Working mothers — then, now, and beyond

By Tanvi Dubey|17th Aug 2016
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In every person’s life, mothers act as the anchors through the best and worst times.

Manisha Raisinghani, Co-founder of LogiNext, says, “Even today, when I have a bad day, she is the one I call, and I would assume it’s the same for most of us. We all instinctively retreat to the womb for comfort and strength. Our mothers make the world alright.”

There is no doubt that mothers are the primary influencers in our life and also one of the important role models.

Elsa Marie, Co-founder of Safecity, shares, “My earliest memories of my mother are those of a very strong, independent woman who was quiet and kind. She was a working mother who very skillfully juggled career, family and other responsibilities. I never once heard her complain or breakdown despite having three children and a full schedule. This is truly remarkable in a time when we spend so much time talking about work-life balance and the inability to cope with multiple responsibilities.”

So the big question is what has changed? We spoke with a few entrepreneurs to understand how things were back in the days when their mothers were working and what are the similarities and differences they find between their lives and their mothers.

The indomitable entrepreneurial spirit

Mothers are perhaps the best role models for entrepreneurs. You can learn a lot just by looking at the way they handle different people and the challenges that crop up every day. That is something that has not changed from then and now.

Parimala Hariprasad, Senior UX Architect at Amadeus Software Labs, says, “Our families play a major role in who we become as individuals. The biggest influence in any family is my mother. My mother is the first entrepreneur I grew up watching, long before I realised what an ‘entrepreneur’ meant.”

Radhika Aggarwal, Co-founder and CBO of Shopclues, says, “Like a lot of women across generations, my mom also had ramp ups and ramp downs in her career as per the family’s needs. However, what I admire most about her is the fact that she has a strong entrepreneurial spirit, and made the most of the limitations that my dad’s career (he was in the army) imposed on her – she was always ready to learn a new skill or revive old ones.”

Radhika Aggarwal

Vandana Luthra, Founder and Vice Chairperson of VLCC Group, says: “I grew up watching her relentless faith in serving the society as she ran a charitable yoga ashram with an Ayurveda doctor. She had acquired immense knowledge of Ayurveda along the way. It was truly inspirational to see her running an entire organisation, yet never side-lining her role as a mother and a homemaker. Her compassionate attitude, level headed professionalism and graceful balancing between work and home needs, is something that has resonated in my life as well. Her dedication towards her family and her work ethics have shaped my entire life and each day I have embraced the idea of being a working mother of two. My daughters have imbibed the same values from me and they will always help make the society a better and a healthier place to live in.”

Vandana, Radhika and Parimala have all looked up to their mothers as role models. There is no doubt they are an inspiration to their children, and their circle of influence has grown. And now they inspire other women, employees, colleagues and entrepreneurs.

Slower pace of life

Despite companies increasingly offering flexible timings and work-from-options to their employees, the constantly beeping smartphones hardly allow one to break away from work. As a result, one is not able to spend quality time on any one task, is stretched too thin, and gives neither work, home nor social activities undivided attention.

Debadutta Updadhaya

Debadutta Updadhaya, Co-founder and CEO of Timesaverz, says: “My mom had a calendared schedule and a well segregated office and home space. The same goes for me. As far as the differences are concerned, my mom was much more patient than me and our interactions were less tech oriented than what it is between me and my son.”

Different opportunities

The window of opportunities that are open to women today are enormous. Technology has brought women the power to gain financial dependence from their home.

Vandana shares, “For instance, my mother belonged to an era where competition was lesser, but so were the opportunities for women to pursue their vocation of choice. Women weren’t really necessarily encouraged to become independent. Being a working mother didn’t make going any easier either. By the time I had plunged into the corporate world, things had changed a lot and definitely for the better. I was not facing any dilemma regarding whether to work or not. In fact, I was dealing with a completely different issue and that was of introducing a holistic and futuristic line of beauty and wellness solutions in a sector that was mushrooming with unorganised competition.”

Vandana Luthra

Radhika says, “Like most working women who came before her generation, and women who will follow mine, the main similarity centered around maintaining a ‘work-life balance’ and giving her best at both work and home. Differences lie in opportunities that were available to women in her generation and in my generation, but I am sure with the similar opportunities, our career paths would have been very similar.”

Support systems

With nuclear families mushrooming in the cities, the support system within the family circle has shrunk.

Raina Kumra

Raina Kumra, Co-founder of Mavin, says: “My mother had a village in the house-grandparents, aunts and uncles. She made heroic sacrifices working full time as a teacher and taking care of all of her houseguests, my dad and my sister and I. She chose a job with school hours (teaching special needs high schoolers) so she could pick us up from school and be home with us. Our grandparents looked after us and entertained us, while she did the cooking and cleaning and made healthy fresh food for us every day.”

Since Raina lives in the US, she does not have much extended family around. “Luckily, my mother is around and so helpful with the kids but full-time childcare is something we hire. We outsource cooking during the week to meal delivery service. We have cleaners come and we have groceries delivered. We outsource as much as possible. In many ways, I think my mom had it much harder – because she could not push a button and have dinner delivered. But we work longer hours and do more travelling for work, which is hard when you have young children.”

Nature of challenges

The nature of challenges was different too. As Vandan rightly points out, “As a working mothers, we both have done justice towards our families. But as working women, my mother faced more emotional and societal challenges, while I have faced business pressures of a completely different magnitude. It is a great balancing act of head and heart. It is the sense of commitment that needs to be imbibed so that nothing stops you for achieving your goal.”

As President Obama recently mentioned on his 55th birthday – “…. this is an extraordinary time to be a woman.” With increased opportunity, technological evolution and hopefully more government support, women will have more opportunities.