The challenges of juggling home and career
“HEC announced Matric results today,” reported the newscaster with a smile. “This is the third year in a row that two out of the top three positions have been won by girls.”
I flinched at the news and switched the TV channel trying to find something less disheartening to watch. Each year, these brilliant girls make headlines, the government applauds, teachers cheer and families celebrate. But have you ever wondered where these female position holders go? They go to their susrals and their gender prevents them from attaining their professional goals. The statement that they would often hear in their classrooms “The sky is the limit!” ultimately changes to “Home is the limit!”
Sara Riaz, now a mother of two, was a topper in Matric, a gold medalist in FSc and had a 4.0 GPA at her university in New Zealand. “My plans pre-marriage were really big,” she says, “I aimed to do an MBA and work in a bank but after marriage, I could not manage to stay away from home for nine hours every day!”
Momina Umar also put her career on the backburner for the same reasons. Despite being a scholarship winner and earning a distinction in her Masters degree in Innovative Technology from the UK, Momina left work after getting married since her husband felt that it would adversely affect their family life. Whether it’s because their spouses tell them outright that they cannot work or because of subtler relationship dynamics, most women give up their careers after marriage. Some, like Nazish Rizvi, have simply not planned for their careers adequately. With a degree in dentistry from Karachi, she shifted to Toronto after her marriage and found that she could not practice because she had to pass the Canadian board’s own dentistry exams. Children followed soon after making it impossible to continue her studies and Nazish’s career has been on hold for 10 years now. Other women have to forego their career because they live in a joint family system with certain chores and responsibilities placed on them, making it impossible for them to manage a full time job.
As for me, my growing frustration at those position holders stemmed from my own inability to forge a career. I was top of my class at Punjab University where I earned a degree in Human Resource management. After marriage, I shifted from Lahore to Islamabad, leaving my job as an HR Officer at a multinational software house. Since my mother-in-law was diabetic and had a kidney transplant, I was obliged to look after household affairs and full time career options went out the window.
Of course, there are many women who continue to work after marriage. Ghazala Shoaib is HR manager of a multinational software house in Lahore and mother to a 15-month-old daughter who has been going to daycare since the age of three months. “Work /life balance is very tricky, especially with our culture where a lot is expected from women, whether they work or not,” she says. What makes it easier for Ghazala is that not only does her company offer her flexible timings, she also has the option to work from home. Maira Ahmed, HR Director at Tetra Pak is another woman who has found a way to make it work. Mother to a one-and-a-half year old daughter, she takes advantage of the daycare centre at her workplace. “I can complete 20% of my working hours from home each month,” she says.
According to a report issued by the World Bank in 2013, women in Pakistan constitute only 28% of the overall labour force, despite being a majority. Surprisingly, female employments rates are lower in urban areas where most job opportunities should exist. But seeing how scarce the provisions to accommodate females in the work force are, this dismal statistic makes absolute sense. In my search for a job after marriage, I was dismayed to find that the only jobs that existed in the part-time and telecommuting category were data entry and writing. So, despite my degree, my work experience and the repeated reminders from my friends that I should be making more of my talent, I resorted to spending my free time watching Star Plus and gossiping on the phone.
With the exception of a few multinational corporations which offer adequate maternity leave and day-care facilities to keep their female employees at peace while they work, few companies consider the needs of a woman at the workplace. The long hours force many of them to abandon working. This can have adverse effects on their self-esteem, even plunging some into depression. What is worse is that the investment in their education eventually goes down the drain.
Juggling your personal and professional life is challenging and no woman can strike a balance between the two without support from her employer. Employers and firms in Pakistan should give thought to flex time, telecommuting and job sharing to encourage the participation of more women in the work force. Flexible timings improve efficiency by allowing women to work according to their personal schedules. Besides, hiring employees on part-time or contractual basis can help firms save money. Since technology has made it easier to work from different locations as long as computers are linked across them, one can now complete work-related tasks whilst watching over their sleeping toddler or pot of curry. Firms can also adopt job-sharing, wherein two employees share one job, reducing the workload on each. Few companies are looking into these options at the present though the potential dividends for both employee and employer are great. Leon Menezes who has over 35 years of work experience in Sales and HR recommends that companies review policies and structures to encourage women’s career aspirations. The starting point, he says, is for the company to articulate a philosophy regarding female talent which should then be backed up by policies and affirmative actions to ensure women have the necessary encouragement and support. “If many small companies are located in one building,” he suggests, “a common day-care can be set up and expenses shared.”
Though many women will find that a career break is necessary after marriage, some return after their children are more independent. Sara Riaz, whose son is now 8 years old and daughter 5, has taken to part-time teaching while her children are at school. At these times, the joint family system can even be a positive factor, allowing women to leave their children at home and continue work.
So ladies, I would like to urge you all to think carefully before making life-changing decisions about career and marriage. As Waqar Ahsan, former training head and VP of Askari Bank says, “Attitude and temperament are more important than one’s gender.” If you want it, go and get it!
10 tips to help you balance your marriage with your career
Did you know that the time you spend on family activities and other personal interests can actually help boost your productivity at work? Juggling your home and work lives can become much easier if you simply learn to be more efficient on your job. Take a look at these tips to help you achieve the right balance:
1) Set your family and work goals: The first step to achieving anything important is to have a clear aim as this helps one prioritise tasks according to personal requirements. Sit with your spouse and make a list of all that you wish to obtain in your life and get started on it!
2) Get support from your family: Your goals will be void without the support of those who matter, in this case your family. Employers also play a key role in your life as they ultimately determine policies regarding timings and leaves so it is imperative you maintain a strong rapport with your boss.
3) Work ‘in the zone’: While at work, focus on things that can or must be accomplished within say, the next half-hour. Work on high priority tasks first as this will increase productivity and grant you more free time later in the day.
4) Plan ahead: Before hitting the sack each night, prepare a mental list of all that needs to be completed the next day.
5) Create blocks of time for work and family: Prepare a time-table for your day and allot timings for the different activities like sending off an email or going for a movie with your family. Try to complete each activity within its given time span.
6) Weekly dates with spouse/children: Put the weekends to good use and set a tradition for a weekly outing to get some much needed family time.
7) Remember you are not Superwoman: Accept that it is humanly impossible for you to do everything. Focus on the more important tasks, both at home and work, and hire additional help if needed.
8) Share household chores: If you live abroad or are apprehensive about hiring domestic help while at work, try to get your entire family involved in daily chores by creating a ‘chore wheel’. Allocate specific responsibilities to your children to get as much household duties covered as possible.
9) Be present: While at work, your attention should be on the task at hand and nowhere else. While with family, follow the same ‘no texts, no calls and no emails’ rule and resist all temptation to even talk about work.
10) Fix your attitude: The most important thing is to maintain a ‘can-do’ attitude and remember that you are capable of achieving anything you like, no matter what the circumstances are.
Published in The Express Tribune, Ms T, June 2nd, 2013.