Wednesday, November 8, 2017

You And I Are Responsible For NCR's Pollution

8 Nov 2017: Rachna Singh Ganguli
drives to office in Noida;
coping with palpitations and panic
Yes! We are!! You and I. We are responsible for the death chamber that we now live in. 

Over the last couple of days, all of social media seems to be filled with pictures of the pollution smog that is suffocating the city, the PM levels, what to do to protect ourselves, and statements that hold the government wholly and solely responsible for shaving years off our lives. 

Two years ago I wrote a post with what I thought were Simple Suggestions to Reduce Delhi's Pollution. I sent it to agencies that I thought could do something. Something that would prevent pollution. Some of the suggestions have been implemented (in part), and some haven't. 

But is the government the only entity responsible for the death-grip we are in today? 

8 Nov 2017: Meenu Iyer photographs
the haze over Surajkund Road &
Aravali stretch
I say "No"! You and I are. 

And I hear your indignation when you ask me, "Why?". Here's why.......
  1. If you burst crackers for Deepawali or Chaat Puja or a wedding or India's various sports wins, you are a part of the problem
  2. If you drive a diesel car, you are a part of the problem
  3. If you have not 'pollution checked' your vehicle, you are a part of the problem
  4. If you have done any construction in Oct or Nov, you are a part of the problem
  5. If you drive to a place you can easily walk to, you are a part of the problem
  6. If you don't use public transport whenever you can, you are a part of the problem
  7. If you insist on sending your children to school in a car when they can use a school bus, you are a part of the problem
  8. If you have cut down a tree, or covered up greenery, you are a part of the problem
  9. If you have not greened your home, you are a part of the problem
  10. If you have burned trash or leaves, you are a part of the problem
  11. If you have kept quiet as you watched leaves / crops / rubbish being burnt, you are a part of the problem
  12. If you are not conserving electricity, you are a part of the problem
  13. If you have not started car pooling, you are a part of the problem
  14. If you have not advocated for work-from-home options, or shuttle services or anything that will reduce pollution, you are a part of the problem
  15. If you have not lobbied with your government representative to do something to restrict & reduce pollution, you are a part of the problem
I have been guilty of may of these these myself and I have decided that I will do at least one thing to help make a positive impact. Throughout the year. Consistently. Thoughtfully. 

Here are some actions you and I can take, in addition to not doing the 15 things listed above, that I believe can help.

  1. Don't wash your car, use the same water to wash the dust off the leaves of trees near your home.
  2. Grow plants. Any plants. Green your balcony, your driveway, your terrace. Anything really.
  3. Reduce, reuse, recycle. Everything. 
  4. Reduce electricity consumption specifically.
  5. Do not burn crackers ever. Not for Christmas. Not for New Year's. Never.
  6. If you head a business, ask everyone who can, to work-from-home for a few days. Then work on making this a large scale initiative.

Tell me what you plan to do specifically to reduce pollution. 

You and I have to be a part of the solution. 

For if we stay a part of the problem, we are killing each other.

And committing suicide.

So stop cribbing and do something!

Friday, February 10, 2017

She Blew My Mind!!

Met a woman today who blew my mind. As is my wont, I chat with cab and auto-rickshaw drivers, servers in restaurants, household help, vegetable and fruit wallahs, et al. It gives me a more holistic view of people and their lives. And it teaches me heaps.

Today, I met and chatted with Sarita Dixit who drives a Meru cab. I was frustrated with not being able to find a single OLA or Uber to get me to a important meeting, so I called Meru. I expected a male driver to call me (talk about stereotyping!) and I was lucky to get Sarita. As she drove me to Gurgaon, in unbelievably heavy traffic, we chatted. I asked decidedly invasive personal questions and she answered me with great honesty and dignity.  Here is her story (almost in her own words, converted from Hindi as best as I can).

Sarita was married at the age of 16. A school girl who knew nothing of life, having really not lived life to have enjoyed it. She was married for 4 years to a man who beat her at will. She accepted that being beaten was something that just happened. If a woman hit anyone, she was called shameless. But when a man hit a woman there was no shame, so it was OK.

In 2012, when she was 20, her husband died in an accident. Her in-laws threw her out of the house, saying that they had no use for her or her 4 month old child. She went to live with her parents, and learned to drive. At first she did private contract driving for JNU professors and then for some NGOs.  Then in 2014, she was a part of the first batch of women trained to be drivers by Meru. 

