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PMI South Asia

Thriving in the New Work Ecosystem: Flexibility and Empathy are Key

PMI Manage South Asia poll shows that practitioners are in favor of remote work but some changes in work culture are needed.

Is the current remote work environment working out well for project professionals, particularly for women employees? That is the moot question we wanted to investigate in our online poll, The New Work Eco-System | Opportunities and Challenges, conducted in the month of February. The results reveal how men and women view some of the common struggles and advantages that today’s ways of working present.

We asked them if they found remote work to be a blessing. An overwhelming 92 percent of women respondents said they did, as against the overall 77 percent.

Do you find remote work a blessing?
From all respondents

Do you find remote work a blessing?
From Women respondents

More women than men said that their productivity had gone up while working from home. Almost 9 in 10 women, as opposed to a little over 7 in 10 men, held this view.

Has your productivity gone up during work from home?
From all respondents

Has your productivity gone up during work from home?
From Women respondents

However, in spite of the benefits of working from home, not everybody wants to continue with this arrangement permanently. Only 60 percent of women and 53 percent of men were willing to working from home permanently. A commonly voiced sentiment since the past two years has been the difficulties in creating a clear divide between work and home while working remotely. Our survey shows that close to 35 percent across the gender divide are struggling to set a work-life demarcation.

There is also a fear that they might fall behind their colleagues if they choose to work remotely in the long term. The fear is more pronounced among women – 52 percent – than among men, which is 40.5 percent.

The remaining two questions we asked had a similar number of respondents among men and women. Around 74 percent said they were able to effectively manage their team in a virtual setting. Over 80 percent said they had extra time to upgrade their skills, an important factor in advancing one’s career today.

We also invited practitioners to suggest how organizations can address the challenges women professionals are facing in the new reality and support them at work .The most frequently expressed wish was flexibility.

One respondent said, “Women are shouldering much of the burden at home, given that school and childcare facilities are closed and there is longstanding gender inequality in unpaid work. Women also face high risks of job and income loss, and face increased risks of violence, exploitation, abuse or harassment during these times.”

On the work front, the ‘always on’ mode is affecting women.

Says another respondent, “Most of our seniors call for meetings after work hours. They think the meeting will be more productive. But then we end up working 12-14 hours. It is hard for a woman to balance her work and personal life.”

Here are some suggestions they have offered for organizations:

Let staff work in a self-organized mode, empower them to take decisions and own their work.
Allow women to work remotely for 3 days a week.
Set a hybrid arrangement where employees can plan their weeks and months so they can better manage work and family responsibilities.
Provide more benefits to employees like no meeting Fridays, regular reviews, company sponsored wellness programs.
Allow two long 1- hour breaks with an overall longer workday.
Define work hours and make it a rule that employees are not expected to reply to an email post 6 pm.
Use an outcome-based model to judge performance, rather than the number of hours put in.
Define quiet hours, collaboration hours and family hours in a company so that all are in sync.
Reduce the commute and let women work from a business center closer to home.

The need to be empathetic and show concern when someone is going through a rough patch is another sentiment we saw in the responses. Below are some suggestions:

Show more empathy when someone cannot join a meeting or wants to take off.
Discuss the difficulties employees are facing through regular personal development chats.
Give women time and space to deal with family challenges and issues.
Address mental health issues and offer counselling if they are facing difficulties during work from home before jumping into conclusions.
Offer periodical consultations about work-life balance.
Support women in meeting their goals and stop being judgmental about their decisions.

But not every solution lies with the organization. Women need to establish some ground rules at home so others around them understand and respect their work. Some suggestions our respondents offered are :

Follow a regular schedule with a clear balance of work and house. Only emergencies can disturb the schedule, practice this so neither the flow of work nor the flow of household will be disturbed.
Take family support, office support is not enough.

Strategies to Promote Gender Parity in the Workplace
By Potshangbam July

On the occasion of International Women’s Day, Manage South Asia speaks to women changemakers from diverse industries to understand their approaches to promoting a gender-inclusive workplace with more women in leadership roles.

