Archive | 5:46 am

Bravo McKinsey, Et-tu Marissa? (Woman Power – Ninja Power!)

25 Feb


For anyone in the consulting field, McK is obviously Ivy League. For me, the one thing that I always admired them for is the fact that apparently they were the alma mater for ALL consulting professionals! So, most consultants cut their eyeteeth at McK, and then went on to other/ bigger/ better firms (The reason why this was very top of mind to me was – that I think EmPower Research was almost a pioneer in the outsourced media research, monitoring and analytics space – and hence all our talent was home grown. We hired most of our folks straight from colleges, put them through a fairly rigorous – mostly on the job – training program (which in itself was home grown and kept evolving); made them learn processes that were home grown – and put them through HR steps that were also home grown. Then ofcourse, older – wiser – maybe better, they would seek greener pastures. Not able/ even willing to stem this attrition, I would console myself by saying – atleast we are like McK – most folks in the media research field in any big company – IBM/ HP/ Nielsen/ Aon/ PA – were all from EmPower Research.

Well, another day – and McK grabs my eyeballs again – this time for something that’s really close to heart. It is putting a program (being referred to as laptops and lullabies) in place to woo back its women employees who had quit (see link). It realised that with gender diversity important – for more reasons than statistics, and the leakage that invariably happens when women have babies – it should get active on the “returnship” front. Apparently Bain, BCG and Goldman Sachs have active programs towards this too. They certainly need to – look at the stats:

Studies, conducted by McKinsey, show that about 76% of all American women aged 25-54 are in the workforce compared to 87% in Sweden. According to this study, if each state contributed 84% of women to its workforce, the U.S. economy would grow by 3%. Most notably, women are seriously underrepresented in senior positions.

Reminded me of a panel discussion I had spoken on – it was for an initiative called “Segue” by an organization called Avtar. This was aimed at returning women. On the panel with me, I had senior HR folks from Accenture, Grindlays, Mphasis. What struck me most about the post panel session was the need/ the sheer desperation these “returning women” showed – the common complaint was that it was alright for all of you to tell us statistics within your company on women who have had babies, but for all of us, the barriers are just too high. One very evocative/ symbolic question was – when the recruitment form says – last job and duration, there isn’t even a checkbox meant for people like us – this means that we get evicted by the computers – and don’t even make it to the actual human rounds of short listing!

Again reminded of a NASSCOM meeting I had attended a few years ago – where activist and classical dancer Mallika Sarabhai had said – I do NOT want to be in a situation of choosing – “EITHER work, OR family” – why should I have to face an “either-or” – I want an AND and another AND and another AND! Remember the widely controversial article written by Anne-Marie Slaughter in the Atlantic on “Why women still can’t have it all” (worth a read by the way)

Looks like the top women leaders are all espousing this cause- I will take another excerpt from my favorite Sheryl Sandberg’s TED talk – when she said “why do women leave before they leave”? Happened to me – as I was doing one on ones before finally quitting EmPower, a young analyst told me – see, I was quite cheesed off at the last promotion round when I didn’t make it – but then I figured, its OK; anyway, I have to take off to have a baby now – so I didn’t talk about it to anybody! You know what, as the exact opposite – my friend Deepika, who now heads marketing at a large MNC foods company, got promoted WHILE she was on maternity leave – causing severe angst in her colleague who was the other brand manager – his contention was – she hasn’t even been at the job for the past 2 months; how is her contribution more than mine???

I have to say, Gillette/ P&G have always been front runners at the returning women empowerment thing – P&G apparently managed ZERO attrition of returning mothers – amazing stat! – via a program called Equinox (whats the rationale I wonder – maybe balancing of work-life just as equally as the day and night on the equinox?).

Flip side of coin – and BIG disappointment/ betrayal! – I just read about Marissa Mayer, who, of all people, SHOULD be behaving differently (atleast if she fulfills many peoples’ expectation of the youngest woman CEO in a F500 company!) – and how she issued the Work From Office, or Quit dictat! Now, it may be directed at cutting flab from an admittedly obese Yahoo, but the message is a bit wonky. (See article I wrote a long time ago on Flexi Time work options for women)

We in EmPower built a finally-400-people company through extensive use of flexi-time, work from home, use of “returning mothers” plan. As a garage based/ bootstrapped enterprise, there was no way we could hire people in the early days. However, we were getting projects of all kinds from our clients – after all, if we were “makers of sense” of existing (first filter – maybe value proposition!) data – we couldn’t also put another filter and say – we would make sense only in this/ this/ this field. Ergo, we hit upon the idea of using friends and family to work with us on a flex time basis. So, we put the word out in our networks – and got lots of really well qualified people – primarily siting-at-home-because-of-kids moms – who grabbed this opportunity to do some “meaningful” work that made use of their skills. We hence had a fairly well established/ extensive network of HR specialists/ finance specialists/ marketing ones/ pharma domainers – you name it, we had it! Depending on the project we got, we would rope in the specialist, estimate hours to be spent/ compensation – and then project manage (it wasn’t easy btw, and took considerable working at!)! The ladies just LOVED it, and we were able to scale with a variable cost model! Win – win all around!

This worked so well for us btw, that our gender stats were always heavily skewed in favor of ladies – so much so, that once my partner Shoma had written the following on the HR manager’s whiteboard!!


What did NOT happen – just so you know, was what the author Leslie Kwoh in the WSJ article I referred to earlier – is saying/ expecting. “Work and family experts often tout moms as “great managers” but skills developed while managing a household don’t necessarily translate to the office, Harvard Business School professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter said in a recent essay. “Family managers are accustomed to being surrounded mostly by people who are…clearly dependent, unable to function fully on their own” Ms. Kanter wrote. “Spending quality time with people with limited vocabularies doesn’t hone complex strategic thinking”.

Well, excuse me! Our women were very able to manage complex/ strategic thinking – and balance expectations, deadlines and more. This by the way, is something I had written about – when I was takinga break from work and managing my child (It was called – “what they don’t teach you at business school” – as relevant today as it was 11 years ago! Read here) It is my FIRM belief that motherhood involves far more planning and execution/ leadership finesse than a normal workday situation would ever do!

Remember what Mallika Sarabhai said – “I want AND” – women CAN be breadwinners just as they can be caregivers! They multitask better, they have a higher developed sense of responsibility and the need to make their mark, they are more ready to make sacrifices – it would be foolish companies who would put barriers in the way of enabling this workforce (yahoo?), and smart ones who would enable them (mckinsey?).

This is the basics of management as taught to us by Tom Sawyer – remember when he “traded” painting the fence with many small bribes/ gifts? Incentivize people to “want” something they can give their best to!

tom_sawyer TomSawyerFence