She tells me that she works hard. She is at the end of a 24 hour shift (worrying, no?) She wants to earn enough to support her parents, and ensure her son has a good education. Hard work does not bother her at all. 

I decide to take Sarita for coffee and a sandwich at Barista (I've had to cancel my meeting in Gurgaon due to traffic jams, and she hasn't eaten for hours). We continue to chat.

We chat about her safety as a woman driver specially in early morning and late night trips. She says she is prepared. She has learned self defense, and has a panic button in her car. She works for Meru as Meru has verified passengers. Also that the police are very supportive of women cab drivers. 

The biggest detractors to her career has been relatives & neighbors and male commercial drivers. Relatives and neighbors tut-tut at her wearing trousers and working outside the house and at all odd hours. They want her to get married again. She does not want to be dependent on a man. Male commercial drivers resent a woman taking their job. Her take - its not their job. They are not as good at it as she is - so - it is her job. Let them beat her if they can!

What does she need? Sarita wants more public restrooms (she is recovering from a kidney infection caused by holding her urine for hours). She wants help to understand and utilize government schemes for the poor. 

She leaves me her number and asks me to call her if ever I need a cab.

And she blows my mind away!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Simple Insights & A Story On Gender Diversity

Diversity Dialogs' Logo
I continue to chat with my father on gender and gender diversity.

A little more background on my father, Anna. He was born into a family that was not well off, with 10 children (7 of them girls). His mother was a strong woman. As were many of his sisters. He saw and lived thru' the struggles of his mother and his sisters (and there were many). I think his perspective on equal rights for women came from some of those experiences.

Anna insisted that we all study what we want and for however long we want. That we ask questions. That we experience the different. And that we work and became financially independent. Tho' Amma, my mother did not work, Anna and Amma would always say to us, "Do whatever you want. Just ensure you earn enough to support yourself."

Here are some more snippets of our dialogs.

Snippet 4 - The right to worship

Anna and I watch the news of women entering Haji Ali after 5 years.

Anna: What is happening?

Me: Anna for many years, women have been fighting legal battles and protesting to get equal access to places of worship. Like to Sabarimala, Haji Ali, Shani Shingnapur.

Anna: Why?

Me: Anna, women believe that they have as much right to worship their Gods as men do. And that religious institutions can not restrict them based on gender.

Anna: But every religion has the right to manage its religious affairs.  How did this change? Was it the court?

Me: Anna, I understand that the Dargah Trustees listened to the Supreme Court and made provisions to enable women and men to worship at Haji Ali.

Anna: It is a good start. I hope that other religions and shrines learn from this and make worship equal for all.

Snippet 5 - The Treatment of Widows

A child widow. From the movie "Water"
Anna: Only in Hinduism do we uglify our widows.

I am sure there is no such word as "uglify" in the English language, but I let it pass. I am sure that the conversation will be more interesting than correct English.

Me: Anna, why do you think that widows are treated so badly?

Anna: It was a way to subdue widows. Their heads were shaved. They were made to wear drab white. They were starved. Kept hidden away from people. All this was to make sure that no one would find her attractive and marry her. It was a way to keep wealth and property in the family.

Long Pause.

Anna: How could we forget that she was a daughter and sister first, and then a wife and mother. Treating your daughter, sister, or mother so badly is against humanity.

Long Pause.

Anna: Relationships are more important that state of a person.

Snippet 6 - One Child Can Make A Change 

My maternal grandfather, PR Krishnarao
Me: Anna, you remember the story about Daddy and his mother?

Daddy was what we called our maternal grandfather.

Anna nods his head. I get the feeling that recalling the story is too much of a strain for him.  So I retell him the story.

Anna, remember Daddy lost his father when he was very young. He was brought up by his widowed mother in his uncle's house. Daddy was sent to a nearby school to study.

When he was 8 or so, he had his first "exam". Being a studious boy, Daddy studied hard for his first examination test.

On the day of the exam, as he was leaving the house, Daddy looked everywhere for his mother. He wanted to see her face and get her blessings, but she was nowhere to be found. Finally, he heard her sobbing behind a locked door. When he asked her to come out so that he could see her face before he went for his exam, Daddy was told by his uncle that he could not see his mother. After all Daddy's first real exam was an auspicious occasion and it could not be cursed by even the shadow of a widow. His mother was considered the widow who had brought bad luck to the family and hence she would bring Daddy bad luck.

