Career women are rarely exempt from traditional duties. Helping your women employees de-stress in various ways can ease the pressure.
India is proud to have a woman as head of State, a woman chairing the Lok Sabha, and several women Chief Ministers. Indian women are today high-fliers in all other domains too, from business to sports. All very satisfying for campaigners for the girl child, for women's rights and gender equality. As the head of a company mostly staffed by women, I have watched with satisfaction the blooming of many a talent.
Yet, a recent news article made me pause and think.
It was based on a study by Nielsen. Called Women of Tomorrow Study, it covered 6,500 women belonging to 21 nationalities from February to April 2011, and found that Indian women were the most stressed in the world. A huge 87 per cent of the surveyed Indian women said they felt stressed most of the time, and 82 per cent said they didn't have time to relax.
Why was that? I asked at the IBM Winspiration Leadership day, where 500 attentive IBMers shared stories and thoughts freely. And what can we do about it? I did a retrospect on my own life canvas, came up with a few thoughts, and many in the audience added their own. I want to share these with new Indian managers, both men and women.
Indian Lifestyle, Global Workstyle
I think the biggest reason why our women are so stressed is probably that in our country, we're sprinting forward on the ‘modern' track without leaving the ‘traditional' one. For instance, most of us career women still juggle extended families with our jobs. Though in urban areas the nuclear family is now the norm, extended families are still emotionally in control. For instance, recently an aunt of mine who lives alone suffered a heart attack, and it was ICU guard duty for me. But what about those e-mails which couldn't go unattended? Active Blackberry use and turning the hospital corridor into my workstation was the way to stay on top of head and heart.
While a second income is not only welcome, but mandatory these days, our society hasn't relaxed its expectations of women. The many responsibilities of a woman as daughter/wife/daughter-in-law/mother remain more or less what they were when the compound wall of the house was considered the boundary of a woman's domain. The menfolk's expectations remain unchanged too. They are entitled to put their feet up in front of the TV after a hard day's work, while women who hold down challenging jobs find themselves rushing home to put hot food on the table, supervise homework and shop for groceries. Supporting her is non-negotiable for the other family members family today.
Balance of Mind
This is the great need of the hour. Meditation, pranayama and mantra to control the mind and balance it, is a revival we have to inculcate. We consciously do this at our workplace. Every Saturday, we hold a spiritual fellowship for interested women and their families, dwelling on practising and discussing meditation and allied disciplines.
By-pass and passing the Buck
At the workplace, while women are now the norm rather than a rarity, it's still a man's world. We function in an atmosphere of indirect communication, dominated by men. “Let Rajat take that lead role for this important overseas project, Roshni is also excellent but she may not be able to do justice with her four-year-old.” (FYI - Rajat has four-year-old twins and Roshni has never taken time off for childcare so far).
Women have to speak up to ask for the top job, and then we have to step up our organisation and time management skills, delegating tasks to efficient people. That's the only way we can prevent ourselves being passed by, while retaining our sanity.
Eating the Frog
Concern for the well-being of children and fear that she won't be able to discharge her responsibilities towards them adequately is one of the biggest sources of stress for a working woman. I will share the story of how I handled this.
A great book I read which hugely helped me was Brian Tracey's Eat That Frog. It is a slim book but worth its weight in gold, even at today's prices. Starting with a task at hand, and not procrastinating about eating it even if it is the ugliest toad on the plate, is the first step to take. Next, if we have to eat something undesirable, as Brian says, we might as well eat the biggest frog first. In my own life, it was finding an English-speaking maid for my three-year-old, so I didn't feel she was losing out on language skills while I worked 14-hour days. I had to convince my in-laws, then advertise for and interview nannies, which was daunting, but once I started slicing it into bite-sized pieces, it became digestible. Once done, it freed up huge mind space in me, so I could go build a business.
When women say they don't have time to relax, they usually mean that in wearing the many hats that society has given them, they don't have time to spend on themselves. Companies could work out ways in which their women employees get to unwind – we use spa vouchers as project D-Day recognition awards. The mudpacks and oil-massaged Medusa heads do wonders. Women work well when they feel and look good. An education award for an employee's child, CSR spend for a special needs child, or even a shopping trip has helped de-stress and make loyalists of top-performing women I have worked with. Another fulfilling way is ‘Bring your daughters to work day', which works really well in our company.
While turning all these points over in my mind, I can't help but remember that in India, we see the woman as ‘Shakti', power. The iconic Goddess is featured with many arms – symbolic of her many capabilities. What we mustn't forget is the third eye of introspective knowledge, the reminder that well-being within is as important as without. Strengthen our Indian roots, then fly on global wings.
Ranjini Manian is Founder CEO of Global Adjustments, a relocation and cross-cultural services company. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org