Monday, March 20, 2017

The Diversity Dividend

Last month, I attended the NASSCOM D&I conference along with a few colleagues at work. One of the rare seminars that was brilliantly planned & executed, each of the sessions was very interesting, if not inspiring! Surrounded by tonnes of like-minded people, our discussions and debates hit a new high.. Doe-eyed we came back with tonnes of notes and to-dos (read lofty plans on initiatives that we’d begin right away if not in a short while..)

And then reality struck.. the snide remarks, the sarcastic tones.. (the fact that Women’s Day fell in the following week didn’t necessarily help).. “Do you know how the men folk see all this jazz organisations want to create around this Diversity agenda? Have you ever thought how this can harm you women colleagues – Would you feel comfortable if someone thinks you made it to the top only cos of your gender!?” OF COURSE NOT… And if you still persist, I will get Mrs. Funny Bones aka Twinkle Khanna’s help to make this point clear(er) to you! For now though, let me help debunk a few myths so we realize the real reason behind why we need sponsorship on the D&I agenda and steer ourselves toward simple(r) solutions we may not have individually thought of!

1st thing 1st, D&I is not restricted to Gender - It’s another thing that you make a great start when you let half (or whereabouts) of the general population to be represented equally across teams and levels within an organisation.. The stats around ‘The Leaking Pipeline’ (brain-drain of women from mid-management level onward) was astonishing to say the least.. Yet it was equally heartening to see organisations successfully avoiding quota (the worst form of tokenism in my view) while actively tackling biases and warped judgment, providing the right infrastructure and policies (case in point - making the transition back to work for a new mother easier) and not making unwarranted comparisons among themselves..

What struck me was the lack of inclusion of the disabled/ specially-abled.. How conveniently we make our offices wheel-chair accessible, provide exactly one washroom facility for the handicapped in every building and claim that we are an equal employer i.e. We’re inclusive! What about those with eyesight, hearing and learning disabilities.. Never before had I given this a serious thought.. Access to technological advancements should enable organisations to do more in this space – How about we redirect our CSR funds to within the organisation and fund capital / operating costs to make ourselves more inclusive toward this population.. But wait a minute, will we continue to get those tax-cuts and/or media coverage.. hmmm interesting thought!

Now, our fellow colleagues who belong to the LGBTIQ group... We’re all aware of how even an indication that someone could be homosexual gets them undue attention and makes them vulnerable to harassment. It was disheartening when a survey revealed that 40% of these colleagues have faced some sort of harassment and more than half of them fear that they could be legally fired (in India) for merely revealing their real identity! Isn’t it time we as organisations provide them a safe and inclusive environment to perform to the best potential? (Or may be it is too much to ask after all!)

We could further exaggerate the situation by adding dimensions such as caste, class, religion, region (now this is slowly becoming a big one in the IT/ ITeS sector), skin colour.. the list goes on…  
In short, between the cost of being non-inclusive vs. the benefits, we’d rather choose the latter, right? AND the silver lining is that with the Uberisation of the workforce, Inclusion could be a natural outcome if the organization makes it a priority.. Thanks to the socially-conscious millenials - they are far more aware, involved, engaged and have the highest tendency to speak up (or at least tweet about it) when they find something unfair...

My 2-pence based on what I heard from all these folks at the seminar on becoming an inclusive organisation (in a typical Jamie Oliver/ Tarla Dalal cook-book style)..

1. Pre-heat the Oven.. I mean..  Prepare your ‘Leaders as Advocates’- We need some serious concerted effort and commitment from the top management; Clearly, D&I cannot be an HR initiative! And if this is not the case, then clearly your organisation is not yet ready for the D&I agenda to become a priority.. Better wait it out y’all!

