Friday 27 February 2015

Work from home woes

Picture this-
X: “Where do you work?”
Moi: “I work as an independent consultant”
X: “Oh, from home?”
Moi: “Yes, most of the time”
X: “Oh, IT?”
Moi: “No, in human resources.”
X: “Oh, recruitment?”
Moi: “Errr…. Not always.”
X: Stops the conversation short with a quizzical look, wondering what on earth I do.

I stepped out of full time work in the corporate world twice in my career. And during both stints, I have had this conversation with all sorts of X s. And it has never been any different.

Self-employed, part – time, consultant, freelancer, contract, retainer, work from home - Not many people recognize that each of these modes of employment is fairly different.  It often makes me feel like those in the flexi work space (not just women) are orphaned children of the corporate world. I know that’s a strong statement, only because the fight against stereotypes is just as tough. Here are some issues that I have faced from prospective employers, clients and society at large on account of working from home:

Flexi work is an alibi for women on a career break, owing to a life event
When I wanted to get back to full time work after my first independent consulting stint, interviewing with companies was a nightmare. I have always had to justify why I made the decision to opt for a flexible work arrangement so early in my career without a “valid” reason. “Valid” reasons include – marriage, pregnancy & maternity. None were applicable to me at that point in time.

I was once told at an interview that independent consulting work is tantamount to taking a sabbatical! Essentially, I was being told that it was a nice way of covering up gaps in full time work! Consequently, the work experience that I gathered over this period could not be considered as “active work experience” (whatever that is supposed to mean!) Never mind all the personal brand building, the sales, the marketing and the delivery that I did single handedly.

If you are working from home, your job can’t be all that important
I now work in a full time role, mostly out of home. The societal perception of a woman with a baby, who works from home, is rather parochial. There is so much importance attached to working out of an office, some people just do not get the concept of full time employment + work from home. It was tough in the beginning, when everyone from my house help to relatives took my time for granted. Random social engagements would be planned without my consent. When I politely decline, common retorts include - “No one is going to know” or “A few hours off will do no harm”. The worst that I have heard is “If your job was all that important, you would be working in office, not at home!”

It took a great deal of effort and a whole lot of saying no to make this arrangement work.

Offering flexible work arrangements hampers quality
The perception that commitment and flexi work do not go hand in hand is so deeply ingrained in a fairly large section of the corporate world. We are, as a society, driven by the belief that -lack of monitoring would result in low quality output, lack of a formal work space leads to lack of focus and lack of a full time work agreement begets issues in accountability.

 I’m doing you a favour, I cannot pay you at market value
I have had to turn down several projects that offered me as low as 50% of the market rate as consulting fees. That such a deal is a nonstarter is besides the point, the reason for the low offer is what is appalling - “We are “allowing” you to work from home; you must take that into consideration”!  Why is physical presence in an office a determinant of pay? The attitude towards flexi-working seems to be riding on favour rather than according it as a benefit.

What’s your story? Have you faced such stereotypes? How did you handle it? I’d love to know.

Sunday 4 January 2015

My date with disability

In all my life, I have spoken to him about this for not more than 60 seconds. He was affected by polio as a child and had to be carried from room to room. This man, who studied in a Malayalam medium school till class V, went on to become the Chief Executive of a “mainstream” conglomerate in India and the CEO of an American firm. At an age where people would choose to hang their boots up, he established his entrepreneurial venture. He leads a normal life – he goes on long walks, he drives, he swims, I’ve even seen him dance. This self-made man is my father.

I came to learn about the International Day for People with Disabilities a few months back. Close on the heels of this, I had the opportunity to participate in a recruitment drive for persons with disabilities. Most applicants to my company were polio affected. I was a little crestfallen, since I have never viewed polio as a disability! My father NEVER played the “disability” card either personally or professionally, consequently, my mind refuses to equate my dad’s condition with disability.   

This brought back an unpleasant experience that I had as a recruiter. I was with the hiring manager at an interview for a sales position, and a candidate walked in with a noticeable limp. After a short interview, the hiring manager seemed very dismissive of his candidature. He expressed considerable doubt regarding his ability to sell and blurted out an appalling statement – “What would a client think if we sent a person like him to represent out brand?” I was infuriated; he had touched a raw nerve. What was “person like him” even supposed to mean? I reported this incident, he was issued a verbal warning and I was asked to “orient” him towards dealing with “such” situations.

In my limited experience, I have found that people with disabilities do not want sympathy, they would be happy with some empathy. They do not want special privileges or leeway with rules. They would appreciate not being stared at. All they want is a fair chance to compete. And for heaven’s sake, they are “normal” people.

It is amazing how the corporate world does its bit – Diversity & Inclusion and the likes, but I think we must first address the biggest disability that the human race has to deal with – that of the mind. 

Monday 28 April 2014

T is for To do lists!

T for Thailand is what I wanted to write,
As I reminisced the days of yore,
A set of papers caught my sight,
It was my to do list, with tasks galore.

Grocery to buy, bills to pay and shelves to clear,
Proposals to make and deadlines to meet,
Calls long overdue to near and dear,
As is a massage for my aching feet.

I haven’t watched a movie in ages,
On the A-Z challenge, I lag behind,
My to do list is just short of two pages.
It seems like the list has its own mind!

I cross of an entry for very task I complete,
But it gets magically replaced by another one,
Like an endless pit with tasks replete,

I realize this to do list will never get completely done!