder and I - both women who have built businesses and managed large families - wanted to experiment with solutions. Fleximoms was the result.

Are women unable to return to work due to lack of a proper support system?


Women are not only the ones having babies but the 'care-giving economy' - which obviously is not remunerative - rests on their shoulders. Workplaces are designed for the homogenous pre-industrial format, which is not relevant in this day and age. There are also other dynamics including lack of standardised care-giving facilities, longer commutes and general disorder of daily lives that often go against the women workforce. So, 70 per cent of drop-outs are moms and the rest leave because of the spouse's transferable jobs, the elderly at home, personal-health issues, etc. Another factor is a major digital disconnect, which means that while the Internet is a great leveller as a medium, a number of women may not necessarily have the know-how to make optimum use of it for work.

Should mothers return to their old jobs if available or look for new options?


Fleximoms advocates taking a pragmatic approach to building one's own personalprofessional roadmaps. Many workplaces today have programmes for returning professionals. Very often returning to work does not mean exactly the same personal-professional fit as when one left. Fleximoms takes a non-prescriptive approach so that a woman gets the solution that suits her. We have a Second Chance - Back to Work Programme which is a three-month intervention /course that helps women make their choices. Some get into entrepreneurial ventures like baking units or education franchisees etc. There is also a significant number of women who are recognising opportunities outside the traditional 9-5 format.

What's been the biggest challenge?


Let's face it - we are a patriarchal society and one needs to go in and chip away at old attitudes every single day.

When women want to get back, what's your advice for them?


I tell them: have an honest conversation with yourself and find out what works best for you. Second, there are tons of opportunities out there but only the best have room to command and negotiate.

What are the common mistakes women generally make?


You need to be focussed on what works best for you. Don't undersell yourself or settle for something that doesn't do justice to your abilities. It is also okay to ask for help, to fail, to reprioritise.

Does your company help women with capital for new ventures too?


Fleximoms itself does not make any investments but works closely with partners like funding agencies The Hatch, Startup Weekend and TIE, an industry body for entrepreneurs, to help women connect to the startup eco-system.

How do you reach out to women?


It is the other way round. Women reach out to us. There is nothing to sell or to push really. The idea is for women to look for and find guidance and access to opportunities.

Who comes to you for help?


Housewives, career professionals, young professionals and empty nesters...they come from across the country.

With responsibilities at home, are women able to sustain their enthusiasm for career?


For most women work is a creative outlet, a road to financial independence, a way to get out of the domestic confines and realise one's ambitions and aspirations. Having said that many women do drop out, and therefore, we help prepare them to work in alternate formats which could be as challenging. We aim to reduce what we call 'career ad hoc-ism'.

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