How long do you think this recession will last? That's the question everyone has been asking. Experts are not very sure but they say that it is not going to go away in a hurry and, unfortunately, the worst is yet to come! This has ignited a lot of concern among working women, many of whom are seeing a downturn in their workplaces. This is unchartered territory for most and women are learning to negotiate it the hard way by tweaking their expenses and altering their lifestyles like never before.
India is one of the countries relatively less affected by the global economic crisis - economies in the West are already in recession - but millions of families here have acted quickly to slice their spending habits. Of course, leading the new conservative trend are women who, are more often than not, responsible for managing home finances. Many are putting on hold all spending that can wait.
In the new scenario, women are counseling paranoid husbands to be more cautious of new ventures. They are largely investing family money in good old bank deposits that are more dependable and putting off expensive vacation plans. Many are also trimming family spending by cutting down on entertainment, eating out and buying new clothes. There is also a greater care taken on avoiding the careless use of electricity and fuel.
Delhi-based Sridevi Sunderajan, 46, a public relations executive with an international NGO says, "With recession and jobs cuts, there is so much uncertainty about the immediate future. I have put a stop on any big buys. I had planned the renovation of my house, which is long pending and for which I have already saved up, but now I would rather wait. I am doing an audit of my family's expenditure to see where I can cut costs. I now look for cheaper options everywhere, though we are just a family of two."
Suddenly, the Indian middle class dream seems to have become just that, a dream. Every year, employees wait eagerly for their annual increments. Things are different this year. In fact, from small enterprises to the big guys, salary cuts are now the norm. Recently, a television channel's head wrote to the employees saying that the top management had agreed to take a 20 per cent cut in salary. The inference is that soon, they too would have to agree to a similar move.
Another effect of the crisis has been that women haven't got carried away with the year-end sales - something that is usually the highlight of the festive season and New Year. Financial discipline is a concept that many more are diligently following as they prepare for the tough days ahead.
Rajni Pradhan, 27, Senior Manager, Knight Frank, real estate consultants in Pune, has started using her landlines more than the cell phone. She has cut down on eating out, socializing, let go of the cook, got her husband to call his business associates home for dinner instead of entertaining them in restaurants, and so on. Her husband, Alok, had three mobile phones, two of which he hardly ever used but got billed for every month. Rajni has now got rid of the two phones. "It was not easy asking the cook to leave as it put additional burden on me, but we all have to learn to cope," she observes quietly.
It is not just at home that Rajni is battling the recession. At work, she ensures that computers are switched off when not in use. She has also taken on new job roles to hone her skills and, more importantly, to keep the specter of the pink slip at bay. Then there are the others small switchovers: Now, for instance, when she travels on work to Mumbai, she hops on to a bus or a train instead of the more convenient taxi.
Sulina Menon, 44, a media and brand consultant in New Delhi, is upset seeing so many of her friends losing their jobs, as downscaling takes place. She knows that it is only a matter of time before she too gets affected. As a freelancer, projects will be fewer and far-between in the months to come. "All of us will have to tighten our belts," she warns.
The Nielsen Online Global Consumer Survey conducted by Nielsen Consumer Research a couple of months ago in the United States with 28,663 Internet users showed that only 11 per cent of women felt that there would be an end to recession soon, as compared with 27 per cent of men. There has been no similar survey in India, but the situation here is no different. Women appeared to be more concerned and anxious than their male counterparts.
Another recent study by Cambridge University suggested that if there were more women in top power positions, the global financial crisis might have been less in scope and impact. Dr Gita Piramal, author of 'Managing Radical Change', would agree: "Thinking things through, being authentic, ready to get your hands dirty and get down to the frontline yourself, being nurturing and supportive, these are traditionally a woman's traits but they rise to the fore in a crisis situation."
Women are heralding subtle lifestyle changes and know that a salary cut is not far away. There is, however, no unnecessary panic. They know that all it takes to control a money crisis is to increase financial discipline, consult experts before making investment plans and upgrade skills so that they do not become redundant in the office.
Some like Sridevi are even exploiting the recession, making smart investments right now. She could not get any blue-chip company shares during the boom, so now she is getting her husband to research on what to buy as the prices are low.