However, that 8 year old boy did not listen to the "curse of the widow". Stubbornly he told his uncle that he would not go to school for his exam if he could not see his mother's face and get her blessings. Threats were made, doomsday tales of perpetual ill luck were told but Daddy would not be swayed. He sat outside the locked door and would not budge. Till finally his uncle relented and opened the door. Daddy saw his widowed mother's face, asked for her blessings, and ran all the way to school, reaching just in time for the test. And he did extremely well.

As the story goes, after that day, no one in the house could ever claim that his widowed mother was the harbinger of bad luck.

Anna is slowly nodding his head as I recount this story and smiling a little. He has probably heard this story a thousand times.

Anna: See, even an 8 year old child can cause change. That is what we need. One child, one change, one family at time.

.... Watch this space for more snippets as our dialoging continues

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Simple Insights Into Gender Equality

Diversity Dialogs' Logo
My father is 88 years old, and suffers from Parkinson's Disease and Dementia. Both diseases have severly hampered his quality of life. Ever since my father's hospital stay in Jul-Aug this year, he has been slowing down. It is visible. And palpable. Our conversations are short and simple. And, of course, repetitive.

The last month has also been the time when our new venture, Diversity Dialogs has taken shape. I have been chatting with Anna on many aspects of the business. From the mundane to the intellectual. These conversations have been spread over many days and many hours. I find his perspectives revealing - not just on the issue of gender diversity, but also on what he sees as simple actions to include more women.

Here are some snippets of our dialogs.

Snippet 1 - All Humans Are One

Artist: Vivian Zapata, 2005. Commissioned by the
Ford Foundation project
Documenting the Differences Diversity Makes

Me: Anna, Rosita and I are founding a company called Diversity Dialogs.

Anna: Sangeeta, what is diversity?

That is tough one to answer simply.

Me:  It is the quality or state of having many different forms, types, ideas. It can happen when we classify and segregate a natural group into more than one category.

He looks at me strangely.

Me: Anna, for example when we use different ways to classify people, we create diverse sub-groups. Diversity is recognizing that there are differences. But they are part of a whole. And it is the "the whole" that works.

I continue to get a strange look. So I decide to use examples.

Me: Anna, people are really one group. When we classify people by religion or gender or caste, we have diverse groups of people. Essentially one group split into more than one.

Anna: But they are still one group. They are of the same parent.

"Yes", I think. If we could all just think of people as just people and not as categories of people.

Snippet 2 - All It Takes, Is One Good Man

Me: Anna, we are starting with helping companies improve Gender Diversity. Pause. How to ensure more women join and stay in the workforce. Help them to grow and lead organizations.

Anna: That's not the first thing to start with.

Me: Why Anna? Should we start with something else?

Anna: It starts with educating all girls.

Me (understanding what "start" means for him): Yes Anna. But not all young girls are sent to school.

Anna: But they should be. All it takes is one good man in each village.

Me (jumping at the word "man"): Why one good man? Why not one good woman?

Anna: OK. All it takes is one good woman in each village. Then every girl will go to school. Pause. But men are the dominant group. Pause. They have to take the lead. Just one good man per village will do it.

Snippet 3 - Marriages Are Based On Sharing 

Anna: I did my part at home.

Me: Really Anna? Amma did most of the work.

Anna: I always washed my clothes.

Me: Yes Anna. Why did you wash your clothes when we had a washing machine or a washer woman?

Anna: I wash clothes the best!

Me (smiling broadly): And you have a Phd. in how to use blue to make your white clothes really white!

He smiles and sits for some time thinking.

Anna: When we got married, your mother and I had to learn to do a lot of things. I continued to wash my clothes to give her more time.

Me: So why were you always the one to make coffee in the morning? And boil the milk?

Anna: I love my coffee in the morning. Why should Amma wake up early in the morning to make me coffee. I could make it by myself. And your Amma could sleep a little more.

Me: Is that why you always did the grocery, vegetable & fruit shopping?

Anna (smiling broadly): Yes. And cooked when Amma went to your grandmother's on holiday.

Oh yes, I remember those days. Anna would cook, using us as his "fetch" and "cleanup" slaves! Till we learnt to cook. It was far less work!!

Anna: Amma had so much work to do with you four children. I shared in the housework as much as I could. I wish I had done more to make her happy.

