You’re not always born into your purpose. And sometimes the one you seem to be born into, isn’t the one truly meant for you.
Sonica comes from a family of doctors but as soon as she fainted at the sight of a rat being dissected in school, she knew it wasn’t the path for her. She didn’t really think of any path as hers up until that point. What she really wanted from life was the freedom to live it fully and that’s what she spent her college days doing.
That was until she realised that if she didn’t get serious about her career soon enough, marriage would be the only journey on the cards for her. With that in mind, she enrolled herself into a coding program but two months in the verdict was out and soon after so was coding from her plans. People around her then started filling MBA application forms and so she followed suit. Her bright mind ensured admission to some of the top colleges. She had the pick of the bunch and chose to move as far away as possible to XLRI. It was here that Sonica felt like she had real competition. Up until this point, she had always been a topper with ease but now it wasn’t as easy. This meant, she worked harder. She developed a keen interest in subjects such as organisational design and organisational behaviour despite the fact that they weren’t particularly scoring ones. At the end of it, she was placed with an FMCG company and hasn’t looked back since. She fell in love with the impact her role had on people
The ripple effect each activity of hers had, brought a sense of satisfaction that turned into an addiction.
They say a good first job is a lot like a good first boyfriend/girlfriend. It sets you up with a positive mindset for the process.
And that’s what happened for Sonica. She learned a lot from her first job especially in terms of translating theory to application. When she had her first child, she was blessed with a supportive manager who allowed her to come to work for half the day and gave her a laptop to work from home for the rest of the day. This was granted to her without a written policy in place. New leadership wasn’t a fan of the exception being made. Sonica moved back to Delhi with her family for support from the grandparents. She worked long hours on little sleep. And so, when she was pregnant again, she took a long hard look at her situation. She was already heading HR for a 600-crore company, so what was next? A 1000 crore company? She chose to take a sabbatical even though her family, her friends, her manager, every one advised against it. She had always been a lousy cook, but she painted herself a picture of baking through her free time when she took this decision. It also helped with her mom guilt of sending her son to school with packaged food as tiffin all these years. The notion of replacing it with healthier home-cooked meals was tempting. The reality of course was very different.
She still wasn’t designed to run a kitchen. It was then that she recognised that while her decision to stay home was a choice, that wasn’t the case for so many women.
And that thought didn’t leave her for a long time. It stayed until she decided to do something about it. Her daughter was born in November and her company in March.
What was her company going to do? She had learned from her years that one has to solve the root problem, and when the right processes are in places, sheep will march. And so, Marching Sheep was born. And with it the desire to make a difference with diversity and inclusion at the workplace. In 2013, when she started, she was asked to do a lot of pro-bono work, but she knew the work she wanted to do wouldn’t be achieved in complimentary one-hour sessions. So, she spoke to as many real women as she could and researched to the extent possible.
Majority dropouts among women were seen in the working tenure of 5-12 years, most of which was after maternity leave due to a lack of proper support.
That gave birth to her flagship program called, Women at Work. The idea was to give women the means to dream. To teach them the behaviours and qualities they had to eliminate or imbibe and help them find the right mentors and networks to grow. Making women believe in themselves and stand up for their dreams was the first part. The second was addressing the ecosystem with co-workers and managers. That gave birth to ‘Unleash the power of inclusion’. Here’s where a deeper look is taken into policies, starting with the diversity charter.
While the work started to empower women, it has since extended to cater to inclusion of people with disabilities, LGBTQIA community, generational diversity, cognitive diversity, cultural diversity and so much more. Starting a business didn’t come naturally to Sonica who was brought up in a risk averse, conservative family. She was at best, a reluctant entrepreneur who had to teach herself the very basics of taxation, website creation, sales and everything in between. This is why she worked solo for almost 4 years. She experimented with freelancers but had sour experiences. It was only in 2018 that she made her first hire. As for the last two years with the pandemic, Sonica does think hiring has become easier both for herself and for her clients, but retention is still a subject of discussion. The pandemic too, impacted women more than men. In India, and even globally, the house is considered the woman’s primary responsibility. For example, women can’t attend a call at 8 pm. But why? And also, why is there a call at 8 pm in the first place? There’s a lot of systems around the woman that need to change.
We asked Sonica if she had one message for everyone on the subject of working women and she said:
Women need to be able to choose and need to be reminded that a woman’s income isn’t just for her. It’s also for their families and ultimately for their country’s GDP.
If each of us understands this, we will have happier women, men and a more prosperous country.