Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Dissecting the She-conomy

“You don’t have to be anti-man to be pro-woman.” ~Jane Galvin Lewis 

I was at a  conference last week where I heard about the power of the she-conomy. The reality is that there are two sides to this coin...wonderful is the fact that -
  • Globally, about 870 million women who have not previously participated in the mainstream economy will gain employment or start their own business by 2020. Most of these women – 822 million – will come from non-industrialized countries, while roughly 47 million will come from North America,Western Europe and Japan.
  • Women will be responsible for 19 Trillion in spending and 13 Tr in Earnings in 2016 in the US
  • Senior women age 50 and older control net worth of $19 trillion and own more than three-fourths of the US financial wealth
At the same time it is perturbing to see that :
  • In developing economies women are 20 percent less likely than men to have an account at a formal financial institution and 17 percent less likely to have borrowed formally in the past year.
  • A study in India showed that, although accounts might be opened in the name of a woman, the decision-making authority around the use of those funds often lies with a male relative. The World Bank’s Gender at Work report (2014) asserts: “On virtually every global measure, women are more economically excluded than men.
I see this behavior in my Ma who was totally like an "ostrich with her head stuck in the sand" as far as her finances are concerned ...She was a housewife and in the past she let my father deal with all things taxes, finance and investing. Trying to learn a new skill (now that Bapa is gone) is hard for her.  However, I see the same behavior from my mother-in-law  who has worked all her life as a doctor - yet when it comes to banking, finances and investing -- she leaves it all to the man of the house. I remember her telling me, she just asks Baba for money when she needed it and he gave it to her ...so the point above by World Bank on the male having the decision making authority seems to ring true.
I believe there are 4 key barriers to women engaging more fully with finance and investing :
  • lack of time 
  • fear of numbers
  • lack of basic  financial education
  • off-putting attitudes and biases of  family members and society in general
I believe to overcome these barriers women need to :
  • Get Educated About Money - Take the time to learn about how money works, and about how different investments work. You can learn in bite sized bits, tackling a concept a day, until you feel comfortable with money, and with making money decisions. 
  • Fund your own retirement (take control)  If you have a job, make sure some of that money goes into a retirement account. If you do not have a job, talk to your partner about a spousal IRA - plan your retirement
  • Don't be Afraid -  Framing financial challenges as 'lessons learned' and planning for expected and unexpected life milestones can help build strength and confidence.
  • Frugality is not a cuss-word - It's Not About Being Cheap or being a cheapskate, a miser or a tightwad.  It's about having security and peace of mind by spending less than you make.  It's about knowing where you stand financially on a daily basis so you can make intelligent fiscal decisions. I budget, I coupon and I forecast our savings and spending at home just like I do at work. 
At the end of the day She-conomy is about empowerment and true financial freedom. It's about building the know-how to walk that walk towards independence (vs. talking it) which is an alien concept for so many women. So what is your financial strategy...if you could change one thing  today what would you change?

Sunday, June 15, 2014

A letter from a daughter to her father...(Happy Father's Day!)


Dear Bapa,

Even though we were close and we talked, in the early days- you didn't share emotions much, you kept me grounded but guided me wordlessly down a path that somehow was the right one for me - always proud of my achievements...I wish I had asked you more "How are you?"...you had been my ideal clawing your way out of nothing to achieve so much (yet you were a practical person, not letting the power get to your head...maintaining your simplicity). It was only after you found out you were sick that you let that facade of "playing poker face" crumble...you let me be the strong one for you (and you made that easy -  you were so positive and cheerful). It's been two father's days, one birthday (yours) and two wedding anniversaries (yours) where the emptiness was acute. 

Miss you Bapa and Happy Father's Day,


Love,
Your Daughter



Thursday, June 12, 2014

Tentative Parenting : What my 7 yr old teaches me about Management?


