Work-life balance: The key to making women a part of DigitALL innovation
With the theme “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality”, this year’s International Women’s Day was an opportunity to recognise the achievements of women who forged their own paths to success, braving all the obstacles thrust in their way.
Much remains to be done here still and one key method is digital technology. To be able to leverage digital technology for further betterment and uplift of women and other marginalised groups, more women contributors to digital innovation are needed, as they can come up with solutions and ideas that empower other women.
However, the demands for digital innovation can be intense and most women may struggle to balance their careers with family and personal responsibilities.
Women leaders tell People Matters of the challenges women face in contributing towards digital innovation while sharing experiences, strategies, and solutions on how work-life balance can encourage women to actively participate in digital innovation.
Overcoming barriers to contributing towards digital innovation
Work-life balance - a phrase that’s widely used to signify flexi-work and set boundaries at the workplace, is a major issue, and has to be acknowledged as a challenge as the first step towards overcoming it.
“As women, we need to understand what our priorities are - both at a personal and professional level, along with our short- and long-term goals. Once we have this clarity, we can then work towards maintaining a steady balance,” says Cheryl George, Product Leader for Data Protection, NetApp India.
Overcome inhibitions about asking for help
Prioritisation and the confidence to take on new challenges has helped Ritu Chakrabarti, Global Head - Learning & Development, LTIMindtree, strike the right balance on all fronts - in her career, family, and personal interests.
“Overcoming inhibitions about asking for help has also gone a long way towards building a strong support system that has enabled me to get to where I am today. Mentors have played an equally important role in providing the necessary counsel to navigate the various challenges.”
She adds the biggest challenge in contributing towards digital innovation is staying relevant in a rapidly evolving technology space. “To make the most of the digital innovation era, it requires a curious and continuous learning mindset. Learning, upskilling, and cross-skilling will remain key differentiators,” she stresses.
Be flexible, as no two days are the same
Boundaries between work and life have blurred, and one needs to be flexible to make the most of them, says Shilpa Singh, Director of Engineering, Druva.
A firm believer in living a balanced life, yet realistic, she knows that no two days are the same. “Some days are tilted towards work commitments, and some days, life demands your attention. Every day brings its own challenges, and you need to be flexible in adapting and giving your best to the important and time-critical tasks. The key to successfully navigating these challenges is to have a strong partnership, both at home and at work. You need your people and support system to step in as needed. This ecosystem then functions like a well-oiled machine,” she adds.
Normalise combination of digital innovation and family
Serine Loh, Head of Culture & Talent, APAC, Qlik says the stereotype that women are a "softer" gender and are frequently underqualified regarding technical proficiency still persists.
As of 2021, technology is among the industries with the lowest share of female representation in the overall makeup of the industry, and Loh says this is of concern, as it prevents women from having a voice in developing technologies that are increasingly shaping our lives.
“First and foremost, we need to abandon the notion that women are less capable than men and begin to place value on success and development metrics. Because of these existing biases, qualified women are passed over for leadership positions, even if they are more than capable of taking on the role. Secondly, the combination of a digital innovator and family has to be normalised. Because of the presumed all-consuming lifestyle of digital innovators and the expectations of those around them, many women will be hesitant to step into such roles,” she adds.
Woman digital contributors must learn to set boundaries
A perfect work-life balance is unachievable. Still, Loh says one can achieve it by knowing their values and personal goals, learning to set boundaries, prioritising their own and their families' well-being, practising time management, staying organised, and simply enjoying their work.
“Making time for friends, family, and myself helps me balance work and life. I exercise, refuse unreasonable requests, skip too many meetings scheduled for late at night, and enjoy fulfilling hobbies. This way, I can give my best to both my job and my family while still being able to take care of myself. Finally, we must work to create a more balanced tech community that is appealing to and welcoming to female employees, which requires more women in decision-making positions,” she adds.
With every new shift in the paradigm, changing gears is critical and Sangeeta Shetty, Senior Director, Human Resources, Ascendion has learnt trying to balance may drain you. Instead she believes in maximising energy.