.... More snippets as our dialoging continues

Monday, September 26, 2016

18 Actions To Achieve Personal-Professional Life Balance


I believe that there are a number of simple actions that I have taken to balance the time and effort I spend on work and at home.
First, I am going to call it Personal-Professional life balance and not work-life balance as it is normally called.
  1. The semantics. "Work-Life Balance" implies that work is not life and life is not work. The term creates a conflict where there should be none. For me, work is life & life is work. What I want is to be able to balance my personal and professional lives.
  2. At any given point of time, both cannot be in balance. Sometimes my personal life will need to take center stage - all my mind share, time, effort, focus, money; and sometimes my professional life will take center stage. That's just the way it is. I just Accept it and get on with it!

So How Do I Balance My Personal & Professional Lives?

Mumbai Dubbawallas
Photo: The Hindu

Ensure quality work is delivered on time, every time
It builds credibility. Credibility I learnt, is far more important than the time I get to work or leave work. People at work and home have come to depend on my delivering on promises. Delivering quality can happen anywhere - at work, sitting on the floor outside an ICCU, at a vacation hotspot. For a couple of years our team delivered and billed 15 days in advance so that our entire business unit could close down over Christmas and New Year! We loved it!!
Communicate Availability
I let people know in advance if I am not going to be available - whether it is 3 days attending a Strategy Meeting or half-a-day for a doctor's visit. This helps us all plan for completion and/or approvals well in advance of my "unavailable" time. My teams also know that I do not want to be disturbed during this time and that they will get delayed responses. If we are in the middle of a super critical project, I plan a check-in time and number.
Communicate Response Times
I let people know when they can expect a response from me. And I stick to maintaining these response times! From letting my household staff know exactly when they will get the advance pay they asked for, to a 24-hour response time on emails. Communicating expected response time cuts down on useless reminder calls / emails and prevents people from calling me to check whether I have received and read an email or report and what my response is.
My Outlook calendar can look like this
on any given Monday!
Put everything on one calendar
Calendars are great tools. They help us plan and schedule work in offices. I use my calendar to schedule personal work too - from dinner with friends to payment due dates of bills to shopping expeditions and vacations. Not only does it let me see all that I have committed to do, but also helps me allocate time judiciously. I share my calendar with my teams so that they are aware of time that I have blocked off, and they respect and appreciate it.
Plan and communicate me-time
Both at work or at home, I plan and announce to people that I am spending time on thinking, or research, or whatever it is that I need time for. I plan for time to read, or write or catch up on sleep. And everyone is told that this is my time and not to disturb me. I have an unwritten rule, that gives me 30 mins alone time after I get home from work. I use this time to take a shower or read or watch TV. At office I block-off several hours a week to read or do research.
Phone covers are very useful  
Avoid your phone
I often work with my phone on silent or face down / cover shut, so that I am not disturbed by calls or flashing alerts. I have a different ringtone for calls from immediate family - set to ring even when on silent. At off-times, my teams (including supervisors) know that they can call me in a certain window iff "the building is burning down". I avoid looking at my phone when out meeting friends or shopping or watching a movie. I don't answer every call I get if I am already engaged with someone or something.
Return calls / messages when convenient to you
As I don't pick up my phone every time it rings, or read messages immediately when I am focusing on work (personal or professional), I make a point of reading / responding to calls that I have missed 2-3 times in a day. People know this and respect it.
Be connected without being a slave to work or home
Technology must work for me vs take over my life. I get the technology I need to connect "at will". I use technology to listen to music whilst I work or clear emails when a flight is delayed. I have ordered dinner for guests scheduled to arrive at home at the same time as me - I was just coming from another city! I shut down my computer when at home. And every time I reach for it, I ask myself, "Do I really need to boot up my machine?". The answer is often, "No."
Avoid working on weekends and off-time / bringing work home
I define work-free times (evenings, mornings, weekends). At these times, even if I am on my laptop or using my phone, and I can see that there are many unread messages on my official email or WhatsApp groups, I do not open them. It takes a lot of will power! When I want to work at home, I ask the question "Does this really need to be done now?" It’s the same question I ask if I want to do personal work at the office.
Avoid hanging around the office
I don't hang around the office just because my boss is there or for a phone call from an overseas customer. I leave when I have finished work. I take late night & early morning calls from home. Customers have happily conferenced me into calls when I have told then how late or early it will be with the time difference. If I am hanging around the office after finishing for the day, it is to connect with friends and chat.
Say "No"
I cannot do everything. I have to say "No" both at work and at home. I have said "No" to new projects or to entertaining relatives on weekdays. It's better to say "No" than to find that I am unable to deliver. Why keep the door ajar for guilt to waltz in and stay for free?
Prepare the night before or the weekend before
If I have a very hectic week ahead, I do take a few hours off from my personal time to prepare for a mad week or clear my emails so that I have no pending work to nag me. It is well worth it. It helps me sleep well on Sunday night. The same works for the day / night before a big presentation.
Stick to a sleep, exercise, eat routine

