Entrepreneur Saundarya Rajesh’s venture AVTAR Career Creators, an initiative that started off as a career consulting firm, later successfully branched out into I-WIN (Interim Women Manager’s Interface Network) that helps women manage flexible careers and advising organisations in gender diversity and inclusion.
It all began when Saundarya, a gold medallist in English literature from Madras University, who after a Master’s from the Pondicherry School of Management, started a family with her husband whom she met during her MBA course. However, like most women, Saundarya had to quit her job after she had her first child, a boy. A few years later a second child, a daughter, followed. Saundarya narrates, “It was as a young working mother that I understood that aspiring for the same recognition and professional trajectory as a man was a very difficult task. I realised that in the name of equality, you cannot expect a woman to perform just by giving her the same opportunities. As any other woman, I was expected to deliver on multiple fronts from household chores to taking care of the kids and the elderly at home. And to top it, working in a competitive office environment was taking a toll on me. When I took this up to work out a flexible schedule with my manager, without a second thought, he said there was nothing he could and I had to quit. But along the way while I was home, my aspiration of having an identity of my own rather than just being someone’s wife or daughter grew bigger and I started applying for jobs.”
But it wasn’t a walk in the park because now Saundarya had a ‘gap’ in her resume which she says most companies consider a ‘bad’ word, even today. Later, Saundarya did a series of jobs that included working for the All India Radio, before landing a job in MOP Vaishnav College as a guest faculty.
“I noticed that even five years after I quit my job, most girls were still forced to take the same path as me. We still did not have the kind of enablers that would help women have a sustainable career. This affected me deeply. It was then that my husband suggested that I should be the change I wanted to see.”
Thus, was born AVTAR Career Creators, a talent strategy consulting firm, in 2000, of which she is the Founder-President. The idea was to help companies identify the target group they need as employees. However, the turning point came in 2005 when she was selected for two overseas fellowships – a scholarship to the UK on women and leadership, and an international visitors’ leadership programme to the US — that provoked her to look at flexible career options for Indian women — giving birth to AVTAR I-WIN.
“The premise behind I-WIN, India’s first is to provide women with diverse opportunities for a solid and sustainable career – something that fits with their flexible lives as family-anchors — along with an eco-system of information, support and advice. Originally launched with 200 women, the wing is now 30000 strong and has helped thousands of women to get back their career,” she explains.
Saundarya then entered diversity and inclusion consulting, which includes working with organisations to map out gender diversity plans to make sure there are more women in the workforce. However, she says the change is taking place at a rather slow pace.
“Half the organisations that we meet to introduce the concept of second careers for women are still uncomfortable with the whole concept. We must provide examples to show that second career women can do it and even prove better than male counterparts. We need to realise that a society can grow only when it has equal participation from both the genders.”
On a parting shot, to the thousands of women who wait to restart their careers, she says, “Tomorrow is another day, do not give up! There are several chapters in your life, that are only temporary and each might end up differently. But you are the hero of your story.”