Building an Organisation - The Woman's Way
A well meaning tweet by Anand Mahindra earned him a lot of praise and he is someone I have admired over the years on twitter. And yet it caused me a bit of unease and especially as I stare at data that says women have lost jobs 7 times more! f I were to fire, wouldn’t it be a woman to lighten her burden? As a recruiting manager, would I want to hire someone who came carrying a heavy load already! It has been almost 5 years since few working women with young children started Stonesoup.in and it is 80% women with young children. (At one point we were 100% women but Karon of idobro we took your advice about diversity).
It is not charity. We felt it was an opportunity for us to create an organisation where people like us thrive and we have done 3 simple things that have made this possible.
- Our office is from 9.30 - 4pm. We all reach home around the same time as our kids. We don’t live with guilt and daily learn new things with them and get our dose of josh n joy. Few of us work in evenings too or weekends - do what we can and when we can.
- It is ok to prioritise kids. And also ok to say am taking my parents or in-laws for vaccinations or doctor visits. Or to skip office to take a pal for her chemo. Or to spend all of Sunday even during daughter’s pre-boards in an event to promote sustainable menstruation. Our lives, our decisions.
- We take people who work, have kids, also contribute to society and have interests. Please check Bhavna’s bird pictures on instagram!
And yet, in our 5 years, we are happy to report following as our achievements
- We were the catalyst for Karnataka plastic ban.
- We have won numerous awards including Namma Bengaluru Social Entrepreneur of the Year for 2020.
- We have won many recognitions including from flipkart and amazon.
- We crossed a turnover of 1 crore and have only self + pals funding. Operationally profitable now.
- We have products for composting, sustainable menstruation, chemical free cleaners and few more - all that help us achieve zero waste homes.
- We have 2 trademarks, one design patent, one more under review.
All this is possible even as we are women with children. In fact all of us live a full life - we also have friends and time for them. We are active volunteers in our community and spend considerable time in them. We have active hobbies and pursuits too. I volunteer with SWMRT, Bangalore Eco Team, IIM women for Social Action, read for an hour daily and am learning carnatic music with my children. Rupal ran covid kitchens from her front yard and hopefully will be a corporator in next elections.
We thrive as a company because we have wholesome people. I want to list a few reasons why having wholesome people helps.
- Managerial Capability. Biggest challenge any new manager has is to do planning and scheduling for a team. We have great experience from all the activities we stuff in our plus kid’s days!
- Networking. We don’t do it with drinks. We do it while doing awareness sessions, cleanup drives. From politicians to municipal officers to people in every part of the city. And it is not just with peers but we network with people on ground to senior leaders from corporates. You name a company or an area and there is 50% probability I can tell you a name of someone who can help there. Watch all the folks who root for us and so loudly as they care for us just like we do for them!
- Cooperation. It takes a village to raise a child. Forget office politics, we find that we are cooperating even with our competitors. We are focused on solving problems and understand that we can’t do it alone. Designations are kept aside and daily we all work like peers working to our strengths contributing to common goals.
- Ability to think long term. While training kids to eat right food and less or no TV, we have learnt that small sacrifices are needed for a better future. We hear that behaviours can’t be changed! We know they can be as long as everyone sees why it is necessary - we see and do that daily.
- Leadership skills. Aligning a handful to lakhs of volunteers really hones our persuasion skills. We also learn how to take a big objective, identify the right skills and then keep moving in the right direction.
- Continuous learning. The pace of change has increased dramatically. Given that we interact with so many diverse people and manage them, we learn new things everyday. Kids keep us connected with what is the latest - we never fossilize!
- HR skill. It is not just an HR’s job but every manager has to know how to recruit and retain resources in the organisation. We recruit parents and inlaws to pals for our causes. Of course we work continuously to retain our maids. We do this daily!
- Get the best out of people. We work with a lot of NGOs to produce world quality reusable cloth pads. Focus is to see how people can contribute and not find faults with people! Systems are designed to accommodate and with the understanding that they are humans we are working with. Yet we don’t ask for charity but depend on paying customers!
- Innovation. Solving the various problems, requires you to keep your mind sharp and aware. We don’t live in office and home bubbles but in the real world. We live in communities, go to schools, visit the malls and buy for our family. We know what packing on the products is necessary or what garbage is still being produced! We have our feet on the ground and don’t need an agency to tell us what are the problems that need solving. We in fact get an extended team of well wishers and customers who coach us and help us solve real world problems.
- Managing a tight budget. Women entrepreneurs get a small percentage of funds. We have got none except from friends and family. All the women inside have worked out how we do awesome work in spite of constraints. Everyone manages a budget and it is not just a job for finance function!
Capitalism, communism is passe’. Era of the doughnut economy - we live the principles daily!
In my erstwhile IT job, in a downturn, had been in a room taking decisions on whom to fire and whom to keep. A colleague said, fire the women as their husband will still bring an income. I want to tell all the managers sitting on such a decision today, don’t take a decision based on gender. The job also gives us at times our freedom, identity, empowerment and feeds a whole ecosystem! And now go back and look at the picture from Anand Mahindra’s tweet again - As someone hiring or firing in covid times, do you want people who are trained to run on smooth paths only or who can do an obstacle course! I want to end with what the new Dove ad means us to do - Don’t look at what is holding us back but look at what is lifting us up!