“So, to me, it is not about 50-50 every day, but it can be 60 per cent home, 40 per cent work and vice versa some days - or the 70-30 equation varies as per needs on both sides. Burnout or lack of motivation can be quite common if we don’t plan and act to our strengths - I’ve learnt this over years of careful choices, introspection, forming habits and communicating,” Shetty says.
“Proactively plan your agenda or people will decide your priorities. Invest time and effort in building relations with people you work with, enable two-way active communications, and encourage transparency. They see the intent, trust your accountability, and in turn appreciate the space you need to deliver. We at Ascendion believe in the power of ‘AND,’ versus the tyranny of ‘OR.’ We celebrate what they do at work, and beyond work, an individual joining us brings his/her complete self, we are building a place where passion meets career.`"
Create a personal space outside of work and protect it
To prioritise their goals and aspirations, women must create a personal space outside of work and protect it, says Sharda Tickoo, Technical Director for Trend Micro, India & SAARC.
“Support networks can also be valuable in navigating these challenges and allowing women to focus on both their personal and professional lives. Employers can play a role in supporting women's work-life balance by providing structure, planning, and clear communication of goals that benefit the business overall. With the right approach and support networks, women can navigate these challenges and achieve a better work-life balance,” she adds.
Upskill to stay ahead of the curve
Balancing work and life is critical to building a better life, and the Wheel of Life exercise has helped -Romita Mukherjee, Associate Vice President, Human Resources, Whatfix personally.
“Setting priorities, evaluating what adds value to your life and work, and eliminating what does not add value are important steps. Setting life and career goals, prioritising both, and setting aside time for them are crucial for success. Finding an anchor for yourself can help you stay focused on important priorities,” she says, adding that women in the digital innovation space need to upskill themselves continuously to stay ahead of the curve on the latest technology trends and needs.
“Keeping oneself connected to technology to evaluate the technology solutions proactively will enlarge one's understanding of global trends. It will help one align one's decisions with the next level of practices,” she adds.
What role can an employer play in supporting women's work-life balance?
Employers can consciously weave equity into every aspect from framing policies, learning and development and charting career paths among others.
Chakrabarti says caregiving and caretaking responsibilities, in addition to job responsibilities, should be carefully factored in while investing in programmes and infrastructure, as well as establishing "robust returnship programmes and alternate career paths that provide flexibility and fulfill high career aspirations".
Mukherjee says employers need to support women leaders by providing unbiased opportunities to grow through true enablement, understanding their life and career aspirations, and having inclusive practices as part of the organisation’s strategic agenda.
For some women who take on the leadership role, the challenges would be more on the family front. Jhilmil Kochar, Managing Director, CrowdStrike India had her share of a few testing times, but says she was able to surmount them with the support of her family and colleagues.
As various women employees have undertaken various journeys to get to where they are, their diverse backgrounds, and their goals, objectives, and priorities also must be considered.
Kochar says recognising and accepting differences in experience and skill sets is critical to the success of any effort to reduce inequality. Organisations can start by acknowledging these differences and taking the required actions to identify how to support an individual's interests and aptitudes in order to help them be successful.
While leaders have the responsibility of supporting women through mentorship programmes, peer training, induction, reskilling, and upskilling courses, she says that mentorship and guidance from women who have had successful STEM-based careers can also encourage others and allow them to gain knowledge and skills that can open up a variety of career paths within the same company.
As part of her contribution to the field, Kochar plays an active role as a mentor to women in cybersecurity and to children as part of the Atal Innovation Mission among others, including in partnership with BetterUp and JoiaWay.
Meanwhile, Equinix places great importance on making women feel “I’m safe, I belong, I matter.”
Through long-standing communities for empowerment like the Equinix Women Leaders Network (EWLN), women are able to mentor, connect, belong and nurture one another through ongoing programmes that encourage professional growth.
“Whether it’s dispelling stereotypes, speaking up for themselves and their peers or achieving beyond what was expected of them, we celebrate their accomplishments and courageous perseverance.
"Going the extra mile this year, Equinix Foundation, our employee-driven global charitable organisation, has committed a $100,000 grant to World Pulse to support its work accelerating digital inclusion and closing the gender digital divide,“ says Hwa Choo Lim, Vice President, Human Resource, Equinix Asia-Pacific.