Women have fought biases and broken barriers at the workplace to make themselves heard, prove their value, and get recognition. Studies have shown that women bring different talents and perspectives to an organization; for instance, they pay more attention to detail, and are more results-oriented than men. Credit Suisse Research Institute studied 27,000 senior managers at more than 3,000 companies globally, and found that companies with 25 percent women in decision-making roles generate 4 percent higher average return on investment. In today’s business world, the percentage of women’s presentation in senior management positions (C-suite roles) is steadily increasing. The Bloomberg Gender-Equality Index reveals that women currently hold 39.2 percent of management positions, an increase of more than 10 percent since 2014.

Despite such positive developments, women remain underutilized, and there is a lot of room for improvement in their participation in the professional sphere, including the project management industry. According to PMI’s Earning Power: Project Management Salary Survey, male project managers in the United States earn an average of US$11,000 more annually than women project managers.

What must organizations do to advance gender parity in the workforce? They need to do away with cultural mindsets and organizational practices that promote men as effective leaders. They should understand that gender-diverse teams are not just good for their brand but also business. Hiring more women is good for their projects as well. Women are better at assessing risk, scheduling, and budgeting projects that may improve the financial performance of organizations.

To create an inclusive and gender-balanced workplace, organizations must implement a meritocracy approach and ensure equal pay for equal work as the baseline standard for equality.

Tackling Gender Stereotypes at the Workplace

For the men reading this, how many times have you asked a woman in your team to minute a meeting? Probably every time there was a woman junior in the room. The reasons vary – women are better at details, they have better handwriting, they are good at communication. But the fact remains that there is a gender stereotype at play here.

There are many such examples – be it a cake-cutting celebration, compering an event, or hosting a guest. It is always a woman colleague. Ironically, the time management and people skills that make her the natural choice for these tasks, do not seem to hold good when it comes to offering her leadership opportunities or customer-facing roles.

These stereotypes are so ingrained in all of us that even women do not question them, unless they are sensitized. All of us, regardless of gender, have biases. Our brains are wired that way.

This brings me to the important question of how to tackle these stereotypes. Here are some tips:

Awareness and analysis: The first step in addressing stereotypes or biases is to become aware of them. Analyze your actions or behavior in situations at work or elsewhere, and ask yourself, “Would I have done the same if the other person(s) involved were like me (or different from me)?” The answer will reveal the stereotypes you have and will help you to work on addressing them.

Make the unfamiliar familiar: Visualize the same situations, with a different behavior or action from yourself and the others involved. For example, visualize a presentation to the chief operating officer of an automobile company, who is a woman. Would you still use all those male-centric examples and depictions you had? Is your admin manager a woman? Visualize a man in that situation and think about whether that would change your actions or behavior with him.

Change the norms: Changing the norms in your mind in the first step to doing that in real life. The next time you face a similar situation, your brain may be rewired to go past your biases and correct them. Biases and attitudes will limit progress as long as we allow them to. 'Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.' Martin Luther King Junior’s quote is as relevant to racism as it is to systemic biases and gender inequality. Let’s break the bias.

Padma Parthasarathy has been with Tech Mahindra since 2006. She currently heads the global consulting business, and is also responsible for Tech Mahindra’s digital business growth.
Learning Agility: A Key Differentiator for Career Growth

Harika Damisetti holds an M.Tech in IT. But that was not enough for her to land a good job. With digital transformation sweeping across all industries today, she was being asked about emerging technologies in interviews. She realized that she did not know enough about these technologies. Employers prefer to hire talent who can demonstrate knowledge in the practical applications of technology and learning agility. This led Damisetti's search for a learner-friendly online platform with interactive labs for hands-on training. She chanced upon Future Skills Prime, a nationwide digital skilling platform. She found industry-validated courses on technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), cybersecurity, cloud, and blockchain . After exploring a host of free curated content, she registered for a cybersecurity course. Today, she is working with a leading technology company as a cybersecurity consultant. This could be an inspirational story of every Indian looking to bag a better job or even retain her job in the new normal.

Reskilling opens up opportunities. A study by Research and Markets states that reskilling has a longer-term impact and prepares the workforce for jobs that do not exist today. Reskilling demonstrates the one skill that all employers look for - learning agility. The future world of work is going to be hybrid. This will create a massive opportunity for those who either left the workforce because they could not cope with it or could not access the right job because it required them to relocate. With the number of organizations offering flexibility for the right skill set, it is the perfect time to upskill yourself and showcase your talent.

