Anuradha Balaram, the first Chief Economic Adviser to the Kerala State Planning Board, shares her management tips for an ideal work-life equation. Today is International Women’s Day
Anuradha Balaram is an achiever. She does not whine about lost opportunities and lack of a level playing field at the work place. She talks about opportunities, challenges and raising the bar for herself and for others. And all this is her way of celebrating being a woman. Soft-spoken Anuradha is used to being heard in the highest echelons of government. Perhaps that is why the poised economist measures and weighs each word she says. She is the first Chief Economic Adviser to the State Planning Board, Government of Kerala.
Anuradha took up the assignment because she felt it would be an enriching experience for her to understand the development challenges of a “unique state like Kerala”.
In her prettily done-up flat in the capital city, Anuradha, however, does not talk about balancing the budget, deficits or allocations. Instead, on the occasion of International Women’s Day today, she talks about how she strikes a balance between her professional and personal life. “At the end of the day, there should be no regrets. After all, it is the pursuit of happiness that should be influencing our choices,” she says with a smile.
Married at the age of 21 to Balaram, an officer in the merchant navy, Anuradha, then a young graduate of Economics from Madras University, was not all at sea when it came to pursuing a career. “My mother, Meera Sreekumar, a medical practitioner, was particular that both my sister and I, along with my brother, should be financially independent. As a result, even my daughter, Suma, has never even thought of a stay-at-home mother. She has always been used to a household where the women work both inside and outside the home,” says Anuradha.
After her post graduation, she was preparing for the Union Public Service Examinations in Chennai, when her teachers suggested that she could also take the examination for the Indian Economic Service (IES). Following their advice, she joined the IES “because I really like my subject and was good at it.”
“Many women of my generation floundered into their professions because in those days it was difficult to gather information about available options. Most of us had to rely on seniors, teachers or family members. The IES was not something many people know about, even now,” she says.
Having said that, she adds that she has thoroughly enjoyed her 28 years of work in the IES, which has been mostly in various Ministries in the Union Government and based in Delhi. This is her first posting in a State Government and as a Malayali who has never lived before in Kerala, she finds this a learning experience.
The glass ceiling did not hit her because in her kind of work gender has never been an issue. Moreover, many workplaces are opening up to include women and give them challenging assignments. But she feels that evaluations of ‘efficiency’ have to be revaluated and made gender sensitive.
“Number of hours spent in the office is not a measure of efficiency. Work put in and completed should be the parameter. I have observed that generally women spend less time on lunch and coffee breaks. The tendency is to finish their work and leave the workspace to go home, where another lot of ‘homework’ awaits them. Similarly, the workplace has to take into account the need for women to nurture their children during those crucial years,” she explains.
Anuradha says she was able to give her career her best and also take care of her family because of the support systems she had to put in place and the encouragement of her husband throughout.
Such support systems are mandatory for women who work outside the home. “Moreover, women will have to take those necessary breaks during pregnancy, child care and so on. But most women manage because they are good multi-taskers and at the end of the day, it is all about good management and prioritising,” she says.
But Anuradha feels that if fathers are given the opportunity to experience the joys and travails of parenting first-hand, mothers would not feel that parenting and housekeeping are her responsibilities alone. Men should also be given time off from work to take care of families through child care leave. This will benefit men as they will feel more connected with their families.
As her husband likes to have an open house where friends and relatives are always welcome, Anuradha ensures there is domestic help to manage the household and kitchen chores. “I am not a great cook but I see to it that I have a well kept home, where my family is cared for and that guests feel welcome,” she says. A voracious reader, Anuradha feels there is a book in her which, she plans to write after her retirement. Ten years down the line, Anuradha sees herself as an author and academic.
Anuradha says the advantage of the IES is that the government itself is keen on the officers specialising in various sectors and becoming academically proficient in the subject.
Her training in the Indian Economic Service helps her to analyse the numerous pros and cons of a particular decision, the alternatives, the tradeoffs necessitated by that choice and to convey apolitical, objective and unbiased information to decision makers.
“We are encouraged to work on our doctorates and keep updating ourselves professionally. Moreover, we are expected to keep an eye on global events and markets. There is a wide developmental canvas to work on. As result, the work is never boring,” she says.
Now as member-secretary of the State Planning Board, she has gained a good understanding of Centre-State dynamics, plan priorities and implementation constraints.
Taking calculated risks outside the comfort zone can be most fulfilling
Men should remember that women are human beings too
Mothers should teach their sons to value women
All women work - some work outside their homes as well
All women need support systems – we must create this for ourselves