I was a panelist at a Business Forum’s annual event recently. 3 women panelists (a dancer-cum-art school founder, a doctor-cum-speciality care centre founder and myself) shared our thoughts on “Women as changemakers” – the need to encourage a girl child to dream big, to help her convert them into goals, to support and empower her to turn it into a profession, the struggles of work-life balance as a woman, perseverance and fighting against societal stereotypes, change in individual and institutional mindsets required (to me the family, employing organisation and society all three are institutions), how a woman must negotiate what she wants, how she must create a support system early in her life much before the need arises to have a career, the choices she makes, the need to believe in herself and stay committed, the contrast between feminism (a movement that is identified with strong emotional expression) and women empowerment (a bigger and more encompassing, purposeful action). All of us agreed that a woman is herself an embodiment of change all through her life – puberty, marriage, child-birth, menopause – each stage triggering different kinds of changes physically, physiologically, biologically, emotionally and intellectually. Every woman has a different story to share – some manage it well, others don’t. While metamorphosizing ourselves, if we are able to bring some positive changes in the surroundings around us, it will be a life well lived.
Surprisingly none of us brought out the most commonly attributed competency of a woman – multi-tasking. While this is heralded as a strength of our tribe, research shows that multi-tasking is not actually productive. While daily chores do need parallel tasking in the interest of time, the same is not true where cognitive abilities are involved. It is said there is a 40% reduction in productivity due to multitasking though it appears that we are able to handle many things at the same time. We are doing this all the time – at workplace, juggling between a phone call, messaging, email, now virtual meetings (which provides ample room for distractions) in the illusion that we are able to attend to multiple assignments. This is all the more so for a person in a consulting organisation that caters to many customers. I find this happening to my colleagues and me as well, as we are in the constant race to handle client requirements. I do notice how fatigued they are at the end of the day and still find many things incomplete. What is the way out ? Prioritising, creating a to-do-list, setting aside time for personal messages, not responding to emails constantly, setting client expectations right that they cannot expect instantaneous response always (sometimes yes but not always), collating issues and preferring a single call over repeated calls and emails which distract one’s attention, delegate and most importantly learn to say NO. Toughest thing for many of us ! Multitasking involves both goal shifting and role activation each time the brain shifts from one to another. This adds a small time delay which hurts your overall productivity. Since the brain is supposed to be trained to do one thing at a time, it is said that the cognitive abilities of the brain is impaired during multitasking. It also leads to stress which is the number one cause for most diseases, both physical and mental. Most often those multitasking do not realise they are doing it and find it difficult not to stay distracted. Recommendation is – limit the number of tasks to just two at any given time AND follow the ‘20 minute rule’ i.e. be at a task at least for 20 minutes before jumping to another one. This is likely to reduce the negative effect of multitasking in case avoiding is not an option. In this fast paced world, therefore mindfulness, meditation, yoga, silence etc. take significance to help us have single minded devotion at a task. I believe reducing multitasking (complete elimination may not be possible) can lead to sustainable and quality living which is the current goal of most people !
The 1st message I received on 1st February was from All India Radio, FM Rainbow 101.3 asking if I could share my thoughts on the Union Budget 2021 during an evening programme. I was sceptical if I could do justice and that too in Kannada. However, when Dr. Shankaranarayana, the Station Director assured me that I need to focus only on the women & children bit, I was slightly relieved. I heard intently to the Hon’ble Finance Minister Ms. Nirmala Sitharaman as she quoted Tagore’s lines “Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark.” I heard her announcing that the budget is constructed on the 6 pillars of health and well-being, physical, financial capital and infrastructure, inclusive development for aspirational India, reinvigorating human capital, innovation and R&D and minimum government and maximum governance. I caught the Minister talking about incentives for gig workers and night shift facility for women, which meant more women could enter and stay in the workforce, thanks to safety and security measures that employers are to provide. I listened carefully to the tax proposals but didn’t find anything specific to women and children. I was a bit nervous wondering what will I speak on the radio that evening. As they say, one hears only what one wants to. Only when Dr. Shankaranarayana (who incidentally is a qualified Company Secretary !) highlighted ‘Mission Poshan’ did I realise that I am guilty of focussing on the ‘India’ side of the Budget and ignoring the ‘Bharat’ side. Poshan 2.0 scheme in an umbrella scheme covering the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), Anganwadi Services, Poshan Abhiyaan, Scheme For Adolescent Girls and National Creche Scheme, with an outlay of Rs. 20,105 crore
It struck me that there is lot more to focus than just corporates and tax proposals. My thoughts travelled back to how my maid’s daughters looked forward to attending school only because of the mid-day meals scheme that ensured milk, eggs and a hot meal. With the pandemic shutting down schools, meals were the first calamity. Many such children were forced to go hungry and back to villages to work in the fields or worse still – to be married away underaged. That evening I connected the dots and emphasised on how Mission Poshan 2.0 could also get the children back to schools, how the spurt in girl-child marriages during the pandemic could be quelled through some of the schemes. The reasons and triggers for malnutrition, school drop-outs, child-marriage, early motherhood, failing health, poverty, rising debts – all are closely intertwined in a complex web that requires both Government intervention and societal efforts. The next morning when Lakshmi, my house-maid announced that while she didn’t understand most of what I spoke about the Budget, but caught my statement on child-marriage and malnutrition, I felt my 10 minute talk on the radio was worth it. I re-emphasised to her as to why she must allow her daughter to choose education and financial independence over marriage and children.