Building SHEROES – Learnings About Women @ Work

Sairee Chahal

SHEROES today is perhaps the largest professional community of women anywhere in the world. It is an eco-system of growth, support, opportunities and resources that over a million women from across India access to scale their own ambition. Bringing it here has meant a tonne of learning, experiments and breaking some norms. Here are some observations from having undertaken this journey!

MARKET SIZING IT: When we talk in the context of women as consumers of FMCG products and services, the market stacks differently. When you slice it by growth, aspiration and potential of an individual, the pie gets more complex. There is elite – think women in CXO roles, board room potential and more, there are the vast grassroots – artisans, SHG’s, rural workers, labourers, farmers, small shop owners etc and then there is the middle class – separated by education and a need for upward mobility. Within that, one can slice it by urban rich, upper middle class and middle and urban poor clamouring for an entry. Then there are women from privileged sections of society with lots of access to education, networks and opportunities, the first generation women in workforce and women in small town India for whom articulating their aspiration is an achievement as well. There are SOHO owners, SMB entrepreneurs, non-registered businesses and the corporate class. Building for such a fragmented set means going deeper into each of these personas. A lot of products and services for women go homogenous or simplistic in their approach.

CONVERSATION HAS GROWN: There is a lot of effort being deployed in initiatives, women’s entrepreneurship, diversity initiatives, policies and most of all conversations – women’s conferences is an industry now. However, outcomes are pending and so is accountability. From pure lip service to non-scalable solutions to over repeating of cliches (it is time to ban the term women empowerment!) – we hear a lot and a significant of action is also being taken. But the needs of the market and pace of efforts are misaligned.

INDIA IS DIFFERENT: I am often invited on panels talking about Gender Pay Gap and having run world’s largest career community for women, I can assure you what women are looking for in India is getting paid in the first place. Work from home or remote work is a considerable ask and anyone who has tried their hand at it – knows getting paid is a boon, only granted to few lucky ones. Not to undermine the veracity of gender pay gap as a serious issue but if India wants to move its women @ work needle, then it needs to align itself with the growing needs of its mass market.

REAL LIVES OF WOMEN: For the longest time, work and growth, careers and aspirations played out as linear zones, with little scope to integrate rest of your lives into it. All trends at SHEROES point to us otherwise – Women bring all of themselves to work and work allows more integration into lives now – thanks to technology, global collaborative organisations, shorter and unpredictable business life cycles and of course the growth of on-demand everything, including the workforce. Women stand to the biggest beneficiary of the #FutureOfWork as we scale tech and allow of organic diversity.

SYSTEMIC TACIT HIERARCHY (STH): We know of mansplaining and biases but there is a tacit systemic hierarchy which dictates and settles what women are going to get at the end of the day – in funding, in salary hikes, in the quality of jobs and access to resources, opportunities etc. STH surfaces in form of companies trying to less than minimum wages to qualified remote workforce, managers trying to hold back projects from moms, startup conferences allocating one measly women’s panel to get done with it, when only 3 women are found in that industry conference at 9 pm – because some of us run home to kids and rest have long commutes. This list is endless and closely tied to patriarchy.

FIXING THE WOMEN: A lot of women at work effort is being deployed on fixing the women. Train them, coach them, send them on returnships, offer them internships, Mahila schemes and what not. However ignoring mainstreaming of gender parity as part of routine processes is a strategy for no growth – India’s ranking on every gender index points towards that. Making way for public spaces, organisations, govt to bring women into their mainstream everyday fold is an intentional shift we all need to make.

LISTENING DEFICIT: We run world’s only Career Helpline – #AskMonica for women on the SHEROES App and the real gap it fulfils is that there is a listening deficit – in companies, families, educational institutions about women and their aspirations. Our team of coaches and counsellors run this effort round the clock, talking to thousands of women about their potential, possibility and aspirations. Turns out – whether you are born with a silver spoon or a stainless steel one – it is hard to find a go to for your dreams, for advice, support, connect, actions and for sustained growth efforts. Once plugged into an eco-system that has enabling, uplifting, empathetic approach – every participant becomes a catalyst.

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