By the time my son came along, I had spent over 10 years in product management living life big : shipping products that people used everyday, solving problems for gigantic customers, flying across the globe to meet said customers and working with really smart development and sales people. I thought a baby shouldn't be a big deal...boy! was I wrong. My son (K2) was a blessing and a "handful" from the word go. Over the years I have watched him do things naturally that took me a long time to learn and internalize -
#1 Prioritize : K2 is ruthless about what matters in his life - it is his playtime, his iPad time and then time with parents... what I have learnt from K2 is that time will expand to fit what is a priority for you...I can sit down and say it's too hard and I can't get to things or get to first things first...sometimes I am amazed at how much I can fit into a day (and conversely how little).
#2 Communicate : whether it is a "small" question to letting us know he needs to use the bathroom, to he is hungry, sleepy or grumpy...K2 communicates...it is annoying at times but useful most times...I would rather he tell me he has a tummy ache to me second guessing it. At work I have learnt - it is critical to communicate with the team about most things - how large-scale decisions are made, what goals they’re working towards, and empower them to track their progress - this helps avoid confusion, alienation and helps keep everyone engaged and involved.
#3 Simplify : Man tends to over complicate, over-think life...K2 breaks things down to the basics (classic Maslow) - "When you learn how to say yes to the things you want in your life and no to the things you don't want in your life – your life becomes simpler."
#4 Visualize : K2 has to memorize poems every week for his public speaking class. The poems initially were itty bitty ones...the last one was a whopping 20 lines. I saw him getting frustrated and angry and nearly in tears. I sat him down and gave him a clue : visualize words ( the tree house, the robin, the stars and make them your anchor words). He had the poem memorized in 25 minutes. I had a mini-aha moment then - if he can apply it to memorizing a poem why can't I apply it to my life...at a moment that I am stressed why can't I close my eyes and visualize how peace looks like at that moment...sounds kooky but seems to work for me just fine.

#5 Authenticity : K2 is loud and laughs a lot...shy sometimes and sometimes not...he doesn't think about his actions much...his laughs, love and tears are from the heart - he is unconditional with his affections and emotions. I have learnt from him that it is important to be "true to yourself" and the approach of WYSIWG (what you see is what you get) works best here.

#6 Do it your way : I was trying to teach K2 how to do fractions...I was impressed that he came up with an alternate way to do the fractions which worked for him better. An important lesson I learnt then was - there is no right way or wrong way...the best way is "the doing it your way"...think out of the box...think about solving the problem or coming up with a kick-ass solution. This however doesn't equate to "my way or the highway" !!!

#7 Think Win-Win : I grew up in India and resources were scarce (college admissions etc) and our lives were intensely competitive -- we learnt to base our self-worth on comparisons and competition. I thought about succeeding in terms of someone else failing–i.e., if I win, you lose; or if you win, I lose. Life became a zero-sum game.-- however, with K2 I see that he is in a frame of mind and heart that constantly seeks mutual benefit in all human interactions -- he wants to share, his attitude is "there is plenty for all"...he has made me change my thinking too...it's collaborative and focused on the team vs. just myself.

As one of my mentors said to me in the past - “Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them” ...I am glad I am not sticking to stereotype here!

Friday, June 6, 2014

A date with an American Masala

For a self-proclaimed foodie, my knowledge about foods that I eat seems to be surprisingly sparse. You must have heard me raving about this amazing grilled cheese sandwich that my mother used to make for me that I kinda sorta modified to make my own...what? you haven't -- then I insist that you read the recipe here
What I didn't know was that this killer sandwich is called a toastie : a toasted sandwich made in a special machine, usually containing cheese combined with some other foodstuff.
I ran into Suvir Saran, an amazing chef and the author of the book American Masala. He inspired me to get out his book and my toastie maker and combine two of his recipes to make one killer toastie.
First things first - just in case you were wondering this is a toastie maker

I used the recipe for the warm pepper dip from the book American Masala (modified to my taste of course)
  • 2 Sprays of High Heat Spectrum Canola Spray 
  • 1 medium red onion - chopped
  • 10 Baby Red Bell Peppers  - That's what I had on hand
  • 2 medium tomatoes - chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic - peeled
  • 2 Serrano - increase for more heat
  • 1 tsp  Sea Salt
  • 1/4 Cup Reduced Fat Feta Cheese
  • Milk to make the dip (To consistency)
Toss all the ingredients, except milk & cheese, together. Spread on a greased baking dish. Roast in a pre-heated 450 degree F oven for 1 hr, stirring every 15 mins. Blend and make the dip. Here is how my beautiful dip looks (even Buddha approved!)

