“Change has to come from inside, but the work culture must also support it.”
Scindia Balasingh, Head of Global Partner Marketing at Freshworks, has been recognized as one of ‘Tamil Nadu’s Top Women Leaders’ by the World Women Leadership Congress(WWLC). The Women Leadership award recognizes and appreciates the profound role played by women as leaders, executioners, and decision makers, in shaping the future of the region and the nation.
The WWLC hosts its annual awards to ‘identify and celebrate the outstanding leadership and achievements demonstrated by women leaders that are reflected by the distinct innovations and initiatives brought in by them in various private and public sectors.’ Scindia was awarded for embodying the ‘qualities of leadership’ and her ‘constant exploration of new avenues’. Under her guidance, the ISV Marketing team at Freshworks has emerged as one of the upcoming revenue engines for bottom-of-the- funnel endeavors.
On a quick Zoom call, she opened up about her love for multitasking, battling odds, and what it means to be working in a fast-growing organization today, and finally, rising to help others rise too.
“Even as a child, I would dream about going to an office and having a room of my own,” Scindia recollects.
“While all my friends prattled about romances, and talked about their marriages, for me it was always about my career,” she continues.
‘A room of one’s own’—like Virginal Woolf’s seminal essay by the same name—conjures up in our mind the need for women to carve a space for themselves. But it is not an image of isolation; rather, it is the space we all need as individuals to cultivate our potential and connect with the world in the best way possible.
For Scindia Balasingh, it’s about finding the right environment to grow, to be empowered to achieve the best you can. “When I was growing up, I used to think that in order to have a successful career, you cannot get married,” she says, “but now I know that with the help of a wonderful support system, women can do everything.”
Multitasking in a ‘happy’ work environment
Women have been multitasking since the dawn of time, fulfilling their obligations and following their passions, wherever they lie. “So much so that it’s now in our genes,” she chuckles.
“I was always a career-oriented person. As a mother of a four-year-old child, working in an organization like Freshworks that fosters work-life balance has been wonderful for me. There have been times when my teammates or the HR have gotten in touch with me—sometimes regularly—to ensure that I am taking breaks, spending enough time with my family. I have not seen most companies do that.”
A ‘happy’ work environment is one that grants—as a prerequisite—the flexibility to balance the silos of work and life. As the pandemic blurred the distinctions between the two, it called for better management of both in the ensuing WFH scenario. “Sometimes my kid will start running around during a partner call or do something disruptive during a team meeting, but everyone empathizes. They understand he’s just a kid. They sometimes even ask him questions!” she says.
In an effort to support working parents, Freshworks has partnered with Klay and also arranged for dedicated sessions to help ease some of the problems that are unique to working parents—who share the responsibilities of home and work. This includes sensitizing others and being proactive about demanding active changes. The spotlight is on the ‘Future is Family’ program, a series of learning engagement sessions to support employees as they work toward a sustainable work-life integration.
“That’s the kind of environment and culture we have at Freshworks. As long as the work is done, I have the complete freedom to choose my timings, balance things my way,” she adds.
Being a mentor, managing work remotely in the pandemic initially brought its own set of challenges but, with smart technology, she was able to strike a balance. “I never expected that I would get more resources in the middle of the pandemic but, fortunately, our virtual onboarding process made it seamless,” says Scindia.
As somebody who witnessed Freshworks’ virtual onboarding process first-hand when I joined in June this year, I couldn’t agree more.
When I ask her about her personal favorite session, she mentions Vijayaraghavan P’s fitness challenge enthusiastically. The 6-week fitness challenge organized for Freshworks by Monday Monk, a Chennai-based holistic fitness solution provider, encourages employees to make a resolution to adopt a healthier lifestyle by New Year’s Eve. Vijayraghavan is Director of Workplace Management at Freshworks.
And now with a host of other sessions being offered virtually, employees can work on their mental health, stay fit and active, and even have difficult conversations like countering stigma.
“Our programs and workshops are designed to be inclusive,” says Sindhuja Parthasarathy, Senior Manager, Learning and Development at Freshworks.
“We have a ‘Women in Leadership’ program, which focuses on the key competencies that women need to build as they move on to leadership and senior leadership roles. Scindia was part of one such workshop.”
To make the experience of the transition better, “We also have in place a career restart program where we initiate a system and a process to help women come back to work after a career break with ease,” says Sindhuja.
When I ask Scindia about her thoughts regarding returning to the office in the ‘Next normal’, she mentions that even though her work does not change, she prefers being in the office. “Given a choice, I’ll come to the office because I love the atmosphere and the culture. At Freshworks, the way people are and work, you will not feel any work-related stress at all,” she adds.