The IT industry added 450,000 jobs last year - the highest ever. The IT industry saw one of its highest growth rates last year. India showed the globe that it could be trusted to keep the wheels of commerce turning even when the whole world went into lockdowns. This pace is not likely to slow down soon and will lead to a continued surge in jobs. But these jobs have gone to those with the right skillset. Companies are taking reskilling seriously. Last year, 65 percent of 1.2 million who received digital skills training were trained by the companies they work for.

Reskilling is a powerful tool for retention and more cost-effective too. But it requires employees to come forward and sign up for upskilling. Even if job opportunities are not immediately available, they can become a part of the in-demand talent pool that promises the best opportunities. Today, digital literacy is essential for any domain that you opt for - finance, hospitality, e-commerce, or healthcare. As per AWS Global Digital Skills Study, 83 percent of tech workers and 76 percent of non-tech workers experienced better employability after taking skills training. With e-learning and hybrid learning being so readily available, the onus of getting skilled is now on the learner. India has been robustly reskilling its non-tech and core tech workforce in digital skills to close the talent gap. Hence, it is a favourable time to invest in yourself and skill up. The opportunity is there before us. We just have to reach out and grab it.

A business leader with over 30 years of rich experience in entrepreneurship, management, and driving change, Kirti Seth is currently working with NASSCOM, as CEO for the IT-ITES Sector Skills Council.

Changemakers are not Charismatic Leaders but Ordinary Women

"It is good to see that you are distressed about women's participation in the workforce. Instead of wringing your hands in despair, why don't you actually do something about it?," said my mother. Her words struck me and that was how 'Aspire For Her' was born on the Women's Day in 2020.

The state of women in the workforce in India has always been a cause of concern - whether it is the country's abysmal place in the Global Gender Gap Index or the declining percentage of women in the workforce over the last 15 odd years. The story is rather depressing.

We launched 'Aspire For Her' with the mission of motivating women to enter and stay in the workforce. It is powered by more than 150 women leaders who are mentors and role models.

We provide career support in the form of learning resources, and career previews and opportunities. We organize corporate interactions, hackathons, workshops, webinars, live sessions, and peer support community. Besides, our organization enables them access to 3E - Employment, Entrepreneurship, and Education.

Our dream is to add one million women to the workforce by 2025, by utilizing the power of communities and networks. It will help to contribute $5 billion to the country's GDP. We have more than 100,000 members, mentors, and supporters across 60 countries.

To us, changemakers are not charismatic leaders, but they are ordinary women who inspire us every day. Gurleen and Palak are 19-year-old normal girls, who came forward to help our members in smaller towns. They dedicated their Sundays to teach other girls how to write better and speak better, and impart basic knowledge of digital skills. Today, the girls are dreaming of jobs in artificial intelligence and discussing blockchain over Zoom calls.

Priti and Sanjukta are young women who lost their husbands to COVID-19. They are resilient warriors who refused to succumb to their acute grief of loss. Priti started her own enterprise, teaches 40 students every month, and supports her young children and aged parents-in-law. Sanjukta did not allow herself to wallow in self-pity after her husband's death. She decided against wearing the mourning attire and instead applied for an MBA program to educate herself and take charge of her future.

They are all part of the communities we are building ñ women in colleges and schools, mid-career women looking for career inspiration, technology-focused communities with Amazon and Google, women returning to the workforce, and women who have lost their primary breadwinners to COVID-19.

I am not a changemaker. I am just an individual who felt that someone should do something about this pressing problem. We welcome you to join our journey - of changing the aspirations to actions of every woman in India.

Madhura Das Gupta is the founder and CEO of Aspire For Her, a startup working to motivate young women to join the workforce. Ms. Das Gupta has been a banker for the last 25 years, holding leadership positions in IDFC, Standard Chartered, and ANZ Grindlays Bank.

Breaking Barriers to Women's Leadership

Despite the proven benefits of gender diversity, the number of women in C-suite roles is significantly lower than men. Recent data from Korn Ferry indicates that women occupy only 25 percent of C-suite roles and a meager 6 percent of CEO roles. It takes a proactive approach, commitment, and conscious decisions to elevate women to leadership roles.

Data suggests that getting women into leadership roles will be rewarding for companies - from a healthier balance sheet to a more values-driven brand presence. Hence, it is essential that organizations fight the uphill battle and commit themselves to it.

