Friday, September 03, 2010

Lipstick Jungle - Survival Guide

A couple of days ago I caught a show on Zee Studio called '15 Hottest Hollywood Moms'.

The list includes the likes of Julia Roberts, Gwyneth Paltrow and Madonna. All of these women earn between $10 and $20 million a year and manage their mommy lives with a retinue of nannies, cooks, drivers and maids - the best money can buy.

But equally interesting is how they earned their money. By acting in just one or two major films, and commiting to a couple of big brand endorsements. The really smart ones continue to earn royalties for work done years ago (like Julia - for Pretty Woman). Or they produce films which earn them a share in the profits.

The common thread running through their lives is this: control over what they do, and when they do it. Their schedule works for them, not against them.

If an actress with young children has to shoot for a film, she takes her kids and nanny along. It's perfectly acceptable; it's the way the industry works. And nobody bats an eyelid.

Let's, for a moment imagine the same scenario in another industry. You can't, can you? Two reasons.

A woman in her 20s or early 30s, with young children, cannot afford the same kind of support staff as a movie star. (Although in the Indian context, that's not strictly true). The second and more important reason, however, is this: "It's just not done".

A star can have it her way, because she is a star. Whereas a junior or mid level executive is... just an employee. Important, but not irreplacable. The system will not bend to her needs, she must bend to the System.

When she bends upto breaking point, the employee makes the only choice she can: which is to drop out of the System.

These thoughts come to mind as I read that IIM Kozhikode has achieved a new record by taking in 30% female candidates into its flagship PGP program. That's all very good but ten years from now, when these women are facing the questions of job vs motherhood, career vs family, will the answers be any different?

I really don't think so.

The class of 1993 at IIM Ahmedabad had a record 30 girls (in a batch of 180). Double the number of girls from the year before. At the time, we graduated with stars in our eyes and the conviction that we could conquer the world. But, most of us were conquered by the challenges of motherhood.

A good number of us are working, but few, if any, upto full potential. Or with complete focus. We follow our husbands when they are transferred. Look for part-time jobs even after the baby starts school. Say no to jobs which require too much travel.

Because. It keeps life more simple and manageable.

Oh, so you women have no *ambition*? Well, it's not quite like that. Women do have ambition, they dream of a life where they can have it all.

A stimulating job, which makes the best use of their education and talents.

A wonderful home and a warm, loving family.

Time for exercise, reading, friends and foot massages.

However, Murphy's laws for Mothers decrees that a woman can have any two of the above. At best. So, make a choice - and hurry it up! There's a kid with homework waiting....

If you're a young woman in her 20s or early 30s reading this, I bet you are depressed by now. Well, don't be. My objective is not to just state the obvious, to lament the status quo. There are solutions.

The first thing to accept, very early, is that you will not have the same career path as a man, the linear A to B, B to C, management trainee to CEO.

Let's say you start working at 24, and plan to have your first child by age 32. That gives you 8 years in which to build your *star* value. To become more than just another employee to your company or organisation.

Enter baby.

Now, if you have successfully built up your brand value, one of two things can happen:

* You and your boss sit down together and create an arrangement that works for both of you.

It's possible, though rare, so you need a Plan B to fall back upon. Which is...

* You take your knowledge, expertise and network and use it to become self employed.

Meaning, from an employee you become an independent consultant. Or a 'freelancer'. Or 'a service provider'. Which is as difficult as it sounds. What you're selling is your skill, and that does not require investment.

All you need is *one* person who believes in you. For whom you do the job so well, that they recommend you to another person. And thus the cycle continues.

As you get better - and better known - for the work you do, you will be able to charge more for it. Earn as much or more than in a regular job. And, do it all, on your terms.

If it means taking along your children and their nanny - while you speak at a conference - so be it. That's what Julia Roberts would do, without any hesitation.

Be the star of your own life. Bask in the glow of the spotlight instead of lurking in the shadows of narrowly defined success.