How I make my toastie?
  • 4 Slices High Fiber Whole Grain Bread
  • Spread the bread with the Red Pepper dip (thick coat)
  • Take a Amul Cheese Cube or whatever cheese rocks your boat (tear and spread across the bread)
  • Cover with another slice of bread
  • Close the toastie maker and let the magic begin!
Here is how the Toasties looked -

K2 absolutely adores this version of the Toastie -- he will have it for breakfast, lunch and dinner!
Sending this recipe to :
  1. Nandoo's Kitchen for her event Healthy Diet : Healthy Breakfast (brainchild of Priya's Versatile Recipes)
  2. Cooking 4 all Season's event - Come Join us for Breakfast
  3. Food Better be Good's event - Kid's Delight : Lunch Box Series
Thanks Suvir for your wonderful book that has so many lovely recipes (most kid-approved, at least my kid approved :) )

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

If I were 22...


I will hit a birthday milestone which ends with a "zero" this month and such a milestone does put one in an introspective mood - there are lessons learnt (and re-learnt)...priorities set and experiences gained. Some lessons I learnt in the last 18 years that I would love to share with my 22 yr old self are below (but as I tell myself you live and you learn!)
#1 Don't Hold Grudges - It is better to forgive and forget than to let negative feelings crowd out my positive feelings. Holding a grudge has a lot of detrimental effects on my well being, including increased depression, anxiety, and stress. For all I know the person who has done me wrong might be totally unaware of my feelings -- so I let myself feel strongly for that instance, express my emotions if it makes sense and then just let it go...makes me feel a whole lot lighter and better.
# 2 Eat Well and Exercise- I didn't start exercising till I was 30 (yikes!) and filled my body with a lot of junk food. The last 10 years have taught me good habits of eating organic, whole foods and making exercise a part of my daily routine. I feel this has a huge positive impact on my mental health, my productivity at work and my ability to spend more energy and time with my young son.
#3 Don't sweat the small stuff (so hard!) - This is so hard for an eternal planner like me - I am anal with To-Do Lists and Organizing stuff -- I have learnt that sometimes things just resolve themselves...things that seemed huge problems a month back seem non-trivial now.
#4 Express Gratitude - There are so many things going right in my life...I would rather take the time to appreciate all that is going right with my life vs. lament the things that don't seem to be working out.
#5 See Problems as Challenges - A problem is viewed as a drawback, a struggle, or an unstable situation while a challenge is viewed as something positive like an opportunity, a task, or a dare. Whenever you face an obstacle, try looking at it as a challenge. I won't say the path forward has been the easiest however once I changed my mindset - that things were not being put in my path to create roadblocks but were opportunities -- I was able to achieve more success
#6 Never seek approval from others - I used to be so "needy" of approval from my parents and close friends. What I realized over time is that it is impossible to please everyone. My mother still feels I should stay at home and take care of my family vs. have a career. I do listen to what the people who matter in my life have to say, but I always forge my own path forward...seeking approval from one source and one source alone - myself.
#7 Live in the Present - I don’t dwell on the past much or worry about the future. Losing my father taught me one important lesson - Life is fleeting, savor the present. I have let myself get absorbed in what I am doing at the moment. I do plan for the future but with broad brush strokes...I know I have a path mapped out but I am enjoying what I have "right now" vs. thinking of what "I can have tomorrow to enjoy"...my father told me something in Jan 2013 which rings true every day after - You live only once, don't make the mistake I made of waiting for retirement for all the vacations and relaxation to happen...enjoy every day like it is the last one that you have on this earth...then you will really live!" Living life for me today was about standing in my backyard for 10 minutes enjoying the antics of a squirrel...made me ready for any curve-ball or challenge that this day had to throw at me!
As Lao Tzu said it - If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Tentative Parenting : Dealing with Grief & Uncertainity