Our industry and country are undergoing a huge transformation. Women adopt a participative style of leadership that makes them excellent transformational leaders. Transformational change often requires a culture and mindset change, and people are key to ensuring that the change is effective. Leadership in such cases must be situational, agile, and adaptive to current needs. It also demands a leader to provide an environment that is safe to fail early and course correct. Apart from having leadership characteristics of vision, clarity, authority, and direction, other necessary traits are treating people with respect, being authentic and vulnerable, and demonstrating humane aspects without a 'know it all' attitude. And 'we as women' have a 'feminine advantage' as we can exhibit these traits naturally. Women are more adept at being inclusive, and are interpersonally sensitive, and nurturing.

So, what can we do to break the barrier to women's leadership? At London Stock Exchange, we believe in building a culture that fosters belonging. We strongly believe in inclusion and a significant change can be brought in by making men allies in this journey. We showcase women leaders in the organization and accelerate the progression of under-represented talent. We empower them through coaching programs that help in retention and career growth.

Besides, organizations must eliminate old gender stereotypes, biases, and discrimination. Let us build a strong network to support one another and lead the change.

Niranjana Bari started as a technologist in startups 22 years back. She held various leadership roles in portfolio management, technology, and service delivery in the financial, wealth management, sustainable finance, and news business.

Take up Challenges to Combat Gender Bias

When I took up mechanical engineering, I got to hear comments like 'you might not get a job' in the core industry. It's been 21 years, and I have been working in the core industry, with some of the best automotive companies in India, like Tata Motors, Mahindra & Mahindra, John Deere, and Cummins.

Such misconceptions exist even today in people's minds. But women can remove such biases by taking up challenges and executing them successfully. A diverse and inclusive workforce is important for an organization. The benefits of gender diversity have been realized by all industries.

However, having gender equality at all levels at workplaces is still a dream for organizations across the world. While efforts to hire more women are visible at the entry-level, organizations need to sustain the efforts at higher levels too.

Only hiring is not sufficient, and inclusion and flexibility are important for sustaining diversity. I remember that working from home was not an option in our industry earlier, but the pandemic has taught us that it is possible to run a business remotely. Building such flexibility helps women build their careers.

For women professionals, it is important to upgrade their skills constantly to stay relevant to market workplace and to create value. They must take on new challenges. When I took up a shop floor assignment, I had to initially convince the management that I was capable of doing it. This created openness in people's minds, and helped in removing biases for future batches.

Most of my learnings have been on the job. I have learned by taking up challenges, keeping myself abreast of industry trends, learning technical aspects of projects from the team, picking up project management lessons through execution, and successful delivery of product launches.

Women need to continuously reskill to deal with challenges head-on rather than shying away from them, and organizations need to provide a flexible work environment and policies to encourage diversity and inclusion. Nevertheless, women must be ambitious and dedicated to their careers, while balancing work and personal life.

Neelam Pathak has over 20 years of experience in the automobile and power domain. She has taken up various roles in her career, including new product development, program management, strategic sourcing, manufacturing, and analytics.

The Art of Being a Changemaker

As we celebrate strong and independent women this Women's History Month with programs, talks, and events, we must not forget that a woman often faces more obstacles than a man on both personal and professional fronts.

While growing up in a small town, I had few opportunities to look up to women who overcame their inhibitions and changed their circumstances. But I admired my mother for learning how to speak, read, and write a new language so she could tutor her children.

I have been fortunate that in my 19 years in the profession, I have worked with leaders with progressive ideas. They showed me that changemaking is not reserved for a privileged few.

I would advise women to seize the opportunity they get and stand up for what they believe in. Ordinary women can be changemakers with a little self-awareness, thoughtfulness, and empathy. If you can inspire others to be the change you want to see happen, you must possess what it takes to be a changemaker.

Surveys have shown that outdated skills were a major deterrent for women when they tried to return to work.

Women constitute only 25 percent of the workforce in India. After working for about eight years, 50 percent of women move out of core engineering roles to start families and do not return to the workforce.

To address this issue, my organization, VMware, initiated the Taara program. The program aims to help women upgrade their technical knowledge and build confidence to get back into the workforce. The program offers certifications on the latest IT solutions. It has received nearly 17,000 registrations since going live in January 2019.

