Getting the balance right
Following a three-year career break for family reasons, Poonam Narang chose to join Shell as she felt it would enable her to strike a great balance between work and home.
Based in Bangalore, India, Poonam joined Shell in 2009 as HR Country Support in our Projects & Technology business, before being appointed as HR Manager, Engineering. She works full time but takes advantage of flexible working options. Poonam already had an insight into how Shell operated thanks to working with us in a project capacity for around eight months in 2008.
She says this experience and “taste” of Shell was invaluable in her decision to join the company.
“There were a number of things that influenced me to join Shell and I learned a lot through interacting with people in the previous projects,” says Poonam. “The competence and the expertise people brought to their jobs was very attractive as were values such as respect, which came through in a lot of conversations.
“Colleagues kept mentioning that the organisation offers flexibility, which is especially attractive to female employees. It was important to me as I was coming back from a three-year break after having my second daughter.”
Daughters Neha, now 15, and Mansi, 9, aren’t Poonam’s only consideration in balancing her work and home life. Her elderly mother lives with her in the family home, and being ill, needs care on a 24/7 basis. Her husband’s work also involves him being away from home a lot on business.
Since completing her postgraduate studies in Human Resource Management 18 years ago, Poonam has been focused on a professional career. During this time, she says, she has seen a move towards greater empowerment and support for women’s development. Although it still has plenty of room to progress, admits Poonam, she says Shell is “way ahead of the game” when it comes to diversity and inclusion.
“In Shell, I would say that we have a top quartile set of policies that support people’s need for flexible working at different stages of their lives,” she explains. “These provide options for part-time working, working from home, job sharing, flexi-time, financial support for child care, a sabbatical, etc.
“Shell recognises that women often have a career trajectory, which is different from that of men,” continues Poonam. “In their late 20s and early 30s, when men are raring to get into middle management roles, which stretch them and provide evidence of their risk taking propensities and their potential, women are often preparing to slow down. We are either getting married or contemplating babies, so there’s a shift in focus in the next three to five years for us.
"In Shell, I would say that we have a top quartile set of policies that support people’s need for flexible working at different stages of their lives."
“Flexible working policies enable us to cushion our return and provide a much-needed safety net for us to move from first to fifth gear again.”
And it’s policies like these that help Poonam deliver in her role, which includes challenges such as supporting two senior Shell executives – one in Bangalore and one with a more global focus involving virtual connections and working closely with people in the US and Europe.
Despite the great strides Shell has been making, the technical business area Poonam works in is still male dominated. In general, though, Poonam feels her colleagues are increasingly aware of the business benefits of diversity and appreciate the skills and experiences women bring into the workplace. She is currently involved in mentoring more junior colleagues, both male and female.
Poonam hopes the balance she’s been able to strike between her work and family life will encourage her daughters into positive careers where they too can enjoy great careers and personal lives.
She says: “A lot of my business conversations are difficult and revolve around honesty, and respect for the individual. I use what I’ve learned in my professional life to enrich conversations at home. I am able to have a better relationship with my family because of the work I do.”
- Job title: HR Manager, Engineering (East), Shell Projects & Technology
- Joined Shell in 2009 as HR in Country support to upstream development
- Married with two daughters aged 15 and nine
- Her dependent elderly mother lives with the family
- Took two career breaks to raise a family – four years in total
- Obtained a post-graduate qualification in Human Resource Management
Poonam says: “For me, one of the best things about working for Shell is that it has succeeded in building a culture where I don’t need to feel apologetic about the fact I’m juggling many roles.”
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