Because you're worth it, and that's not just an advertising slogan.

You truly deserve to have it *all* and the sooner you get on the zig-zag path, the faster you'll get there!

P.S. If you're a woman, at any stage in her career, and would care to tell me your story, please drop me a line at rashmi_b at yahoo.com. The more we share, the farther we can go together, and grow together. Knowing that you are not alone!

28 comments:

  1. I think you hit the nail on the head when you mentioned that it is all about the definition of success. If a woman has it drilled in her head that success means becoming the CEO of a multinational by age 40; then disappointment is not far away.

    But hey, isn't all this true for men too? I mean - discount the baby bit, but the rest. There are like a billion men working out there and only a few thousand CEOs.

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  2. A very interesting read indeed!
    Boils down to choice in the end. Have seen a lot of women choosing path of least resistance over what you just said.
    And hence defining success becomes really important.

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  3. I am a male, but can connect to what you wrote - so many professional women dropping out to take care of family. Some reasons-

    - Not all jobs pay a decent amount of salary. For instance, home makers [men/ women] would be happy if they earn some decent wages than toiling at workplace each day.

    - The minimum # of "customers" for your freelance service to be successful is 3. Less than that, can call it a chance and cannot survive for long.

    - Women do manage work and home.. and despite much of studies indicate, men are more emotional and feel stressed due to everyday pressure compared to women. The fairer gender can pour out their woes to their spouse whereas men can't rant ! :-) May be this also the reason women live longer than men in every society of the world !?

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  4. Very well written. I do fear of the situation of leaving the job. But what makes me strong is the same thought of being self-employed in a long run. Though it is tough and might not enable me to fetch the same amount as my job, but the feeling of being self-employed could keep one going. And of course, the definition of success and happiness is SUBJECTIVE.

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  5. I totally agree Rashmi. Infact, I was mulling on these thoughts for quite some days. But everytime I think, Women need to chart a different path, I wonder how women like Indra Nooyi, Chanda Kocchar have made it. They sure did not reach the top position in one go and in one night! I am reading more on their lives these days to see how they managed things differently to be able to balance out both.

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  6. happy you wrote on this topic. let me tell you, its a huge assumption to say that this applies only to women! as a man, I'm not too keen on that linear path u mentioned either.

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  7. Just discussing this with the hubby yesterday. The primary issue in India is the lack of good childcare. If I had a place I could leave my son at, I would have considered going back to full time work. He insists that many women are working and leaving their kids with maids, but that is not an option I would take. Forget becoming a star, just having a proper career would have been fulfilling enough for me.

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  8. Well put. I think your Plan A is also far more feasible today than say 15 yrs ago. I do think though, that there is a choice to be made. And also, its not just the system but also the working mom's inner guilt that needs taming...

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  9. Let’s all Stand Up against gender inequality in 2010.I am supporting this campaign & would like you to do the same. You can join the campaign on http://www.facebook.com/unmcampaignINDIA & http://twitter.com/unmcampaignIND

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  10. I second your view on using the first 8-10 years of one's professional efforts to establish oneless. And, remember that self-employment may not mean regular money but it's glamourous, liberating, and offers time to enjoy that cup of tea with a Notebook on the lap :)

    Agree with Karmickids about the need for quality child care in the country. Helpers arranged at home vary a lot in their attitude and skillset, so can't be treated as a solid foundation for child rearing. Then they leave and you've errands to run, research to finish and that child must be given a healthy snack instead of a packet of chips...

    I should also highlight that a child brings to us a dramatically different mandate and a break from 8-10 years of routine workplace tasks -- but men do not such a luxury. They must push ahead on the work front despite demands of parenting (even though curtailed) on their time.

