Walk into any Mom&Me store, and you will find mothers. No, not just shopping. At work. The chain, run by Mahindra Retail, began by intuitively tapping into the “Mother knows best” philosophy, says CEO K. Venkataraman. “We do encourage more recruitment among mothers because they add value to our customers. We find their understanding is high, and though all our employees receive empathy training, obviously when you are a mother yourself, the empathy levels are naturally higher.” Labelled Supermoms (the store also recruits a few Superdads and Supergrandparents, just to be fair), the job profile involves hanging out at their stores and doing what a mom does best—counsel, advise, lend an ear, recommend solutions and listen to what a worried mother or mother-to-be has to say. “One of the greatest indicators of our success has been seeing the instant faith parents develop in us. I was at our first store in Koramangala, Bangalore, one day when a lady handed her infant over to a Supergrandad while needing to take out her cash. She said to him, “Here Dad, hold her for a while.” The Supergrandad was so touched because it is such a gesture of trust.”
A large percentage of women drop out of work in urban India alone, with an average work experience of four years and average education, a post-graduate degree, according to Sairee Chahal, co-founder of Fleximoms, a Delhi-based consultancy that helps mothers reconnect with the workspace. The mother of a four-year-old herself, Chahal says the channelling works both ways. “Not only do companies need to accept the flexi-culture, because a workplace is essentially gender-neutral, but women also need to invest in getting back to being professional. Work is work, and at the end of the day, it’s a business case study irrespective of gender.”
Companies like Johnson&Johnson (J&J) periodically recruit mothers for focus groups and in-depth interviews for feedback on their products. “We engage with mothers to understand their lives post motherhood and discover their emotions as mothers. Spending a day in the life of a mom helps us identify gaps, needs, product preferences and routines,” says Anil Nayak, director, communications, J&J. There are other companies also which have an eye out for mothers. Future Group gathered together housewives and mothers in Mumbai recently for feedback on their high-end food mall FoodLand, as also to understand consumption patterns on their indigenous brand of noodles.
Apart from focus groups, programmes like Tata Second Career Initiative Programme and the Godrej Revival of Opportunities for Women encourage mothers to return to work after childbirth, often offering workshops and training to allow them to rejoin fields like accounting, finance or human resources which they exited to tend to their children.
There is a definite increasing workplace momentum that recognizes mothers as responsible, mellowed, patient, capable of handling a team, working with values such as loyalty, commitment and integrity, say recruitment experts. Companies are beginning to put a numerical value to the loss of talent and the ability to regain it. Such recruitment stances are a far cry from the traditional practice of believing a woman’s career is over the minute she becomes pregnant. “IT companies are ahead of the rest in this. Infosys and IBM, in particular, are very open to what a mother brings to the table. If a mother is given a work-life balance, she is less likely to jump jobs in today’s hugely competitive environment for merely a raise, where other unknowns can throw her off gear,” says Aruna Sampat, director and founder of Career Catalysts, a Mumbai-based software specialist recruitment consultancy. Thanks to the widespread availability of technology like Skype and conference facilities, the mindset that one needs to be physically present to accomplish the job, is changing. “As long as the goals are clear and the delivery is prompt, the world can be your office,” Sampat explains. The burgeoning of Indian businesses has also meant that there is an acute shortage of experienced talent, and corporates are unwilling to waste hard-to-come-by experience.
At the end of the day, it’s about drawing on your strengths as a mother. At Mom&Me, sometimes, mothers with grown-up children, are seen as people best equipped to hand out advice—for everything from an earache to organic vitamin supplements safe for consumption during pregnancy. Sometimes, mothers with small children, who are only able to take on a part-time position, come in for a few hours a day. “We find mothers have the time to spend with customers and understand why they need guidance in practical terms. Mothers are very valuable to us because they perform a transfer of knowledge to a next generation of mothers who come in to shop,” says Venkataraman. One product the store plans to introduce after Supermoms gave them feedback is Indian wellness products. They’ve already started a line of stretch maternity wear based on their inputs. It’s not a short-term gain for Mahindra Retail either. They’re looking at it as a process where mothers “begin to own this space”.
Whaddya know, supermoms can do it all!
This piece originally appeared in Livemint