2. Add generous portions of Human-Machine Interface – Some at the stage of Talent Acquisition (crowd-sourcing talent, unbiased / algorithm-based resume screening, neutral entry criteria that encourage meritocracy over networks).. Some more when developing & retaining the right talent (virtual workplaces to provide increased flexibility, use of hackathons when setting up a new team, creating NWTs for increased learning and exposure for colleagues across different teams/ groups, watching out for the Hi-Pos that don’t fit the type-cast..)  
This also includes enabling innovation and investing in accessible and assistive technologies (JAWS & Splitter boxfor the visually impaired, Converser-pro for the hearing impaired/ elderly, refreshable braille display… the list goes on)

3. Cut the negativity and the nay-sayers out – Challenge ladders of influence (i.e. conclusions based on selective data riddled with false assumptions) that lead to bad judgement – I was in a conversation with a friend in a leading IT firm and she was talking to me about how a high performing colleague (also identified as Hi-Po) was overlooked for a project in another city, merely cos she was married and had a 1.5 year old - For heaven’s sake, the next time around, could you kindly ASK the person, rather than make the assumption/s and inferences yourself!?
This also includes sensitising colleagues across levels through trainings on unconscious bias and making it extremely hard for colleagues that remotely indulge in bullying or harassment to be part of the system.. In one leaders words, “I’m still okay with incompetence/ bad performance.. the lightest hint of Harassment, and I show the colleague the door, no matter how tenured/ senior/ critical the resource.”

4. Meanwhile, add some real role models – Successful people who will increase the overall levels of ‘intentionality of career’ within the organisation – people that will encourage others around them to becoming more inquisitive, aspirational and place a few bets on the minority through formal and informal programs. Encourage and engage these active enablers in dialogues with the masses to gain further momentum.

5. Place the right emphasis on building the right culture through uniform implementation of organisational policies – While it’s a herculean task to match the industry best practices in terms of having the right practices and policies in place, let’s not underestimate the role of the watch-dogs to ensure these are implemented right at every stage.. For e.g. one of the leading organisation that has the best parental benefits sees a dwindling % of women returning to work after availing maternity leave, specifically in one of its functions – Why you may ask!? The real reason was the outlook of their managers and skip managers toward female colleagues, no sooner she announced her pregnancy. It’s a mere no brainer that no amount of ‘return to work’ programs and/ or benefits would replace the loss of self-respect and/or dignity through the initial 6-7 months…

6. At regular intervals, check if you have the right manager capability – Whether or not the organisation is truly inclusive is an outcome of how effectively your 1st and 2nd line of managers handle micro-interventions at a team level – How effectively they respond to uncomfortable situations (this again includes zero tolerance to harassment), how they are empowered to have empathetic discussions when sensitive situations come up.. In short, how they persuade colleagues to stay on-course when faced with challenges on the personal front and/or seek help from their manager at the right time. Do remember, in many cases (esp in the IT/ ITeS organisations) we are talking about people with 4 - 6 years of experience right after college – Spare a thought to whether we doing enough to keep them afloat!?

7. Season to perfection with an analytical/ scientific approach to managing it - .1st thing 1st set the baseline – Where are you right now? What are your goals? What are the metrics you will track? Be it Talent acquisition, engagement or retention – are we using the plethora of data available to us effectively? The Gen-X and esp. the Millenials are natives of the digital world – let’s get ourselves checking if we’re customising our organisational offerings to suit how they’d like to be treated, how they learn best and what makes them stay!?
How we expand our talent pool by including passive candidates through our digital footprint, how we remove hiring bias through neutral / automated JDs using text analysis/ algorithms to match job specs, how we track and measure workforce demographics to build predictive models will get us closer to our goals. This also includes using lessons from the past to build programs for the current agenda (for e.g. use lessons on how you built a successful support system for women colleagues to include people with disabilities.)

8. Mix all this together, and viola, you’d have become an inclusive Organisation!

What’s even better is that people like me will stop going to such summits cos there will be no need to host them anymore! :-D

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Musings of an Iyer girl..

      Just in case you wish to feel a sense of belongingness at one of our homes, you may need to know that
     Our obsession with the Sun is Epic (After all, there MUST be a reason the ‘Earth’ revolves around it!!) – We wake up at sunrise, no matter how sleepy/ yawny we are post that (read no matter how late we hit the bed and/or the fact that we were woken up in the middle of the night - like I am right now!) – Waking up beyond 6:30 could be considered equivalent to blasphemy.. No wonder I've heard Geetha aunty cry foul saying “Ayiyo, this Kartik.. he usually wakes up only at 8’o clock !! This hostel life has spoilt him!”