I have been asked if I can take a call at 5:30am in the morning (from someone on the West Coast, USA) and I have said "No. I will be out for a walk then. Can we make it an hour later?". I have said no to calls that clash with the time I spend with my father, or dinner time at home. I find that if we give people alternate times to call / meet so that we can stick to our routine, they understand and are willing to be flexible. We've just gotta ask!
Respect others' personal time
If I want people to respect my time - personal or professional time, then I need to respect their time. I avoid calling colleagues, about work, on a weekend or holiday. I also learnt the hard way, not to send emails on a weekend or holiday. I once noticed that my program managers were responding to my emails on weekends. When I asked them why, they told me that I sent emails on weekends and hence they thought they were expected to respond. I was horrified that they logged in on Sunday mornings just to respond to my emails! I soon learnt to keep emails in my outbox or drafts folder, so that they could be sent out on a Monday morning.
Understand the company's policy on flex-work / work-from-home / telecommuting
Many companies have policies that allow for work flexibility. It’s worth spending time reading and understanding these policies & their applicability. Telecommuting even a day a week can add hours to the time you have to spend on personal work. Just remember, the better a performer you are, the better the chances that you will be able to avail of these policies.
Stop wanting perfection
Super-woman / superman are fictional characters. We are bombarded with ads and messages on being "Super" whatever-the-gender! And that makes us believe that we all need to be "Super". It is impossible to do everything right all the time. I have missed movies and concerts and networking events. I have pushed guilt away when I miss these. And that's OK!
Co-opt / commandeer help
I don't believe that I have to do it all. And I am not going to be a martyr to the cause of the do-it-all super-woman. So I try to co-opt people to help - spouse, parent, paid help - basically whoever it takes to be able to give me more time for myself. I also believe that co-opting children to do chores is a great idea. My mom rostered our chores - cooking, washing clothes, laying and clearing the table, cleaning bathrooms, dusting, sweeping and swabbing, et al. She has even paid us to iron our own clothes. I think I am a better person because of it!
Nurture a hobby
It does not matter what it is. It just has to be something you are passionate about. I have even had on-and-off hobbies (stitching and baking) and consistent hobbies (reading) over the years. A hobby for me is something that I do for myself and not others. Something that makes me forget the passage of time. I am now planning to sort thru the boxes and boxes of stamps I have - another possible hobby? :-) Whatever the hobby is, I believe that my time and effort spent on it is as important as anything else in my life.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Ladies, Stop Looking Only For Women Mentors, Coaches, and Role Models

March 2013: Women of the Border Security Force
Lead the Beating Retreat Ceremony at the Wagah Border
At the recent SHEROES Summit, time and again speakers were asked:

1. Why are there limited women role models?
2. How do we find more women mentors and coaches?

SHEROES does tremendous work enabling women to define and find the careers they want within the cultural and social constraints and biases that are common in India and yet there were questions on how to find women mentors, coaches and role models. These questions got me thinking.

As a woman who has worked ~30 years in male dominated industries, companies, and teams, I have rarely sought out a female mentor or coach. My role models have been successful people. People. Not just women. People who have skills, value systems and behaviours that I admire, and want to learn from.

This could possibly be because 30 or 20 or even 10 years ago there were even fewer women in senior roles in the companies I worked for or networked with than there are today. So I am even more surprised that in this day and age, where there are so many more women in the workforce, women are still looking for gender specific mentors, coaches and role models.

Why are women seeking other women to be their mentors & coaches?

Gel Pen Coloring by Mercy Valson
1.  I believe women-only programs, tho' well intentioned, have built a belief that only women can and will help other women grow personally and professionally. The question to ask is whether you believe that as a woman you can grow without the men who can form upto 95% of the workforce in many companies and industries.

