Ask Azim | Q&A (June 2016)


QUESTION:  Why are women expected to excel at the work-life balancing act and hasn’t this disadvantaged women in the workplace by placing serious constraints on their career choices?

AZIM: Conventionally, work-life balance was primarily about juggling work and home priorities and less about finding purpose and meaning at work. Also with the advent of the industrial age, the primary role model for success was the 24/7 busy man, which set a very unhealthy definition of a fulfilling life.

So yes, I agree with you that this old concept of work-life balance has disadvantaged women by placing an incredible pressure on them to develop careers as competitive as those of their male counterparts, while sustaining a harmonious family life. Because historically, women were expected to be the primary care givers as well as be responsible for household duties. According to a recent report published by The Economist, for working married couples in Japan, men do an average of 3 hours of housework in a week, while women do an average of 30 hours!

However, while slow, we are gradually witnessing a change. There are an increasing number of women in the workplace, leading to an increasingly diverse workforce and a greater awareness about the need to balance work and non-work lives for both men and women. In addition to this, a growing percentage of lifestyle diseases and understanding of wellness has created a shift in our attitudes towards work-life balance.

A recent study by Accenture revealed that work-life balance — ahead of money, recognition and autonomy — is the key determiner for more than half of men and women on whether or not they have a successful career.

Concerning the role of women, companies are now realizing the role of a gender-balanced force in bringing a whole new approach to creativity and innovation. Women’s core skills of a collaborative, consensus-driven approach, coupled with a holistic and inclusive overview, are now emerging as very strong leadership qualities.

Visionary companies like Google and eBay are a growing testament to groups that are building diversity, work flexibility and childcare support into their organizational infrastructure and are not dependent on policies or legislation to initiate action.

To me, work-life balance is about business, balance and beyond, that brings about greater clarity, focus and energy to function successfully in any environment. This balance is possible only when one can align his/her personal priorities of work, family, health and well-being with his/her life purpose.

Going forward, we as a world community need to work together to enjoy a diverse and healthy workforce. Some of the initiatives companies can do are:

  1. Develop a culture that encourages and provides flexible work opportunities for men and women, regularized childcare facilities, transparent recruitment processes and adequate investment in technology to support remote working.
  2. Provide training and mentoring opportunities for workers to help them re-skill after a break, and facilitate a work-life balance to ensure they are able to stay and flourish in the workplace.
  3. Introduce policies at the grass roots level to eliminate gender bias in recruitment, development and promotion policies, and introduce gender sensitization training to help change the male-oriented values, beliefs and stereotypes.
  4. Evolve the paradigm of career development from a linear approach to a modular approach.
  5. Evaluate performance by results rather than ‘face time’.

Also, as a world community, we have to encourage gender equity with balanced distribution of household responsibilities and acknowledgement of the role of women in growth of a civilization. According to UN Women, “women perform 66 percent of the world’s work, produce 50 percent of the food, but earn 10 percent of the income and own 1 percent of the property.”

In the meantime, I would suggest to you to do the following to create more conscious and planned work-life choices:

  1. Give your complete, undivided attention to every task. Ruthlessly eliminate distractions of social media, or telephone calls, during your peak productivity hours.
  2. Meditate daily to understand your own self well. Practicing the power of the hour is a good exercise to regroup your energies for the day ahead.
  3. Delegate as much as possible by placing the right people in the right job to focus on the essential.
  4. Create a non-doing list to weed out unproductive, wasteful activities.
  5. Instill boundaries to maintain focus – be assertive and say no to activities that go beyond your workable scope to achieve greater efficiency and productivity in your tasks.

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