-          It’s critical to clear the “Have you showered” litmus test every single morning – A typical morning (even on a weekend) may look like this.. Step 1: Wake up earllllyyyyyyy à Step 2: Drink tea/ coffee à Step 3: Have a shower à Step 4: Read newspaper/ Eat breakfast/ Go to work/ Go for a run/ Cook/ Go cycling/ Go shopping at Saravana’s @ T Nagar (even if it is 3 hours before store opening)/ Do the dishes & laundry... Basically, do whatever the heck you want to - For you have successfully cleared the litmus test for the day.. (P.S. In some households, while Step 1 remains constant, Step 2 could be followed by Step 3!! i.e. No tea/coffee until you shower!!)

-         It’s then little wonder when points 1 and 2 get deeply accentuated during Deepavali (Diwali).. Excerpts of a phone call at 5:30 am could sound like this.. “Hello Nita.. Deepawali Nalvaazhthagal.. Ganga Snaanam aacha?" (translates to Happy Diwali.. Have you had the customary oil bath yet!?) While a part of you is still gauging whether she's wishing you or checking on you, in your half-awake, half-groggy state, if you dare say that you are all clear, but it’s just that your 4 year-old refuses to be up (at this unearthly hour), there’s a 10-12-second silence on the other end! (P.S. You can only imagine what would happen if Kanchana aunty found out that you hadn’t had the customary "oil bath" when you were actually the 6th person she called that morning sitting pretty in her drawing room sipping her 2nd glass of kaapi!!!) which brings me to..

-          The invention of Coca Cola falls flat when compared to ‘Amma’s filter kaapi’ – Translates to “Nayana, you must learn to make authentic filter kaapi like your amma – idde enne, using Nescafe, instant coffee n all.. Green tea aa? What's that now.. all these new fashionable habits I tell you.. Listen to me.. Go to Suma Coffee concerns at Malleshwaram 8th cross.. tell him that you are Jaishree Natarajan's niece and that you want the same 20% Chicory blend that I have been buying ever since we moved to Bangalore 16 years ago.. You follow your mom's instructions over the phone and then you tell me if the coffee doesn't taste like heaven”
      P.S. Nayana, please don't tell the Suma Coffee guy that Jaishree aunty is your mom's friend, not your real chitti (aunt) - for it could impact the quality of coffee and/or the special attention that a loyal customer gets.. More importantly, please don't forget to add him to the list of people to thank, when you win the Oscars!! Or whatever award it is, that you wish to win and pose the picture from until eternity, to get even with your friend's constant trending posts on Instragram...)

-         The love for people in general (and our off-springs in specific) knows no bounds when they are “well educated” and that too in complex subjects – Little wonder that you don't gape when you overhear “You know that Sarala’s son is pursuing a PHD in Mesopotamian History right? He’s been at it for 5 years now.. She’s getting ready for his graduation in 2019! And look at this Ananya.. She wants to do only a BA it seems.. She was a topper in Padma Seshadri in 10th boards.. Could have easily topped her MS class in Artificial Intelligence also and here she’s planning on spending her time in studying Sociology, Psychology n all, it seems!”

Appa is the ultimate authority (Oh no, it’s neither the RBI governor, nor Modi.. For sure, not Donald Trump!!) – “This evening when Appa comes from office and if he’s not too tired.. (Paavam, he works so hard!) , let’s ask Appa what he thinks about demonetization and all these things this Modi says by calling us mitron mitron - BTW: I hope it's not some bad word in Hindi! He always seems to be using it once in every few sentences.. Just like you used to use some words when your friends used to called you on the home landline when you were in 7th-8th standard - and you thought I didn't understand anything! Ayyo, it was so difficult to get you to change that bad habit.. I am so glad Appa was concentrating on The Hindu and Kumudam and didn't hear you say those words.. Kanraavi".. 
FYI - What Agila aunty meant in the former part of the conversation (until you got distracted) is as follows “If Appa is not supportive of this demonitization thingy, let’s continue using the old 500 and 1000 rs notes till we & our best friends from Mylapore exhaust them all… What does that petrol bunk guy and the vegetable vendor think - He’s more intelligent than Appa va!? Look at Appa, how well-read and hard working he is…. After all he has worked in Central Excise department as Head Clerk for 29 years now!”