Rising against adversity
“Adversity made me into a strong woman,” she says.
And her personal history is proof. In the summer of 2016, Scindia had lost almost 90% of her vision in both eyes owing to some pregnancy-related hormonal changes. “For almost one and a half years, I never shared this with anyone, not even my family. They thought I was absent-minded when actually, I couldn’t see the screen most of the time.” When doctors asked her to take a break from work or even to switch careers, she remained firm on her ground. “Somewhere, I had it in my mind that if I am able to pull through in this adversity, then everything will be fine. And it was.” In early 2019, during her stint with tech distributor Redington, Scindia was named among the ‘Top 20 Women Catalysts in Indian IT.’
Women can work wonders in whatever they choose to do. “All you need is a supportive family and work situation to complement your passion and aspirations. I am not saying this for the sake of saying that; if you work in an organization like Freshworks, every woman can achieve something great and meaningful,” she avers.
“What a lot of companies don’t understand is that what hinders a woman’s progress is not only sexual harassment but also microaggressions stemming from gender bias and lack of respect,” she says. Sadly, in several workplaces, these misbehaviors become the norm. “Because of their work culture, the idea [that gains ground] is that we women need to adjust, conduct ourselves in a manner that we don’t speak up,” she adds.
The time has come to rise against that sort of biased thinking.
“All the sessions that I have attended at Freshworks are structured in a way that’s not theoretical: You learn by doing. The workshops have a lot of role plays to help women who are not comfortable with public speaking or need help addressing concerns about their careers. “For me, personally, they have given me the confidence to speak up. You have the assurance that this is a safe place, where you can voice your fears and be heard,” Scindia says. “That’s what matters.”
Sindhuja explains, “We offer a program on Managing Unconscious biases for all our employees. The program helps our employees examine implicit attitudes and unconscious biases that we all bring to work. Using examples, stories and research, we facilitate a dialogue on the impact of gender stereotypes and sexism, and identify ways for disrupting or reducing unconscious biases.”
“Our leaders (of all genders) also participate in our Manager Excellence program titled “Lead with Heart” where we support leaders and help them ideate on and draw action plans to foster an inclusive work environment for all our employees,” says Sindhuja.
Such programs and workshops do tend to have a positive impact.
“What’s the one thing you cannot do without?” I ask her.
“Respect,” she says promptly.
“As a woman, I have often been stereotyped and mocked because I am a straightforward, no-nonsense sort of person. Even though I have never cared, it bothered me to think that others might not have the mental strength to cope with being let down—by managers, by peers. They may be too sensitive to speak out.”
The culture of gossip can be pervasive, she says, and it’s up to us—the individual and the collective—to stop it from taking root. “As women, you have to remember that whatever you do, you have the right to be respected; you have all the rights to stand on your two legs. You can be a homemaker or a chef or aspire to be in corporate life or run a YouTube channel or even teach online,” she says.
According to Scindia, it’s a wrong notion that you have to sacrifice your happiness and your self-respect for your career. “What you need to do is to believe in yourself. That’s what I have always done.”
“Change has to come from inside, but the work culture must also accommodate, adapt, and support the change,” she adds.
Spreading wings for others to fly
When asked about her learnings in life, Scindia says she wants “to keep learning and experimenting to be able to find my place and stand out.”
As a former Rotary Club VP, she wants to spread her knowledge using social channels too.
“I do a lot of podcasts—including one called SaaS sessions—to spread my knowledge across on technology, marketing, partnerships and everything along those lines. Apart from that, what I really want to do is motivate, teach, and share my knowledge with all the women communities, wherever possible,” she says. Some of her podcasts are available on YouTube and LinkedIn.
When prodded, she reveals, rather shyly, that she has taken on the responsibility of funding educational expenses for underprivileged kids. She is also an organ donor and has organized quite a few organ donation camps during her stint at Rotaract Club.
Next up, Scindia is looking to bring change in her own way to the rural communities, including women communities below the poverty line. “Not only in terms of financial support, but I also want to help them with personality development,” she says.
Taking lessons from some of our workshops at Freshworks, she wants to include a lot of mock sessions and role play events in her podcasts so that she can help women who, “despite being amazingly talented, face communication issues or feel under-confident.” She wants to impart practical lessons in creating safe spaces for women to practice and perfect their art.
“As I am constantly exploring new avenues like webinars, AMAs, and roundtables, I feel this is where I can spread my wings to teach others how to fly.”
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