2.  Women tend to think that only other women can understand them. Not true. This is like saying that only a parent can understand another parent. Any rational adult can understand and empathise with another adult.  Gender is not the determining criteria.

3.  A successful woman can tell another woman how to get there. First, no one can tell you how to achieve what you want. They can help you find the way by asking you the right questions. You have to do the analysis and introspection, define your goals and time frame, acquire the skills needed, etc. All this has nothing to do with gender.

4.  A woman can aspire to be only as good as another woman.  Really??? If that was true, we would never have had a woman astronaut or Prime Minister or pilot or a hundred other careers that were male-only bastions. Women who are passionate about what they do and want to achieve their dreams, don't care about whether there are other women in that space, they just go out and create space for themselves.

Why looking for women mentors only may slow your growth?

1. Often there are too few women in management to be able to mentor women across all levels in an organization. A mentoring relationship is a long term relationship and needs investment of time and energy. It is also a two way relationship. If you are a woman looking for mentoring from a senior woman leader, then remember she can't mentor 10 - 20 people. At best she can effectively mentor 2-4 people at a time. Are you one of the 2 people who she can and should mentor?

2. If you are working in a male dominated industry, would it not be better to have a male coach or mentor? Someone who can help you navigate the system, a system that he is familiar with, whose language and nuances he has worked with and through? Wouldn't it be great to have a male advocate in a male dominated company? I have found many male colleagues who are great developers, nurturers, supporters, and promoters of woman. We need to identify and reach out to them.

3. A role model is a role model. They are achievers. They have value systems and behaviours that are admirable. They have lived real lives and have real stories to share. Finding the right role model to emulate is far more important than the gender of the role model. Looking for gender first limits your choices of role models and hence your growth.

4. Looking for only a woman mentor or coach may just be re-enforcing your subconscious belief that your gender is more important and dominant (or restrictive) that your knowledge, skills, behaviours and attitude. Question why you are looking for a woman as a mentor or coach or role model. If it is because you feel comfortable talking with women, it may be time to break out of your comfort zone. If breaking out of your comfort zone is difficult, then actively find a woman mentor or coach to help you - there are many good women out there.

There are times when a women mentor or a women only forum is just what you need. A place to voice your aspirations, challenges, and struggles with other women. A zone where there is the comfort of privacy or people just get it without too many explanations. Just as you need this space, so do other women. Find these forums and actively work in them, mentoring other women. Sometimes paying-it-forward is the best way to find the right mentor for yourself.

So, don't wait for your company to start a women's network, or a mentoring / coaching program.  I believe women would benefit from spending some time, ideally facilitated by a professional, charting their goals, understanding their competencies and what they need to develop to grow, finding the best mentor or coach, learning how to approach them, and committing to working with mentors and coaches.

Just as all professionals invest in acquiring qualifications & certifications
I am asking women to invest in personal coaching or mentoring
Within and outside their organizations
By a coach or mentor, whatever their gender

Friday, June 17, 2016

Life Lessons I Imbibed From My Father

I am my father's primary caregiver. He has Parkinson's Disease and the tables have turned on the traditional father-child relationship.

My father pleased with himself after eating 
one of his favourite sweet dishes
In honour of father's day when I was asked to write about the lessons learnt from my father, my mind drew a blank.

My father, Anna, did not teach me in the traditional sense - with chalk & board or paper & pencil.  He encouraged my questions.  He gave me experiences. He played games, read comic books, acted goofy. He asked me brain twisters and debated with me. He shared stories. He cracked jokes. He spent time with me. As he did with all my siblings.

And thru' all of these shared experiences, I imbibed learnings.

Amma and Anna in the late 1960s / early 70s
I learnt about doing what right for the larger group, whatever the cost. Like when Anna decided to give up a well paid UN job to come home to India, to ensure that his kids grew up with Indian values (whatever that means!). We often would ask Anna why he did not complete the mandatory time needed to earn a full UN pension (the money would have definitely made a difference to our quality of life). He would respond with, "We wanted you to grow up in India.  With your uncles, aunts, cousins nearby. Where you could imbibe our culture. Where we could keep you away from bad influences for a longer period of time."

