People around me often ask why I work on girl's employability and career building. And why is Prayaana lab meant only for girls And why is my office full of girls and why I don’t hire men. Isn’t this gender inequality that I am denying opportunity to capable men?
Now, you may be calling this a prejudice but as a woman who built a, forgive my lack of modesty, successful career and business after facing a lot of obstacles, balancing between aspirations and family expectations, I felt that I need to do something for girls like me who would like to be working in a solid job but lack support system morally and otherwise.
Prayaana was a thought which was built not in a day but through years of difficult circumstances that I faced.
At one point of my life, I had to quit my first job, because my employer offered to transfer me to a remote location, to retain my job I would have had to take the transfer and this was the time when my baby was of 6 months. At another point, I was offered a great job in a premium bank. But due to delayed recruitment process which lasted for more than a year, by the time I was asked to join, I was 9 months pregnant and the posting was at a remote location away from family. Having a lot of responsibilities at home what with the baby and my older child I thought it might be better to take a break.
After the said break, it took me around 4 years to restart my career wherein I would have sent out at least 500 job applications. Despite having the qualifications and skillsets I was denied opportunities due to the fact that I wasn’t “working”, that I might probably have lost my touch with what I used to do and the fact that I had very young children to take care of didn’t exactly speed up my resume processing in the positive direction. Probably my recruiters felt that I may be a “bad hire” with all those burdens. However, due to a lot of such denials, I decided to work on my career strongly; I decided to work harder than I ever did.
enrolled myself in higher education, updated my skills, started freelancing as well as working online. These helped me to land a full time job as a college faculty which further helped me to understand the problems that women/ young girls face in entering or working. Now years down the lane, being a "female entrepreneur" I prefer girls the reason for being, that if I am able to provide career entry or a re-entry to fellow young and old women, I would be helping those girls to become start their career, helping women to build a root of their own.
Prayaana is what I came up with, I molded it with the vision of how I had to work and how it would’ve been different if I had just a little bit of support, I’m helping them to become skilled, to become self-confident and earn money, more importantly I’m teaching them to stand on their own two feet.
This vision in my eyes helped me to work hard, so that at one point when I become capable I might build it, ever since then I plunged into entrepreneurshipfour years back with practically myself and a couple of men who entered and left very fast.
My interactions and being a “boss” for my girls helped me realize certain characteristics of female employees like -
1. Young Girls are afraid not to perform they’re held back only because of societal expectations>
Young girls are equally good at routine tasks as well as creative tasks, provided, they are given such opportunities to showcase their skills. They also possess leadership qualities and can multitask really well, way better than their male counterparts.They are willing to take risks and stretch to attain desired performance levels. However, they still shy away from roles involving travel or meeting people, the reason being not their personality, but because they are afraid of the society and also because their parents think they could not take care of themselves.
2. Some girls have wrong job expectations and are not serious about a career.
Educated girls from rural areas are found to have higher aspiration levels and more commitment to the work given irrespective of how small it is. But in most cases, they lack necessary skillsets, mainly soft skills. Whereas girls from affluent families or city dwellers tend to have higher ambitions and, in some cases, unrealistic expectations of a job.
In some cases, I was surprised to note that it was professionally qualified girls from affluent families who had a casual attitude to their job and treated it as a stop-gap arrangement until they got married. A “time-pass” so to say!
3. Place of work is a matter of importance for many girls (and their parents!)
Many times, it’s not the girls, but their parents / spouse who inhibit or lay down unnecessary conditions towards their work/working conditions. It is they who ask the girls to resign the jobs for reasons like - “company is exploiting you”, “company is not providing transport”, “company is not giving perks”, “company is not safe “, “do not travel by bus “, “do not go alone” and so many similar benign and lame reasons. There have been several instances when the girls have been truthful - when they confessed that they had to lie to their parents / husband so that they could do something as part of their work or travel to attend a meeting. My sizeable team of girls quit my company in early 2017 when my company was asked to move out of our office in Infopark - because their parents didn’t want them to work for a company which did not have an office in Infopark. This led to the downfall of my company; it took me nearly 6 months, as I was starting from the scratch, I had to rebuild a fresh team, and set up a decent office.
4.Societal expectation on a girl’s character based on her job leading to unwanted stress on the girl.
Our society still has certain stereotypical job roles for a girl,despite the fact that a boy and girl are undergoing the same education. For eg: Its completely fine for a boy with an MBA qualification to do a sales job but a girl with the same qualification is ridiculed – “how can a girl from a decent family and a well-qualified do sales?” stereotyping like its better for girls to take up a comfortable job with less pressure (Banking, teaching or Government job is a apparently “safe” ) and “Good girls” do not travel with male colleagues (“It will affect your reputation and who will marry a girl who travels with men all the time?”such are the benign excuses)
5. Getting married ?– Then quit the job, says the society.
It is disheartening to note that none of my “fresher girls” who joined my company and got married continued after marriage. The moment marriage is fixed, family asked them to resign their job. And despite me trying to convince them to evidently no avail, the girls were unable to convince their parents why they would like to continue their job.
These reasons sometimes became impediments and created difficulties for me as a businessperson because I had a high rate of attrition and many times delays in work schedules because the girls had to leave home early. There were occasions when my friends advised me to hire male staff and get things done rather than depending on girls. However, I decided to simply ignore the said advice.
I researched on the matter and found out further reasons why I need to pursue this mission and promote this cause of trying to introduce more women into the workforce. It led me to conceptualize Prayaana in early 2017. Me along with a friend,KeziahThomas, we did some pilot training and orientation for a smallgroup of girls and helped them with placement. We found that there is a really great difference when a lady trainer trains a girl to create necessary skills and helpingin career orientation at an early stage of career than when a male does the same thing.
Understanding all this helped me to launch Prayaana Labs in October of 2017. Our pilot batch girls were all successfully placed or provided internship at renowned firms.
Prayaana Fellowship Program is designed, keeping all these things in mind and aims at shattering the societal gender stereotyping on what type of a career a girl should choose. We are building skillsets and an even more able situation helping the girls to collaborate, innovate and work together sucessfully.
In January 2018, we are taking this concept to a state wide initiative by setting up Prayaana Lab hubs at various campuses who are ready to support girl students in their employability and thereby lifelong empowerment. Prayaana Labs aims at empowering over 500 girls this year by providing the much needed self-confidence and career orientation along with providing them internship or part time jobs.
Even now, in India, we keep talking about women safety and harassment issues.My take on the topic is that:
Empowerment for a girl is not just about the safety of her body but also about allowing her mind to perform and be productive! And woman empowerment begins when she is financially empowered and strong not physically, but mentally!
We are a social initiative and a non-profit organization working towards Career building of every educated girl in this nation. No educated girl should limit herself behind the four walls of her house. We seek the support of every well-wisher to this important social cause that we are trying to address in our very own small way.
We intend to create better women, a better country and an even better world.