2019 is a big year for me. Firstly, 2019 is the year my husband and I complete a decade of being married. I also turn a big milestone age. Most importantly 2019 marks the year I return to work. A return to the corporate world, which I thought i had left far behind and would never return to.
And in the midst of the #10YearChallenge that has been taking the internet by storm recently, my post today also puts into sharp contrast two periods – 2009 and 2019.
About 10 years ago, I met the man I would marry and have a family with. I met him at work. Thanks to being in the same office and traveling together to work, we got to spend good time getting to know each other (thanks to travel times and jams in Mumbai.) However, that workplace in 2009 is also where my story begins.
2009 – The early months of that year, was when something happened which impacted me for many years to come. And as I go through 2019 and my impending anniversary it took me back to those times.
And hopefully the contrast in then and now shows how much progress, workplaces in India have made since then.
Back in January 2009 I was an excited woman, busy prepping for my wedding. My head was filled with thoughts about wedding attire, matching accessories and my new life in my new home. It was then that someone at my work place offered me some friendly advise. He suggested I “take a break from working” because now that I will be married I should “focus on home, husband, cooking, feeding, adjusting with in laws.”‘
The fact that this came from someone who was senior to me in rank and at the same time was also in a position which allowed him to be the spokesperson for the organization, confused me. Was this the organization speaking to me? Was this advise being given to me by my functional manager? Did they not want me to work with them anymore because I was marrying someone in the same organization?
I never found answers to these questions back then or ever after.
His words shook me. I had never thought of quitting work to get married of all things. I didn’t see how a marriage would change things. My husband-to-be didn’t have any such demands or expectations. But nonetheless that man’s words planted a seed of guilt in my mind. A fear of not pleasing my new family. A fear of whether I would be doing justice to my job while I focused on my new life. Suddenly I didn’t know what I wanted from my career.
But this was 2009. A woman could either be a hard worker, slogging it out in the office, staying back late, facing muted (sexual) harassment OR she could be someone’s wife, mother, daughter-in-law. I also know by virtue of being in the Human Resources function that back then some managers actually mandated that they did not want to hire married women who could any day become pregnant or already had young kids.
Cut to 2019. I return to work (after a sabbatical for motherhood)
An organization wanted to hire a woman who had been on a career break. They actively sought a woman who was a new mom and wanted to return to work. They wanted someone with unique skills in a traditional function and they felt someone who had experience in “blogging” (which by the way is not considered to be a real career by many people) would be the right fit for that role.
This organization welcomed the idea of working from home for a few days of the month. The managers understood that I would need to leave work at a certain fixed time in the evening to pick up my child from daycare.
The same organization has an agenda to hire as diverse as possible. This is not just relegated to gender but also age, education, sexual orientation, physical ability etc.
What a difference 10 years can make!
Back then someone was marring my confidence, today, here was someone who was giving me wings to fly. Somebody was encouraging me to return to work.
And its not just about me. There is so much talk about diversity and inclusion today. I am sure you see it everywhere. I was talking to a sales head at a traditional business enterprise and he mentioned to me that most of his sales managers were women and that he was actively seeking to hire more women. “They are great people managers. They are also better able to convince and negotiate with my suppliers & retailers” he said.
Businesses and leaders see that having a woman in their teams, be it in HR, marketing, sales, technology or construction, a woman adds value. She brings in diligence, an attention to detail, ability to work hard, meticulousness and emotional quotient. Having a child is no longer a weakness but an asset. Motherhood makes you the best candidate for this job. If you wish to return to work, you will be welcomed with open arms.
When we women, are free to play equal roles at the home and work place, then it empowers us and our families to show our children, our future, that they can be anything they choose to be. Gender is not a determinant of what careers you will take up and how long you stay in those careers. Gender will not determine if you choose to be the more active parent and stay at home or work from home or eventually go back to work.
This post was written for the #agenerationwithoutgenderbias movement on Instagram.