You are as classy as your* latest Kaanjeevaram Saree - Oft' heard conversations at engagement and wedding ceremonies “Did you notice Vanaja’s saree at Suresh’s son’s wedding? She got it specially designed by the weaver at Kanchipuram..Enne taste illiya”
Similarly.. "Balu and Sujaata must have a heart of Gold.. they are getting thier only son married to this girl.. Look there.. she's wearing a plain silk orange salwar kameez..  Paavam Sujaata.." 
And of course the infamous one.. “Idde enne Sachu, you’re wearing the same saree that you wore for Aarti’s nichyataartham.. You must go check out Nalli silks at Matunga.. They have some super collections for Pongal”..  In short, Aparna aunty wrote Sachu off for being caught in a saree she spotted her in, 2.5+ years back!! P.S. It's inconsequential that she remembers the saree cos it's a stunning one!! 
*If you belong to the gender that doesn't wear sarees, then please suffix the word 'your' with - mom’s/ sister’s/ wife’s/ daughter’s / grand daughter’s as the case may be - Please leave that girlfriend of yours out of this equation for now though!

Last but not the least, the love for Thaiyar shaadam (curd rice) knows no bounds.. You know you’ve spotted a thorough-bred Iyer when s/he argues (read protests) that a 7-course meal at a Michelin-starred restaurant must absolutely end with an invention, only 2nd to Columbus discovering America (or may be it’s the other way round)!

While all this knowledge & more can get you an entry into the household, remember NOT to:
1. Question the concept of patte-echchal, maddi and theethu - What do these words mean!!?? Ahem, even the most eloquent person won't be able to explain what these concepts mean to people who've not grown up listening about and experiencing them.. Let me attempt though.. Remember, the lessons in Pavlov's classical conditioning from your college days!?  Let's just say these are brilliant examples that his theory is absolutely true - For, generations have passed these customs down successfully!!
2. Glare or stare, worse still comment about someone that slurps and/or drinks the left-over rasam after all the rice on the plate is exhausted!
3. Say that the Idlis/ Dosas in A2B are as good as those made by the lady of the house and/or ask if she used I.D. company's batter .. Oh no no no.. This is the worst dare you've ever chosen to take..

That's all for now... Have fun and have a fabulous 2017!!

P.S. This article is to tickle some funny bones.. Certainly, not intended to offend anyone.. All characters and names are fictional except Sachu - and you know who you are!! :D
Am certain, Kartik is back to waking up before 6:30 (despite some habits he formed during his hostel days.. Ahem!!).. The last I heard, Ananya graduated with an MS in Robotics and Aritificial Intelligence from MIT and has recently landed a job offer from IBM Watson.. 
More importantly, Kanchana aunty did not come to my rescue when Dhruv woke up only at 6 am on the morning of Diwali!! It was Raj and I who put up with his tantrum/s (despite him waking up late, mind you) until the sweets & crackers amused him! :D

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Balancing Act

"So how do you manage?" Hopefully (in any case, I'm convinced!) when my friends & colleagues ask me this, they're referring to how I stay super-positive (read sane) amidst managing two toddlers*, an entrepreneur hubby, living with the in-laws, spending time with my family, staying in touch with friends, while successfully & ambitiously pursuing a career in an area I am quite passionate about, trying to stay fit- running a few 10-k a year, reading & traveling a bit, and of course, staying abreast with the latest (useless yet priceless, masala-filled) debates & updates on social media – I mean how can I miss out on how my friend, her brother and her ex-boyfriend & his cousin feel about how amicable Farhan Akhtar's divorce is! ;-)

*For those new to this word - it includes caring, cleaning, teaching, cooking, entertaining, disciplining & a myriad other things- basically, ticking off from a never-ending list of activities that keeps you busy all your waking moments - and at many times, your sleeping/ semi-awake hours too!

Well, the exact answer depends on what time of the day and of course, the day you ask me! ;-)

There are days when I turn up at work after a morning that looks a lot like this.. Disturbed sleep followed by a full-fledged assault on items in the kitchen (read cooking & packing breakfast, lunch & evening snacks for the kids.. phew!).. A warm-up session running behind Child#1 and (in front of) the earlier-than-usual departing school bus (Thanks to my super-sensible & cooperative doll who has decided to take it slow this morning).. Despite the growling & snarling from the bus driver & the infamous 'bai aunty', I somehow run the planned 3.5-k run (more so to restore sanity!), only to be greeted by a bawling (an otherwise happy-go-lucky & helpful) Child #2 refusing to want to go to the day care cos "he doesn't feel like going to school today".. The maid has decided not to turn up, while the hubby is on a client call for a good part of the morning – That leaves me convincing, and eventually lugging an obstinate toddler and the insane number of not-so-light bags into the car.. AND then the infamous Whitefield traffic attacks that last bit of life left in me! Aha.. what a start!

