Sustaining a dual career partnership (Co-authored by Somasree Bose & Anuj Awasthi)
As you know, improving gender diversity is a key imperative for us. Increasingly, many women, who join us, will be juggling the multiple demands of a career, marriage and family. Many more couples will be dual career couples who will look to balance both their personal and professional lives and support each other.
I am very pleased that Somasree Bose and Anuj Awasthi have written this week’s message. Soma, as you know, leads Marketing for our Cinthol, protekt and aer brands. Anuj is the head of Sales for the Western Region in India.
Please read on…
Our story is not one of a kind. There are thousands of working couples today; many of you are among them. And many of these working couples have children. So, what makes us different? Perhaps a little bit of uniqueness comes from the fact that we are a working couple at Godrej. For those of you who don’t know us, we joined the Godrej Group together as management trainees way back in 2003. Since then, it has been 13 years of nothing less than a long Bollywood film, in so many ways.
The ‘spice’ that gets added in, is that one of us is in Sales, and the other, in Marketing. You know how that one goes – always working towards a common objective, but more often that not, being at loggerheads about how to achieve it. So, imagine what it can be like to be married to the person on the other side! And, as most people would tell you, we are also poles apart. While one of us is very quiet (you hardly hear Anuj) the other, well Soma just can’t stop talking. Together, like any other couple, we have faced our fair set of challenges, both on the professional front at Godrej, as well as on more personal fronts.
We have been wanting to pen down this message for a while – to share what we have learned through the years. But it took both of us a lot of time to get started. As we realised, we have never really given a thought to how things fell in place for us. How, beyond just sheer luck, both of us have been able to cope with being professionals in the same organisation and balanced that with our roles as parents, friends and of course, spouses!
To start with, we thought we would share our take on some of the questions we often get asked:
How awkward is it to sit across each other in the same meeting, especially when there is Sales versus Marketing conflict?
In our case, we were colleagues first, before we got married. So, it was always easy to segregate work from home, and to interact professionally. We have always openly challenged each other in meetings, whenever necessary. Our focus at work has always been on how to best deliver on our projects. What has also helped is that even our colleagues and managers have never made us conscious of the fact that we are a couple.
At the same time however, we ensure that the points of disagreement do not creep back home. This is something that we have learned to do over the years. It is much easier now, since it is has been quite some time since we have been in roles that require regular interaction.
Do you really keep things confidential?
Yes. Very much so. On principle, we just don’t discuss each other’s work at home. We realised very early on that we had to do this. Respecting and understanding each other’s need for professional confidentiality has been key to us being able to work together in a common space. So, keeping work at work helps in ensuring that we don’t pass on any department sensitive information to each other. And seriously, there is a limit to how much one can talk shop!
We have also always been very open about this with our colleagues and managers. You see, apart from the two of us figuring out how to work on the dynamics of our relationship, we also consciously worked on ensuring that we built this confidence in our teams. We know that we have to get people to trust the fact that we can be trusted to keep things confidential.
Both your jobs entail long hours of work – practically 24X7. How do you juggle this with your home and daughter?
As any working parent would tell you, there is no right answer to this. For us, this is where working together at Godrej offers the biggest advantage. We have a perfect understanding of each other’s work commitments. No real time is spent on explaining when and why the other person is going to be busy!
Our approach is quite simple. When one of us is busy, the other one backs up at home to be with our daughter, Mishti. This mutual respect for each other’s work and balancing out responsibilities at home has really been the key. There has never been a situation where we ended up arguing over how “This is your responsibility, not mine”.
For example, for Soma, the period immediately before any product launch means all-nighters for consecutive days. That is when Anuj takes over the home front. Similarly, Sales requires Anuj to be out on tours frequently. That’s when Soma, as and when required, brings back work at home. Once Mishti has fallen asleep, she carries on with her work.
Despite our best planning, there have also been times when we have clashing commitments. There was a time when Anuj was traveling and Soma had a crucial meeting, while Mishti was unwell. Our solution was to have Soma call the entire team home and conduct the crucial meeting there – perfect work–life balance!
How do you manage when there are common outbound programs that require overnight stay for both of you?
That is when we turn to our parents for help. They have been of great support ever since our daughter was born. This support network is crucial. And really, this is also our rare chance to let our hair down and party hard till late, without having to worry about Mishti back at home or having to send her to school early morning the next day!
On a regular basis, especially since Anuj is in Sales, it is critical for us to know each other’s touring schedule in advance. This helps us ensure that one of us is home. This is probably true for all working couples.
Why don’t you stay together when you go on official trips?
Official trips are meant for us to spend time with our colleagues and get to know them better, beyond just work. We both have our own circles of close friends at Godrej. These trips are time to bond with them, more than anything else. Pradeep Kumar for example, has been Anuj’s chosen roommate on every outbound trip so far!
It is not just sharing a room, we probably end up on different flights too, so long as we get to travel with our respective circle of friends. And yes, we also don’t keep tabs on each other either during these trips – except for ensuring that the other has not over-slept and missed a flight!
Plus, we get more than enough of each other at home and while pursuing our shared interests in music, the guitar and running.