K2 : Ma, why does the brain suddenly bleed?
Working Mom : I don't know, sometimes it just happens. 
K2 : Ma, will he be alright?
Working Mom : Let's pray for him tonight? Is that ok?
K2 : Ma, was the ICU scary?
Working Mom : It's late...why don't we save some questions for tomorrow.

I am mentally exhausted ...I never imagined being in the pediatric ICU watching K2's 8 year old friend on life support...harder still was internalizing the grief of the parents and trying to explain the situation to K2. Based on my recent devastating loss here is my meager attempt to get K2 to understand and deal with the situation 


  1. Face Reality and let out the pain - it's OK to talk about feelings and fears. Cry, Grieve, Ask Questions and deal with reality vs. being an ostrich with it's head stuck in the sand
  2. Talk it out - I am glad K2 is asking questions and trying to understand the prognosis for his friend. 
  3. Harbor no regrets - one interesting thing K2 asked about his friend falling sick was - whose fault was it? And my answer was - sometimes K2 it isn't anyone's fault it just is
  4. Shift the focus away from sadness - it is so easy to fall into a rut...get miserable and wallow in that misery...however it is important to snap out of it
  5. There is no one way or right way - I dealt with my grief through work and exercise and my life lesson that I offer to K2 is that - that well might not work for him. He will have to find what helps him counteract that feeling of hopelessness and helplessness
  6. Most importantly remembering that grieving/dealing with uncertainty  is a personal process that has no time limit. 
  7. Pray Hard...faith and prayer are the vitamins of the soul
I am praying really hard ....


Thursday, May 15, 2014

Tentative Parenting : Respect Women

The country is making a big mistake not teaching our boys to cook & raise a garden &  do household chores.           --Loretta Lynn
For the first 23 years of my life...traditionalism stared me in the face - a father who held a job and a mother who took care of the house. I won't say it was the happiest of mergers but it worked (or they sorta made it work). I am sure those key formative years had a great deal to do with my schizophrenic personality today where I am a feminist during the day (taking my fair share of the work, performing, questioning, contributing) and a traditionalist at the night (think all house hold chores minus taking the garbage out once weekly).

The truth of the matter is we (women) can be fabulous, brilliant, creative -- have tangible impact and yet at some point there is a mental brake that we apply to our own psyche - because unlike most men women with children are still expected to work the second shift at home (and no! not all of us have the model husbands who actually do their fair share of the household chores). Just as work has expanded to require me to be present all the time, I have realized that being a good mom also requires my attention 24*7. Parenting has become a full-time job: school meetings, doctor's appointments,enrichment activities, homework and projects, organic school lunches... It's hard enough managing one 24/7 job. No one can survive two of them. 

So every time I hear talks about Women's Emancipation the one thing that sticks out for me is this one simple fact - as long as women are the ones doing more of the housework and childcare, women will be disproportionately hurt when both workplace expectations and parenting expectations requires them to be present 24*7. They'll continue to do what too many talented women already do: Just as they're on the verge of achieving workplace leadership positions, they'll start dropping out.  Beyond stats and doom & gloom, the way I am fixing this at home is I am teaching my 7 year old boy to cook, do chores and above all respect women (hard for me to fix 25 years of Socialization that went into K1 but K2 is my blank canvas).

Here's an interesting video clip that got mixed reviews in India, but in my mind it hit a home run in terms of messaging :



This week saw me at PWBC's 25th Conference - Rising Above! It was fabulous and gave me a lot of food for thought!