I learnt that respecting a person's decision is important. Like when I decided to change schools when I was 15 years old.  I was tired of studying in a girls-only convent school.  It felt as if I was bound in restraints. So I researched the schools in the area and decided to join DPS, RK Puram.  I filled and submitted all the documents needed. Then came the time to pay the fees, and I had no money.  I went to Anna and asked him for the money. Anna just asked me questions to see if my decision-making was logical, and then said, "Don't you think I have the right to check out the school my daughter wants to go to?" I said yes. He visited the school. The fees were paid.

I learnt to listen, understand, and extrapolate. Like when deciding what subjects to study in high school. Anna, had me meet with various professionals - doctors, engineers, bureaucrats, chartered accountants, etc. to understand what a career in their field meant, how their qualifications helped them, what would studying a different subject area done / not done for them in their careers. I listened to them and still did not know what job I wanted to pursue.  So, I chose to study Commerce and Economics, for they seemed to be the subjects that had the most options for further study or work.

I learnt to laugh and make others laugh.  Like Anna and his friends. At a gathering, Anna was always surrounded by laughing people.  He would have an appropriate joke or repartee for any occasion. He never forgot a joke in the middle of telling it.  Once when I asked him how he did it.  He said, "Read as many jokes as you can. Remember funny incidents and turns-of-phrase. When a conversation triggers a memory of one of these, tell it so that it makes you laugh. The others will join in if your laugh is genuine."

I learnt about work ethic. Like when Anna would be one of the few government servants to reach office by 9 am everyday, or work on weekends to complete comments on a file on time, or go to work even when the city was shut down after Indira Gandhi's assassination, delivering on promises and commitments.  His take was - work is worship. If you want to work, then work has to be done, and done well.  Otherwise it is not work and you are fooling around.

Photo from
I learnt the importance of living within my means, financially.  Like when he refused to send me on a school trip. Because there just wasn't enough money. For days, my eyes were swollen from crying, but he wouldn't budge.  Finally, Anna asked me to write down all household expenditures for the month, and promised that, if at the end of the month I believed there was money to spare for a school trip, I could go.  I wrote accounts diligently. At the end of the month there was no money left. I did not go on that school trip.  I still write accounts. I still live within my means.

I learnt to be childlike at any age.  Like driving on "bumpy" road. This was a road that had lots of small undulations so that when we drove on it, it felt like we were jumping on a mattress on our bums.  It gave our Volkswagen's shock absorbers a run for its money, but Anna took us over that road as often as he could. Anna loved bumpy road too.  It was shared enjoyment. We laughed with glee.  Poor Amma said it made her feel sick, but bore it 'cause the five of us liked it.

I learnt about dignity of labour. Like when Anna made us wash and clean the car on weekends.  Not because we could not afford to employ someone to clean the car, but because, "If you are going to enjoy the benefits of having a car, you have to know how to maintain it." Our neighbours were shocked that the Murthi's had their daughters' doing grunge work. Amma and Anna didn't care and neither did we.

I learnt to be spontaneous. Like going to the movies.  We'd be eating dinner at 8pm when Anna would ask for the name of the movie running at Chankaya. If we wanted to see it, the six of us would finish eating, clearing the table, changing clothes, closing windows and doors, locking the flat, tumbling into the car, and driving to reach the movie theatre by 8:50pm to buy tickets and be seated in time for the 9 pm show.  We never missed an ad or a trailer.
Still so many places to visit!!
I learnt to love travel and new experiences. Like when we would visit more than one place on a holiday - city or attractions.  It was never, "We are going to India." It was, "We are going to India. On our way back we are stopping in Greece and Italy." We visited parks and plazas, churches and temples, palaces and museums, restaurants and zoos, beaches and factories. I believe that my parents had wings under their feet, for they were always ready for a trip. As I am now.

I learnt about treating people with dignity. Always. Like when Anna told Amma not to yell at me in front of my friend, after I had been missing for hours.  From school I had gone to my friend's place, and from there to a temple on the outskirts of the city. I had missed the scheduled return-to-home time by hours. They had been worried sick and out looking for me till past dinner time. Anna first dropped my friend home. Then told me to think about my behaviour and tell Amma and him what I had done that had upset them.  I am a stickler for time now.

Tho' I am writing this about what I learnt from my father, in honour of Father's Day, I do think that it would be remiss if I did not mention my mother at all.  I learnt some of these things from her too. And some others that were unique to her and from her.

