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On Turning 20! A Note From A Career Mom

Life transformed for me a little over 20 years ago - twice over, 9-minutes apart.

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A hint of the professional, came into my state of motherhood, right from the start. Colleagues at work and friends from B-School complimented me in good humor, for carrying my efficiency at work by giving birth - not just to twins, but as symptomatic of ‘super-efficiency’, having a boy and a girl – thus ‘completing the family at one shot’!

Praise for professional efficiency was not the only thing that elicited comments. Curious women colleagues and friends asked me whether I would return to work and a career, especially now that I had twins.

Not only was I back at work a year later, but bucking the trend of many highly qualified girlfriends, who opted out of a career at some point soon after motherhood, I am still there!

And so, here I am, 20 years later, on Mothers’ Day, raising a toast to companies and colleagues to whom I, to a large measure, owe my career as a Mom.

The only two companies I have ever worked with – Diageo and Tata – have provided me a level-playing field with all my other colleagues – male, female, male-married, female-unmarried – indeed any permutation. This is in beautiful juxtaposition with people managers expected to empathize with the life-stage needs of their people.

At Diageo, my contribution is assessed on performance outcomes and impact, and not on how long I work in the office, or whether (I am visibly) working on weekends, whether I ‘network’ after work, or who I know. Working in such a culture is incredibly liberating. It has allowed me to keep an undiluted focus on the impact my work is delivering and not anxiously measure the hours I am working or whether colleagues are watching and judging me for it! It has freed up both time and mental-space, to attend to the demands of being a Mom. And what is even more unshackling is that we are actively encouraged to have balanced lives, avoid professional burn-out and avail our entitled Privilege Leave.

Flexibility on timing and not being a prisoner to an office culture of working late or people looking over you to see how long you are in office and when you are in office, has been of enormous value to me in playing my dual roles. I have been able to take time out for PTAs, caring for a sick child or stepping in for an absent nanny. Obviously, the underlying expectation of the company is that I will use the flexibility in a responsible way and within reasonable limits. And so, life over the years, has had a fair sprinkling of the husband stepping in as well for the PTAs, tennis games and child-sick days.

Almost all my working life, I leave office by 6pm on most days – sometimes even earlier. It doesn’t mean I stop working at 6pm, though. I work way beyond the time I leave office, often late at night or on weekends, enabled by technology through e-mails, conference calls and - the latest in our company ‘Zoom’ Videos.

I love that Diageo makes no positive discrimination towards me as a ‘working mom’. I have seen the same work practices applied to them as to me. Anything otherwise would have hurt my ego and left me discontent with a sense of unfair advantage over other colleagues.

In Diageo, having many senior women colleagues who are also mothers (and unashamedly so!), inspires me, pushes me and gives me the all-important comfort that I am not alone in trying to be good at both bring a professional and a mother.

Finally, organizational cultures are shaped by leaders and cultures come alive in ‘moments of truth’. And there have been many senior men and women in my companies, who have left an indelible mark at such moments along my ‘career mom’ path. I want to take this opportunity, to acknowledge a few, on Mothers’ Day.

To, R K Krishnakumar, former Director of Tata Sons, for being an empathetic boss when I went back to work as a mom, giving me a critical role in the company but one that did not entail travel or late hours. To, Roland Abella, former MD Diageo India, who enabled my joining Diageo by authentically laying out its inclusive culture. To, Syl Saller, CMO Diageo, who once at a presentation to the Marketing community of APAC Diageo, spoke proudly of how she always took phone calls from her kids even at important meetings. To, Gilbert Ghostine, former President – APAC Diageo, who once when torn between my work and home, without hesitation asked me to fly back to India from a very important Conference in Singapore, to be with my daughter. To, Deidere Malhan, President Diageo US, who during her visit to India as Global CFO many years ago, after I had to skip her meeting due to a sick child, told me the next day with a smile “No problem. You chose to be where it was right for you to be”. To, Anand Kripalu, CEO Diageo India, whose leave approvals for me for staying home for two weeks before my childrens’ Board exams and dropping off at college, come within minutes - never a question asked.

 To all of them, a heartfelt thank you. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Abanti Sankaranarayanan

The author is chief strategy and corporate affairs officer, United Spirits

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