The response on one such day would be.. I'm actually related to SUPERMAN! Or actually, it's the high from the banned substance I inhaled this morning.. YES, that's the only way I could've managed today and everyday of my life with a smile.. ;-)
Of course there are days like these too.. An early start & a refreshing session of power yoga/ run to be surprised by the hubby taking over cooking along with MIL! The children wake up with beaming smiles & you take the designated half hour to get them ready.. The maid turns up on time.. The school bus gets slightly delayed (YAYYY).. Toddler#2 gets excited about the clothes he is wearing / the toy you brought him last weekend & wants to show it off to his best friend at day care and even puts on his shoes (Wow, is this really happening to me!?).. AND others in the city have endlessly snoozed their alarm clocks and/or have decided to car pool (WOOHOO.. The immense joy of reaching a destination in Bangalore in the actual estimated time, I tell you!) You're greeted at work with an appreciation (read no objection) email from the manager on the deliverable you sent in last night - the team too is convinced & we're finally moving forward with project implementation! My response on one such day would then be, "It's beautiful actually... I know it seems overwhelming, but it's actually not so difficult at all.. In fact, this is the happiest/ best phase in my life.. You should actually plan at least two children, if you plan to have, that is.. blah blah blah"..
P.S. This is my usual reaction, and while it is safe to assume that the hubby has cooked my lunch, it may not be true! :D

On a serious note, it's all about finding that balance – within and around you. Prioritizing what's important and how much it means to me helps me determine the time and effort I wish to expend on the activity/ issue. It also helps me filter out the noise thus making me far more capable to handle the important people & situations in the current phase of my life.. Couple things (may sound clichéd) that I keep repeating to myself include:
  • It's NEVER going to be Perfect (no matter how hard I try) - Neither your day, nor the multiple things you attempt through the day, be it at work or at home, may turn out perfect.. What's entirely in your control though, is to give each of it your BEST and do this as much & as often as you can! For instance, there are days when you strike off only 4 of the 10-odd things you wanted to get done.. AND it's actually perfectly alright! Cheer yourself for doing justice to those 4 things rather than berating yourself over the 6 things you didn't achieve!
  • Get over the guilt (frankly, I'm still on the journey and I'll tell you if I ever reach the destination) – As parents (esp. mothers), we feel guilty about almost everything. If there's one thing we could learn from children & remember it, it would be how beautifully they adapt to the situation, no matter what.. For instance, there are days when I'm late in picking up the children from day care after work. I apologize profusely only to hear, "It's okay Amma, I was really enjoying playing with my friend.. I didn't miss you that much.. You come early tomorrow, okay?" and that's as comforting as it can get! (P.S. Don't take this liberty too often, for the fine the crèche charges, may exceed the actual monthly fee!)
  • The glass is half-FULL – Rather than think about how much better things could've been, be grateful about the fact that life is as good as it actually is. And for this, it's important to surround yourself with people that are positive, energetic and talk encouraging stuff.. Avoid people with a negative bent of mind/ those that constantly criticize you/ your ways of life, and half your battle is won!
A few other things that come handy are planning in advance and staying with those plans, as painful as that might be (by the way, you get called boring/ inflexible/ a potential candidate for OCD, etc. and you need the grit to ignore it, unless of course you too think it's true!) and learning to say a firm NO - be it to an evening of socialization, catching up on that favorite TV series or the temptation to stay back at work (unless it's planned or critical of course!).. Last but not the least, what also helps me is something that I define as 'being a true Bombayite' – always being on the run (quite literally) – at times, a tad ahead of the plan - and bouncing back with a never-say-die attitude! In short, when you're clear about where you're headed and stay on track, you'll be able to stave off all/ most of the negativity around you. And here's where Paulo Coelho's famous statement, "When you want something really badly, the whole universe conspires to make it happen for you" comes true.

Personally, most not-so-great days have had some silver lining – a beautiful milestone achieved by the kids and/or an interesting episode at home or at work.. And when that doesn't seem to be anywhere in the radar, I still have the luxury to end the day early, by simply moving forward the usual bed time by at least quarter of an hour – And neither the kids, nor anyone else has a say in this.. ;-)

Stay happy, stay balanced :-)