Being a part of Taara has given me purpose in life. The inspiring stories from Taara challenge us to dream beyond our current reality.

I would advise women to use their voice, believe in themselves, and have a growth mindset. It will help them enhance and develop their skills, and work toward achieving their aspirations and goals.

Seetha Lakshmi PR is a program/project management & corporate social responsibility professional. She has over 19 years of experience in many education and community programs and working with multiple functional teams.

We speak to two women in Region 11 who are at the driver's seat of their chapter.

Women Possess Inborn Characteristics of a Good Manager

Do women get equal opportunities in the project management industry?
It depends on the industry. Some industries, like the energy sector that I work in, are male dominant. I have created opportunities for myself by demonstrating business results.

What must an organization do to bring more women to leadership roles?
An organization must give recognition to an individual's work, regardless of the person's gender. I feel women have great management skills and possess innate leadership traits. I'd tell an organization to focus on how efficiently someone works and meets their goals today. Do not speculate on future constraints that a woman may face, such as family pressures later in life. If organizations go beyond such a paternalistic mindset, there is a good chance that there will be more woman leaders on board.

What is your advice to a woman project leader?
Be a go-getter. Stay vocal, visible, and show the results. Actions always speak louder than words.

Why should more women join PMI chapters and volunteer? What is your advice as a chapter leader?
Women have inborn traits of being a fantastic manager. We can create a great deal of impact on the community. With PMI's strong initiatives on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), the chapters are working hard to encourage more women to get involved and inspire one another. 'Be the change that you wish to see in the world' - This quote by Mahatma Gandhi always inspires me. So start the change with ourselves first. Be super confident and show it to the world.

Annesha Ahmed has more than 15 years of experience in business development strategy, project management, marketing, business research, and consultancy in the IT-enabled services and power generation industries.

Support Mid-Level Women Professionals to Take on Leadership Roles

Do women get equal opportunities in the project management industry?
While biases still remain in pockets, today women professionals do get equal opportunities in the project management industry. I am glad to say that the picture looks positive, though we still have a long way to go. With the pandemic, unfortunately, we have noticed that many women are leaving the workforce. The project management profession has also borne the brunt of it. Hence, we need to be extra vigilant and look for opportunities to bring those women back into the workforce over the next few years.

What must an organization do to bring more women to leadership roles?
Today, most organizations have a diversity and inclusion (D&I) agenda. Yet, the diversity index is skewed in men's favour when it comes to leadership roles. While we see a sizeable number of women joining the workforce at the entry-level, the gender diversity percentage goes southwards as we move up the leadership ranks.

Organizations need to focus on mentoring women at the mid-level and help them with policies and programs. It could be a part-time or flexi-time job, or support for child and elderly care. This will enable women to juggle their professional and personal commitments. There is definitely time in a woman's life when elderly parents or young kids need additional care. This is also the time when she needs to put more focus on career development. Clearly it is not an easy task. There is no doubt that support and motivation from family and friends go a long way for mid-level women professionals to move forward into leadership roles, while still doing their bit on personal commitments.

What is your advice to a woman project leader?
Be ambitious and do your best to translate your dream into reality. Do not try to be a super-woman. Seek help and support from your family and friends as needed. Grab every challenge that is thrown at you, however difficult, and turn that into an opportunity. Trust your mentors - one can never achieve excellence without the guidance of a mentor who traverses the career journey along with us. Lastly, keep yourself upskilled and relevant - there is no shortcut to success. Unless you can create an impact, your voice will not be heard.

Why should more women join PMI chapters and volunteer? What is your advice as a chapter leader?
I strongly believe that while keeping yourself relevant through self-development and experience is essential, the journey of career growth cannot be traversed alone. Effective networking with a larger professional community helps immensely in this matter. PMI helps us not only in getting connected to a wider project management community, but it also enriches us with knowledge, helps us understand the nuances of the project management profession across industries, and facilities us to build our own eminence beyond our organizations. As we move into leadership roles, PMI also provides a wonderful platform for us to give back to the profession and create impact through social projects and other PM advocacy programs.

Saon Sen Nandi is a passionate project management professional, and has led and delivered multiple large transformation and complex system integration projects for her clients across various geographies.