Don’t you have too much Godrej in your lives?
Yes, we do. We also live at the Godrej colony. And with our daughter also studying at the Godrej school, it’s really all in the family! But, believe us, it’s great. We wouldn’t have it any other way. It helps build our ecosystem. We tap into all the support we can because we understand each other’s commitments so well. We can be friends and advisers to each other. The familiarity allows us to be closer.
Over the years, we have realised that any good relationship needs investment. We both have our individual dreams and we also have dreams that we share together, for our families and daughter and for us, together. To make all of this possible needs work. So, we have evolved our personal mantra of sorts for it:
1. Some things fall in place on their own… Don’t over-analyse and over-agonise
We fell in love and chose to get married. As with many other love marriages, we too had our share of inter-caste, inter-state problems. It took two years for both our families to come together. In fact, it was the birth of our daughter that broke the ice and so much so, that it was as if nothing had happened. That was our first big lesson – just do your best, have patience and things will fall into place on their own.
Later on, came the big dilemma faced by most working couples – whether to keep our daughter at home with a help or use a day care facility. There is no right answer. Every situation is unique in itself. Whatever decision you take in this regard, rest assured that it’s in the best interest of both you and your child. Sure, the feelings of guilt sometimes creep in and that’s where both partners need to support each other most. We were lucky, since Godrej introduced 6 months of maternity leave and opened a day care centre at the Godrej colony. That, with the great support we get from our parents, is how we balance things out. And we take it one day at a time.
2. Share responsibilities
The advantage of being a working couple, is that both of us understand just how important a career is. How it is simply impossible for only one person to be responsible for the household or children. So, it is almost an understanding between us that sometimes, we both can’t be part of a dinner party at the same time. We have to make choices, just like we would have, had we worked in different companies.
We have also split up our responsibilities when it comes to our daughter – Soma is in charge of studies and homework and Anuj spends time on the more fun stuff. No surprise then why Anuj gets a huge bear hug from Mishti when he comes home and Soma gets one only when the answer to the question “Mumma, today is a study holiday, right?”, is yes!
3. Take time out to be together
Probably the one biggest fallout of understanding each other’s commitments so well, is that we struggle to find common time to take off for holidays. Matching our calendars becomes very tough, especially when we end up being so empathetic towards each other’s commitments. Add to it, the complication of timing our holidays as per Mishti’s school holidays!
Our tenth wedding anniversary trip to Switzerland last year was planned at least four months in advance. We ensured that no review meetings would be planned around then. The last thing we wanted was work suffering and us getting frantic calls from our teams or managers.
As we recently realised, a great way to spend more time together and do it more often, is to find a common interest. So, both of us have taken up running over the last year (how it got triggered is a whole another story). And we do it very seriously. Not just that, we have even done a couple of runs with our parents, as a family.
Again, despite our best intentions, this hasn’t been easy to put into practice. There were enough opportunities for us to slack off. So, we worked on a sustainable schedule. We don’t train together – it’s mornings for one and evenings for other, to suit Mishti’s schedule. Apart from being great from a fitness point of view, and the perfect stress buster, we are enjoying discovering our own potential and pushing each other to stay committed and do more. It has given us a common interest to discuss, shop for and also, to compete on. We just finished running our fourth marathon together and are eagerly looking forward to the fifth one in the week ahead!
The other interest we share, and something which brought us together, has been music. We both enjoy karaoke sessions almost every weekend. Mishti too has caught on now. Two years ago, we started taking guitar lessons together. These shared passions keep us going strong.
4. Financial planning is critical
If there is one piece of advice that we would want to pass on to younger couples starting out, it is this. Plan your finances well. This is one of the most delayed decisions that we have found working couples make. And you have to start at the beginning. Sure, in your early years of working, you will have comparatively low savings. But this is when regular investments can hold you in very good stead later on.
We were lucky to have been advised on this early on. We started with structured financial planning right from the first year of our marriage. It has been a great help. Of course, not only are returns good when you start early, but getting a financial planner for example also ensures timely actions are taken – premium payment, re-investment of dividends, review of portfolio. It’s one less area to be bothered about. And more time for you, your career and family.
5. Respect and trust each other
At the end of the day, what really makes all the difference is the deep and great respect and trust that we have for each other. This is what helps us push each other, as well as anchor each other. Like any other couple, we have our ups and downs, but supporting each other, especially while being part of the same work environment, has been key. This is what has allowed us to help each other achieve the best possible in the 13 years that we have been together.
These lines from one of our favourite songs, probably sum it up best – “Jab koi baat bigad jaaye, jab koi mushkil pad jaaye, tum dena saath mera o humnawaaz…” which loosely translates as “Be there for me, whenever something goes wrong”.
A big thank you to Soma and Anuj for sharing their story with us.
Many of you can probably relate to this message very well, as working couples, caught in making much the same balance and tradeoffs – finding ways to be involved, supportive partners and parents, while juggling your responsibilities back at work.
As an organisation, let’s commit to doing all we can to better support dual career couples. This will be key in our efforts to make Godrej more diverse.