Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Work-Life Balance: What do Women Executives put on the "back-burner"?

During an important session on defining the leadership context for women -- it came to pass that most of the senior women executives fully recognize that they have put some aspect of their life on the “back-burner” in their pursuit of careers in the office and managing the home “at the same time.” Some continue to nourish a “sense of regret” – while others are hopeful that they will return to it sometime in life, when all other responsibilities are completed.

One wonders if companies and fellow colleagues understand this aspect of the women’s sensibilities, when they work with them and share the same office-space for several years. And, if recognizing and understanding this more deeply will help the management create an eco-system for providing women space to grow, retain, and contribute more effectively to the organization.

Topping some of the things that women in corporate India have put on the “back-burner” are the following – which may come as a surprise to many of us:

· Planning a late- first-child, and no time for “second” child and extending the family
· Gave-up main-track career, in order to be at the same location as the husband during transfers
· Household chores and cooking -- due to lack of time
· Socializing with peers and the community
· Declining global work opportunities –in order to hold the “home” together
· Passion for Classical Music/badminton and other cultural pursuits, for family responsibilities
· Put my “husband” on the back burner! —this response comes from a women who is well-married and has 2 excellent grown-up children
· Personal fitness, sufficient sleep
· Put children in the hostel
· Gave up plans for advanced studies

Just putting these aspirations of the women executives in corporate India “on record” – reminds us of the “deep personal price” that women continue to pay to keep their companies and homes together.

How will society measure this goodwill and nurturing effort ? There is still time for us to reflect on this as partner human-beings.

Poonam Barua
Founder Convener
Forum for Women in Leadership

Monday, June 8, 2009

Who will mentor the HR Leaders?

At the 7th WILL Forum meeting held last month in New Delhi – one of the hottest-topics for discussion among the senior women executives at the Open Panel Session with HR leaders – was the fact that corporate HR was often the most significant “barrier” to enhancement of women in leadership positions and creating the appropriate environment for their progress in the organization.

This come as no surprise to many of us – who have been discussing with over 250 senior women executives over the past few years – on sharing best practices for women in the workplace, building an eco-system for nurturing women leaders and creating a level-playing field, and identifying barriers to their career advancement so as to provide them with the mentoring that they may require.

Many women have been able to use the experience-sharing and insights from the WILL Forum meetings to support their case with the corporate HR leader – although not many of them have met with success. Our informal assessments indicate that while corporate HR provides all the correct company policy statements for “gender, diversity, and inclusivity” to the CEOs, customers, and global clients – there is little support forthcoming for the women within the organization.

Upon sharing these insights with senior women colleagues from the U.S. and Europe – it is interesting to find that their experiences with corporate HR is quite similar as well.

There is a unique opportunity for the HR leaders to share the perspectives of the executive women – in a spirit of joint partnership for improving business and society – and we would like to welcome all those who would be interested in attending our meetings and join us in this mission.

Poonam Barua
Founder Convener
Forum for Women in Leadership

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Diversity: Takes Low Priority

June 6, 2009

Dear Colleagues:

Lately, we have been receiving calls from a number of senior women executives in corporate India --primarily from well-known IT and consulting firms -- who have been leading the company's "diversity, gender, and inclusivity" intiative for the past few years, informing us that their jobs are either being deleted from the company roster or relegated to a lower position in the organization as a result of the economic slowdown and cost-cutting measures by the company.

These women are going to be without a job -- after having initiated some of the finest diversity practices in the organization -- with high passion, commitment, and a deep understanding of the importance of creating an eco-system within the company that retains, grows, and nurtures women and allows them to work with best practices and high respect in the workplace. Those who are allowed to stay back -- see their functions as the "Diversity Officer" considerably downgraded to a lower position in the corporate heirarchy that is quite de-motivating for these senior women.

This is clearly a disturbing trend for corporate India --primarily because it highlights the lack of recognition by India's leading companies about the high correlation between best business performance and diversity and innovative-thinking that is required for global leadership, and also because it challenges the mission statements and branding exercises of many companies who claim to have a deep commitment to "gender, diveristy, and inclusivity" in their boardrooms and for their customers and markets.

We do hope that CEOs and HR leaders will be able to find some way to lessen the burden on their Diversity Officers --and find some way to keep them going until the economy returns to a fast growth momentum, where women and innovative-thinking will be a key component of future market leadership.

Poonam Barua
Founder Convener
Forum for Women in Leadership