I asked a few working moms a simple question. Why do schools have summer vacations?
Working Mom 1: To torture us.
Working Mom 2: Because what we do is not enough; this is a sadistic way of testing our multitasking skills even more.
The real answer: Harvest Season. Summer vacations are a medieval idea when children were needed to work on the farm and help bring in the harvest. Clearly, while the world has moved on to mechanical harvesters, schools and workplaces are still stuck in the pre-industrial age.
Working Mom 1: I feel that there is no one looking at the holistic picture of what a modern workplace needs. There is a lot of noise about diversity and including women in the workforce and while I believe in what Sheryl Sandberg says, how can I lean in completely when the organization is holding my family back? Bringing kids to office is still frowned upon in many organisations, especially when you are junior. Some moms at executive positions can get away with it at times, but why should I feel guilty about bringing my kids to work? The organisation spends more money annually on employee engagement activities and ‘away days’ than they would spend on making a permanent childcare facility.
Working Mom 2 has a more poignant statement: In a world where remote working is the norm, and WhatsApp is used for official communication, why does my physical attendance still count? I am still at work at 10 pm at home, answering emails and WhatsApp messages, yet according to office, I left at 6 pm. Salary deductions, increments and annual leave are still determined on physical attendance.
"I am married to a great guy, but it requires constant, sort of, adjustments to make sure that we both were equal versus each other, and to our children we both were parents."
A person from an HR department told me in confidence: “As much as we would like to hire women and we understand the value they bring to the workforce, we are scared to hire them as women leave as soon as they marry or decide to have children. Sorry, there is mostly no decision involved on a woman’s part; having kids is her priority according to our culture. The idea of deciding not to have children is an evil idea in our society.”
Working women are constantly torn between career and culture and both need to evolve to stay at par with the world.
The fantastic Indra Nooyi, one of the 100 most powerful women of the world (according to Forbes), will be the first independent member of the ICC board. (yes the cricket board, you read it right). She has spoken about this subject on many occasions and there is one quote that showcases the active role of the husband in a wife’s career. She said: "I am married to a great guy, but it requires constant, sort of, adjustments to make sure that we both were equal versus each other, and to our children we both were parents."
This adjustment needs to happen both at home and at work in Pakistan in order to allow more women to be an active part of the economy and not waste their potential. While cultural changes will need a lot of concentrated and diverse efforts, work cultures are used to upgrades and if we can start from there – we can call it a start. Here are some ideas that as a working mom I feel can help organisations to employ women and keep them in the workforce.
The nursery or childcare area is as, or even more, important than the game room or the fifth huddle room. Most moms will be happy to pay the office for this service.
Be open to changing work schedules to deal with the different requirements that come with children of different ages. If a dad wants to take time off every exam season to help his kids prepare or a mom wants to be at home one day a week to deal with a turbulent teen, give them that flexibility.
Have a tuition service and a Quran service for older kids and give them an area to hang out in with constructive activities.
Encourage moms and dads to bring their kids to office any time.
Invite spouses, parents, siblings to the office frequently so they know the culture and the people there.
Allowing children in the work space will improve your workplace. Less people will shout and swear when they know little ears are around, more employees will be on their best behaviour and above all, parents will be loyal to the company that is loyal to their family.
We need to change the mentality that workers who put their careers first are typically rewarded; workers who choose their families are overlooked, disbelieved, or accused of unprofessionalism. Work life balance is what makes happy employees, which in turn makes profitable businesses.
Atiya Zaidi is Executive Creative Director, Synergy Dentsu. firstname.lastname@example.org