I sat down to speak with the amazing women of Axelerant, and they each shared their unique perspectives about what it's like being professionals in their field. In this chapter, Swati, Hetal, Priyasha, and Aliya expound on this—and in their own words.
It was while studying engineering that Swati found that she didn’t actually enjoy software development. She wanted to explore other options. This is what led her to quality assurance. Soon, she was placed at a leading multinational, where she trained in testing and developed an interest in it.
While she enjoyed the work, the new job took her to Bangalore, and after two years of working there, she wanted to come back to her family in Delhi. That was when she was referred to Axelerant and joined the team as a QA professional.
Initially, she and everyone around her had their misgivings about remote work. But she decided to try it out. Over time she found that remote work offered her a lot of liberty. “I can take care of my house as well as work towards my career,” she says.
The work can get hectic though, and family life is impacted occasionally. On projects that have challenging deadlines, team members sometimes have to work long hours, and it can be hard for her to find any time for herself. In her family, she does the cooking and really enjoys it, and loves sharing her daily creations with those she loves. “I may have to work late into the night, which means that when my husband gets home, I won’t have anything prepared.” So sometimes she says, “you do feel a certain amount of guilt.” But that’s the great thing about finding the right partner: balance and mutual support. Swati's husband is extremely supportive, but not everyone is as willing to understand that in a marriage, both people’s careers hold equal importance.
“People have this expectation that girls should do less work in the office, and boys should do more work. But ultimately, we both work in the same industry, so it should not matter… everyone on my team works just as hard. If I step back from my role, the project would fail. My team members know and appreciate that,” she says.
She advises young women to give their careers same the importance that they give to their responsibilities towards their families. "Being a girl doesn't mean that you can't focus on your career," she says.
“I did my MBA in Finance—I don’t know why,” begins Hetal, with disarming frankness.
She joined a bank, quickly realized it wasn’t for her and began exploring project management instead. Then, her husband decided to move to Mumbai, and she changed jobs again, joining her first remote workplace. When her baby was born, she made the choice to dedicate a year to his care.
After a year, she wanted to go back to work and was supported by her husband to do so, unconditionally. Meanwhile, her employer had been acquired by a company that did not support remote work—but made an exception for Hetal. The next few months were a struggle. “When people don’t trust that the remote model works, you have to keep trying to prove yourself every day, and working from home soon becomes working 24/7,” she says.
Hetal decided to leave. And that’s when she found out about Axelerant.
“Now, it’s easy because I know my team members trust me. If I need to pick up my son, I can leave early without feeling guilty,” she says.
Hetal has also had her skills questioned occasionally in the workplace. “If you are asking too many questions and you are a woman, you will probably be told that you won’t get it,” says Hetal.
Her advice to women who might be facing similar criticism: “Don’t take it too seriously. If we pay too much attention to the noise, sometimes we stop paying enough attention to the job,” she says.
Hetal believes that workplaces like Axelerant that encourage flexible work will have a positive impact on women, particularly those who are re-entering the workforce. She observes a stark difference between full-time working moms and stay-at-home moms in terms of how fulfilled and enthusiastic they seem in general. She says: “Stay-at-home moms often tend to look bored or resigned. Working moms—even though we are always tired—exude a sense of satisfaction. And I don’t think the children of working moms are at any disadvantage. That is, if you do it the right way.”
Ever since she was old enough to dream, Priyasha dreamt of being an architect. You can read her story here.
But once she’d completed her degree in architecture, she realized her interests lean more towards designing for users, and she wanted to explore that direction. Why? “Because good design makes things simpler for everyone,” she says.
By then, she had also begun making graphics, logos and illustrations. So when she found a job opening at a company that was engaged in “graphic, web and space design”, her heart leapt, and she applied.
What followed? Many years of learning and getting used to the new work environment and the challenges it presented. Priyasha found that architecture and graphic design were not very different after all. She had her doubts occasionally about changing directions. Ultimately though, she’s glad she made the move. If she hadn’t, she says, she might never have gotten out of her comfort zone.
Today, Priyasha is a graphic designer at Axelerant, helping to transform the company’s brand experience. She loves music, and in her time off, she attends as many concerts as possible. When she manages to find some free time, she sketches. And she loves travel, so whenever possible, she plans a trip. She’s still learning and growing, challenging herself everyday. “I believe in learning by making mistakes, so if there's something new that I'm not aware of, I try to learn about it and give it my best,” she says.
She’s quite comfortable with the idea that people need to explore different sides of themselves through their careers, and therefore she may not always stick to one predetermined path. “I do know that I'll always be a designer, but the directions will definitely change with time because I feel it's really important to grow on a daily basis,” she says.
Her advice to young women: “Always take risks, get out of your comfort zone and move towards growth.”
“I wanted to be back home again. Staying away from my family was getting harder by the day.”
By 2012, Aliya had spent several years in Delhi working for a Drupal development company. She wanted to be closer to home in Srinagar but she wasn’t sure how this could work. She wasn’t aware and certainly not convinced that remote work was really possible.
But after floods affected our office in Srinagar, she started working for Axelerant from home. Aliya never came back to the office (and the office didn’t come back either).
Now it’s 2018, and she’s convinced that more remote opportunities in her home region of Kashmir would be good for many—and not just because being close to home is a nicety.
Aliya believes that this change could foster independence, particularly for women, who face cultural challenges which sadly keep so many subjugated, unequal, and unsafe.
“In 2012, I was the only female Drupaler in my region. I feel so proud to say that’s no longer the case,” she says. She’s a firm believer that women everywhere can do more than what they think is possible; that independence begins with learning, by opening up the mind to new opportunities. She hopes to teach this to others, and to learn more about what’s possible for her and her peers.
Besides being her title as Front-end Engineer, she’s also wife and new mother. When she’s away from her desk, she loves to cook for her husband and spend time with her 3-month-old baby girl, Baheej.
Aliya’s learning every day how challenging and rewarding being a mom can be. “This all seems very challenging,” she says, “and I’m sure there will be a lot to give and take.”
I've thought about the questions I've been asking others, trying to answer these myself. I’ve been fortunate enough to have had a lot of support—from men and women—throughout my career. I have never experienced many of the challenges that a lot of women face in the workplace. So as the author of this piece, I've found there's a lot to learn from each of the women I've spoken to.
But the biggest lesson I will be taking away is probably that each individual is strikingly, beautifully different.
And perhaps this is fitting, because in my career as a writer and creative professional, the biggest challenge I have faced has been accepting how different I am from the people around me. Everyone is different and works differently, regardless of their gender. What has helped me the most is to not judge myself by anyone else’s standards, to turn inward instead and try to find my process, trust it, stay with it, and adapt it to meet each new challenge.
So that is what I would offer: Whoever you are, whatever your gender, don't let anyone else tell you that your difference is a flaw. Own your process, your challenges, your solutions, and their outcomes.
And when you start to do that, you might find that you have strengths that are special and powerful, and that you can use them to achieve things you'd never thought possible.