I learnt from them without knowing that I was learning. And I think that is the best part.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

7 Key Components Of A Successful Gender Diversity Program

Are gender diversity programs in corporate India only about the ratio of female to male employees? Or about assertiveness training and power dressing? Are these programs delivering only flexi work policies and childcare crèches in offices?  While these are all key issues that need to be addressed by gender diversity programs, there has to be more. Much more!  

I believe that an integrated program to encourage and celebrate diversity needs to be inclusive. The program needs to address how women think of their careers. It needs to bring to fore unconscious biases that exist in the way we think and behave whether we are men or women.  It needs to help us appreciate and leverage the gender differences in our world-space (not just the workplace). 

Here is my list of Must Have's in any Gender Diversity Program

Courtesy SHEROES
It's Gotta Start from the Top. Organizations can spend as much money as they want on Diversity Programs, but if they don't OWN it, at leadership levels, then it means nothing. If employees in the organization don't see women in top leadership roles, women who are respected across industries and countries as professionals, women who have got those roles because of their calibre vs. their gender, then any diversity program will be seen as hollow. Also, women in leadership roles will ask the right questions and challenge the program to be better. 

Have Sponsors / Champions with an Emotional Connect. Sponsers / Champions don't have to be women.  They have to be individuals who have a strong connect and deep understanding of women's issues. If you can't find someone like that, then look for people who have struggled with and overcome discrimination or have strong authentic stories of overcoming odds. 

Believe Gender Diversity is good for Business. Gender Diversity Programs are NOT an HR initiative. If gender diversity is critical for business, then should not the program be managed by a business manager just as marketing programs are? Gender diversity programs, tho' mostly managed by HR, are successful if they can articulate the impact of diversity on key business metrics.  For a gender diversity program to be effective it must have diversity measures (that go beyond ratios) for managers. And these measures must directly impact managers' compensation, career growth, and opportunities.

Courtesy SHEROES
Rebel Against Stereotypes. A real diversity program is NOT about women wearing pink on Women's Day! Women (and men) are multi-faceted - they want careers, play games, listen to music, eat at nice places, smoke cigars, drink wine, love adventure sports, like road trips, play guitars, read books, etc. See how best you can add value to all those facets. I find it frustrating that on the occasion of International Women's Day, companies continue to target women as if their only interest is in spas and salons, shoes and bags, clothes and jewellery, or how to look slimmer and younger (for thier husbands, boyfriends, or in preparation of marriage!) 

Formal Coaching /Mentoring Program. Coaching / mentoring as a part of gender diversity programs need to be formalised. Both the coach and the protégé need to understand what is expected of them and by them. These programs must include members of the dominant group (men) as coaches and mentors. Coaching and mentoring helps women articulate and craft careers that best suit them. It helps them navigate corporate lanes to move onto the fast track.

Women Have To Believe That Careers Are For The Long Term. In India, often women (and their families) see careers as something that women do before marriage, or at worst, till they have a baby. I have often heard women say "I am lucky. My husband / in-laws allow me to work." This tells me two things - that the women themselves see a career as a SOP or that their career is of lesser value than other things. Diversity programs need to help women recognise why they want careers and how they can commit to careers as if it were a marriage - be in it till death do us part. They may even need to involve family members actively. 

Must be Inclusive! And above all, any successful Gender Diversity Program must be inclusive. Accept that most workplaces are dominated by men, and that they are as involved and invested in enabling and empowering women to grow, as women are. Men have to be an integral part of any Gender Diversity Program - in training, in mentoring and coaching, in ensuring that policies start moving from being not just women friendly but employee friendly. For example, inviting and encouraging men to attend women's networking sessions helps women network with the people who can be their sponsors.

Part of a series called "The Diversity Dialogues" I am writing.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Walk with me

Walk with me, over distances unmeasurable in steps
Walk with me, where time is of substance
Walk with me, my friend.

Walk with me, in the gentle meandering ways of souls
Walk with me, in anger and in pain
Walk with me, in feelings unfettered
Just walk with me.  

Walk with me, in ether traveled words
Walk with me, in the secrets of our thoughts
Walk with me, my friend.

Walk with me, in the brave memories of silliness
Walk with me, in the loud laughter of our guts
Walk with me, in the tears of our hearts
Just walk with me.

Walk with me
When, where, and how you want to.

Walk with me, for here I always am.

Walk with me.

Just walk, dear friend

With me.

Pictures from the series Stone Footprints by Scottish photographer Iain Blake.