On this year’s theme for International Women’s Day, Lakshmi Mittra, SVP & Head, Clover Academy says equity goes a step beyond equality in recognising that we all do not start from the same place, and hence must acknowledge and make adjustments.
“As women leaders in the technology industry, we should strive to build an ecosystem that democratises access to technology and knowledge. We must adopt a synergised approach where corporates, government, and educational institutions create a conducive environment for young girls to develop interest in technology and become STEM leaders of tomorrow,” she adds.
George suggests two steps that employers can take in supporting a women's work-life balance
Work autonomy: Women can thrive if they are given the freedom to work in a manner that gives them increased control over their tasks, pace of work, and the opportunity to work remotely, if need be.
Holistic care: One way in which companies can show they care, is by offering opportunities for enrichment through targeted initiatives like hackathons, childcare leave, wellness leaves, and more.
With women, in general, well aware of their responsibilities and always try their best to do a good job, while putting a lot of pressure on themselves to balance all aspects of their lives, Singh says a listening ear or an encouraging word from an employer puts the stress at ease, and life becomes easy knowing they have your back.
Shetty says an employer plays a pivotal role in promoting and upholding work-life balance. “As a company born during the pandemic, we understand women benefit greatly from flexi-work and remote work. Our initiative, ‘Motherverse,’ aims at opening doors to bring mothers back to work - by offering a great work environment - tailored to their needs. We’ve been thrilled to connect with thousands of women technologists through this. We believe this has built a great support network for women - helping us navigate through work life with actionable solutions,” she adds.
How to set boundaries and avoid burnout?
Singh’s experience has made her realise three very important facts that she lives by. These are:
Compartmentalise: When you are in the office, you cannot worry about home or children, and vice versa. Attempting to run a house or office remotely will not benefit anyone. So be fully present where you are and give your best.
Plan: Make a plan for your day or week. Highlight the major things you want to accomplish both at work and at home, and then have time allocated to them. Once you are aware of your tasks, you will be relentless in covering the majority of your planned tasks as well as important unplanned tasks.
Be vulnerable or imperfect: Accept that you cannot achieve everything every time. Be kind to yourself, ask for help, and show your human side. This will ensure you don’t burn out. My house is not always the cleanest, but it is a well-lived one.
Chakrabarti believes in living life with purpose.
“Once our work aligns with our higher purpose, it is no longer a compulsion. In the absence of compulsion, there would be no boundaries and burnouts, just immense satisfaction and growth,” she says.
For George, time management holds the key to aiding in demarcating personal and professional boundaries - be it self-care, health, family and work commitments. “Following a holistic routine of understanding priorities for the day as well as for the week ahead, will help tremendously.”
How to prioritise your personal goals and aspirations alongside your career goals?
Harmonise, rather than compartmentalise, personal and career aspirations, say stake holders.
Where possible, Chakrabarti tries to simplify her priorities, evaluating them from the perspectives of relevance, timeliness, and impact. “Introspection of past achievements and failures has also been a fertile learning ground that has helped me thrive in an environment rife with opportunities,” she says.
George says at the start of every year, she thinks about what she wants to be doing over the course of the year, and set three goals for herself. “Early on in my career, I read a book “How to Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be: The 25 Principles of Success” by Jack Canfield, which I can proudly say has given me a lot of perspective and has been my North Star since.”
Role of support networks in navigating these challenges
A reliable support network can make one's work and life fulfilling and successful. Interest and need-based communities provide avenues to seek counsel, receive collective learnings, and draw inspiration from each other's lived experiences.
“Mentorship adds another layer of support as women professionals navigate their climb to the top, teaching them the requisite skills to chart a successful career. In essence, allyship is the cornerstone to a successful and fulfilling life, and the bedrock of a steady support network,” says Chakrabarti.
“We are social beings, and no one person can achieve everything. We need our support systems. As you talk to each other, you learn from each other’s challenges and are better equipped with tools to handle situations. Your colleagues, seniors, partner at home, children, and friends all contribute to your daily life,” adds Singh.