As a reader of our blog (if you aren’t a regular, please do become one!), you know that indePenn prepares women on a career break to return to work. As part of our process, we have a short 15-minute call with prospective members to understand what they’d like to do when they restart their careers. The answer I hear. – “I’m okay to do anything as long as I can work from home (WFH)”. Mind you, I’m a fierce champion of women having the flexibility to work from anywhere, especially if it helps them to manage their multiple priorities. But, I wonder, “are work from home jobs ideal for women?”
Manimala has a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical & Electronics Engineering. She graduated in 2008 and worked for a few years before she got married. Her husband’s family is conservative, and they were not keen on her going to work. She quit her job, raised a family and ran a home happily. Last year she attended the 20-year reunion of her 10th grade class and found that many women had built successful careers. She too is inspired to return to work. Additionally, her twins had started class V and she felt comfortable about going back to work.
But, here’s the catch. She wants to drop them off at school at 8:30, pick them up at 3:30 and take them to their co-curricular activities at 5 pm. After that dinner, homework supervision and catching up with her other chores. She can work from 9 AM to 3 PM. Naturally, she does not want to spend any of the time in commute. She is keen on a part-time role that allows her to work from home.
On the other side of the equation, companies have a different viewpoint. When Covid-19 struck, companies went on overdrive to equip their employees with laptops and broadband connections, so that work could continue. But over the past three years, they’ve come to realise that WFH poses several challenges.
The first is a significant drop in productivity – with small homes and multi-generational families, it is tough to eliminate distractions and demand for attention – for men and women.
The second is that learning slows down dramatically. We’ve all shared a terminal with a colleague to debug a problem, brainstorm a solution or create a presentation. How often did that end up with other colleagues, standing behind the two of you, offering suggestions, critiquing your attempts and finally taking over your keyboard to “show you how to do it?”. That one group session probably taught each of us more than reading a book or taking an online course! With remote work, that opportunity is lost.
The third issue is “how do you build the next level of leaders?” We learn by observing leaders – how do they analyse a problem? How do they react or not react when an issue arises? How do they manage their own emotions? How do they appreciate every small contribution? How do they give negative feedback? Do they use humor and build consensus? Or do they opt for command and control? We watch them and figure out the parts that suit our personalities, and blend it to build our very own leadership style. This can’t be done remotely.
All these and more are the reasons why companies are insisting on their employees being in the office at least a few days a week – the hybrid model. While they’re willing to consider part-time work for staff (not customer projects) roles, they do want employees to be in the office for that time.
How do we reconcile the needs of Manimala with those of her potential employers? A fully remote, part-time role can be a job – it is however, not conducive to building a career.
Here’s our perspective:
But we can become creative to find alternatives (see our blogpost “Motherhood Myths – Children of Working Mothers are Neglected” for ideas). If we wish to change one aspect of our lives – “go back to work”, another area needs to change to accommodate it. Everyone in our lives, husband, children, and other family members will need to flex to suit the new routine. Children’s co-curricular activities may need to be rescheduled, husband and/or family members may have to share the responsibility.
While our purpose in life may to be to ensure that the family is happy and stable, we frequently forget that we’re one of that family too. We should be equally focused on our own growth as an individual and our happiness. When we’re respected, rewarded and recognized for our expertise and accomplishments, we feel fulfilled and we can be a better partner and parent.
What do you think? Do share your thoughts in the comments.
indePenn coaches and prepares women on a career break returning to work, to present themselves as confident professionals.
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