    Jyoti

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  11. Hello Rashmi,

    I had quit my job as soon as I realized that commuting to office can cause troubles in my already difficult pregnancy. When my daughter turned one and half, I decided to enter the corporate world again (I belong to IT industry). The question was which one to choose and where to strike the balance. I joined my present company for around 40% lesser pay than what I was getting earlier(!) just because my company boasts of flexi timings. Within a few months, I was given full Work from home privilege. Yeah.It's a privilege for me, considering it gives me full access to my daughter and keeps me in peace even when I am working (she stays with the maid at that time - in separate room)
    There are downsides and yet I wouldn't trade it for a higher pay packet or more ambitious position..
    I do wish though that this work from home or other such privileges were extended to all levels and areas of workforce..

    ReplyDelete
  12. Very thought-provoking post. As mother to a toddler, I think of this issue often. I do have support from my parents/in-laws and a maid, so I am able to work long hours.

    But the main problem is rising to senior levels means working longer which means less time to spend with the kids. What’s the point having children if you don’t get to spend more than an hour a day with them?

    I am searching for a long-term solution to this conundrum, but for now this situation prevails.

    ReplyDelete
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  15. I am on of those who stepped aside from the corporate world and say" Hats off to those women who managed to continue ". It is extremely tough juggling both. The kids are my responsibility, there are many to manage a company. However , as one of my batch mates said to me , what was the point wasting all that IIM education on you. Nobody gave that education for free, I went in there amidst lot of competition.

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  16. Hello Rashmi,

    Very well articulated.
    Here is a nice post quite relevant to what you have written.

    http://ultraviolet.in/2010/08/31/empowerment-begins-at-home/#more-1387

    Regards,
    Rajarshi

    ReplyDelete
  17. great topic and true in all sense ...i think it starts from basic human tendency to be able to do justice to all and lands to a specific situation of a woman...right from childhood girls are taught to be good daughters and then wife and then mothers...guess this behavior weighs heavy on their mindsets....for us to live life like men it is imporatnt for us to learn to behave out of this mindset which says you are good when you are a good only when....you can be a good mother who sets a great example for her kids as a good human, as a successful professional ...not just by spoon feeding kids sitting at home...good mother need not sit at home all the time...to be a good father if this is not a condition then how come is it true for the other half...women should start thinking differenbtly if at all they have the tendency to build their career...

    ReplyDelete
  18. great topic and true in all sense ...i think it starts from basic human tendency to be able to do justice to all and lands to a specific situation of a woman...right from childhood girls are taught to be good daughters and then wife and then mothers...guess this behavior weighs heavy on their mindsets....for us to live life like men it is imporatnt for us to learn to behave out of this mindset which says you are good when you are a good only when....you can be a good mother who sets a great example for her kids as a good human, as a successful professional ...not just by spoon feeding kids sitting at home...good mother need not sit at home all the time...to be a good father if this is not a condition then how come is it true for the other half...women should start thinking differenbtly if at all they have the tendency to build their career...

    ReplyDelete
  19. I left my job as my kid needed looking after.I did try for jobs but found that part time jobs needed me full time with only part time salaries.Working from home has not yet trickled down from the IT sector.

    Now,also I am thinking that I should take up a job of teaching .
    The Government could also help- there are thousands of women who can be in the judiciary as also teaching & other fields if it is only for part time.The backlog of cases can be cleared .The acute dearth of staff for teaching can be met if they have lesser rules for qualifications of teachers at schools & colleges.As it is,I am very doubtful if these norms have really helped the said sectors.

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  20. Spot on! I hear this "what was the point of wasting an IIM Eduction on u?" routine too.. and my answer is : i went to the IIM so tht i cld be financially independent enuf to be WHO i wanted to b.. not WHAT you wanted me to be.

    I think there are options - flexi time jobs (fleximoms.in), volunteering instead of a paid job, and of course, being an entrepreneur.

    abt that sharing the story bit.. tell us u r doing another book ;-)

    ReplyDelete
  21. as a man, husband of a talented MNC exec and a father of 2 year old daughter, this post strikes a chord with me. though it will be difficult for me to fully empathize what i think might help is not looking the situation as compromise / choice but that as different dimensions of success. the way we have tried to work it at our home (and we learn everyday and are far away from an ideal scenario) is taking different attitudes in our jobs.. i go full speed at my career, be very ambitious and negotiate hard at workplace, my wife takes it easy (while still being a very valuable employee and a SME in her area).. obviously she rules at home and takes lion's share of parenting.. it is hard for us particularly when we see that she can do so much more in the job and rise much faster but then we see the career and home as a marathon and not a 100 m dash.. we live and learn.. having said that i would gladly switch roles with her if need be and i think that is a common thread among all highly placed (not necessarily more successful than others) women.. very strong support network..

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  22. My wife is a B.E.(Electronics),before we got married she was working with HCL Tech for 3 years. She got through IIM Indore in 2006. But she opted out to become a full time mother. It was a mutual, conscious & well thought out decision. She believed she has had enough of following a certain career just because she was academically qualified for it. So she took upon her childhood hobby and dream and transformed it into a decent business idea. Our daughter is now almost 3 years old and my wife is looking after the two 'kids', our daughter and her www.cre80vity.com

    ReplyDelete
  23. Very true !
    I'm 24 working in PSU with a transferrable job...Parents are on a groom-search , results -
    1. Most of males want a fair , slim , professionally qualified girl ... who can 'adjust' to their requirements.Which means be ready to leave your job as & when your hubby or his family wishes so.
    2. The job of girl is far less imp thn that of boy ... even with same professional qualifications ,package, etc., etc...
    3. Although the girl is working she has to take responsibilty of the house-as in cooking, cleaning,all such daily chores + she will have to manage with his soial groups(friends , colleagues,etc.)& she is not suppossed to have 'her' social life!
    4. Some even have the problems with the notion of 'financial independence ' of the girl..although she earns but she should spend with the conscent (read permission ) of her hubby.
    5. Some of the would-be could-be's didnot hesitate in saying dont take your job seriously...b'coz in all probability you will have to leave it ....
    I think..may be life is like this only OR i was living in utopia..

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  24. @Karmickids ,

    I am father of 2 year old kid & My wife have managed to continue with a career , & Your comment seriously hit me , this is just possible because of good quality day-care available. This one thing is what makes us feel free to roam around.

    I am sure , that this is growing need in India..

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  25. Hi Rashmi,

    Well written. Having gone through kids, career and nannys, I actually moved on my own after 18 years. Decided the rat race was getting boring. Today am on my own with a set of regular clients, grown up kids and great fun. Feel everything also depends on your sense of determination and ofcourse a supportive spouse. But a very useful insight for 20s and 30s mothers. Ladies - just hang on there, this will also pass.

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  26. Hi,
    The point here seems to be ' My path is a lil more difficult than yours '. There can be arguments & counter arguments as, unfortunately, no-one accepts that his/her life has been much easier than that of a thousand others. It's the other way round usually, as we have this unconscious urge to validate ourselves.
    Looking the issue from a different angle; Just ponder:
    Whether it's an issue of More Choices or limited choices?
    Its simple your life is as much difficult as many choices you have!
    More the choice , more the act of chosing ---- and whenever you have to chose, it goes without saying that you have to leave something ......

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  27. The truth is ambitious women are a rare species in India, even in cities. Out of a dozen mba aspirants i meet, hardly 1 or 2 believe that they can make it to IIM. There are dozens of women like Chanda Kochar who have conquered business and personal world. I have no idea what women are waiting for, to motivate them to reach corporate excellence. They should be able to choose a husband who makes the family a stress relieving experience and support them in their career as much as a wife is expected to support a husband in India.

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  28. You hit the nail right Rashmi.
    Read my views at http://nehasinha.wordpress.com/2010/10/06/the-career-woman/

    ReplyDelete

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