My mantra both personally and professionally has always been “less is more” and so firstly, I try to practice what I preach and instill this messaging of slowing down to do more professionally with my teams, and personally with my family at home. Encouraging flexible hours is key, and so I make it a point to set weekly goals for my various teams, with set deadlines and then trust my teams to deliver accordingly.
As a part of my series about “How to Slow Down To Do More” I had the pleasure to interview Rita Kakati Shah. Rita is an award-winning, globally recognized gender, diversity, inclusion and career strategist, speaker and advisor to Fortune 500 companies. She has been featured as an expert on multiple international television and news shows, interviewed and quoted in various podcasts and publications, opined on many panel discussions and has vast international speaking accolades. She is also the Founder and CEO of Uma, an international platform empowering women returning to work after a career break or transition. Uma is headquartered in New York City and with presence in London, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Toronto, the community continues to grow. Rita built her company Uma on a foundation of years of corporate culture as well as diversity and inclusion expertise. She was awarded the prestigious Excellence in Citizenship and Diversity Award during her 10 year career at Goldman Sachs in London. She follows the mantra of slowing down to do more and encourages her teams to do the same. She encourages flexible hours, work from home, frequent breaks and ensures vacations are taken. Although Rita has two young children and a rather hectic travel schedule, she makes sure to carve out time for cultural exploration, dancing and spa rejuvenation.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?
I started Uma in response to the “motherhood penalty” that many women face when trying to return to work after a career break. I wanted to instill confidence, build emotional readiness and preparedness for workforce reentry. This meant not only empowering women looking to return to work, but educating companies on their work culture, diversity, inclusion and retention strategy. In Sanskrit, the Hindu Goddess Uma is a daughter, a mother, a sibling and a wife. She represents strength, courage and confidence and depicts all the many roles women have. I came from a finance background, transitioned careers to pharmaceuticals, got married and relocated to New York City where I took a career hiatus of almost four years to raise my two children. When I was thinking of re-entering the workforce, I was surprised about the fixation employers had with the gap on my résumé, rather than transferable skills and experience. I have met so many incredible women who have similar stories and realized that someone had to challenge the system. I lived the problems and made it my mission to fix them.
According to a 2006 Pew Research Report report, 26% of women and 21% of men feel that they are “always rushed”. Has it always been this way? Can you give a few reasons regarding what you think causes this prevalent feeling of being rushed?
Do you remember the days of the flip phone, when employees had no choice but to switch off when they leave the office? Those were the days when emails and work tasks were conducted during the work day. Part of the reason we all feel so rushed in the corporate world in particular, is that we can never really switch off due to technology allowing us to be constantly switched on. Also, women in general are more detail oriented, thus ensuring their t’s are crossed and i’s dotted for example, so that is another level of time commitment that can make women feel more rushed. Add to that the lack of adequate parental leave, support for new families, vacation taken in general, and the added responsibilities that in particular, working mothers have outside of work, soon there are not enough hours in the day. But feeling rushed shouldn’t be confused with productivity, as demonstrated in this long-term study by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis which found that over the course of a 30-year career, mothers outperformed women without children at almost every stage of the game, and especially mothers with at least two children were the most productive of all.
Based on your experience or research can you explain why being rushed can harm our productivity, health, and happiness?
Being overly rushed can quickly lead to a whole host of issues such as feeling overwhelmed, a state of panic, stress and ultimately being burnt out. This not only affects your productivity at work, but has a really unfortunate impact on your overall health and wellbeing too. Given the aforementioned Pew Research Report suggests that working parents seemingly bear the higher brunt of these rushed feelings, making efforts on the wellbeing of this key employee pool should be prioritized, especially as demonstrated in this study by Harvard Business School, that having working parents both inside and outside the home is not only economically and professionally better for the family, but also better for the overall wellness and upbringing of the children, which only helps shape society.
On the flip side, can you give examples of how we can do more, and how our lives would improve if we could slow down?
By encouraging employees to work with hours that better fit their lives, companies can benefit from retaining talent, enhanced employee wellbeing and reduced turnover. Managing Director of PWC’s Office of Diversity, Jennifer Allyn, said stepped-up flexibility policies have helped cut turnover from 24 to 15 percent a year. Firms estimate that the cost of hiring and training a new employee can be 1.5 to 2 times a departing worker’s salary, so reducing turnover by 200 employees could mean $30 million in savings. Sharon Allen, Deloitte’s chairwoman, said her firm’s flexibility policies saved more than $45 million a year by reducing turnover. The Work, Family & Health Network published a study based on a randomized controlled experiment in the IT division of a Fortune 500 company that found that workers who participated in a program that emphasized flexibility and encouragement, reported reduced burnout, perceived stress and psychological distress, and higher levels of wellbeing and job satisfaction than those who did not participate.
We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed. Can you share with our readers 6 strategies that you use to “slow down to do more”? Can you please give a story or example for each?
My mantra both personally and professionally has always been “less is more” and so firstly, I try to practice what I preach and instill this messaging of slowing down to do more professionally with my teams, and personally with my family at home.
As seen by the data cited above, encouraging flexible hours is key, and so I make it a point to set weekly goals for my various teams, with set deadlines and then trust my teams to deliver accordingly.
Working from the office alone is not necessary and so other than weekly in office team meetings or conference calls with the remote teams, everyone can work from where they find they are most productive.
Taking frequent breaks has been shown to not only increase circulation, but also creativity and the motivation to work, and so I like to encourage frequent walks or water breaks.
It is also important to ensure vacations are taken. In my case I love to travel, so whether it is a work trip or vacation with family or friends, I make sure to carve out time for cultural exploration and self-reflection.
Lastly, it is so important to take time for your hobbies. For me I love to dance, so set aside evenings in advance where I can do this!
How do you define “mindfulness”? Can you give an example or story?
I would say it’s being aware of your surroundings. For example, by accepting what is happening around you in the present moment and taking a moment to accept your thoughts and how you feel about it, rather than have an impulse reaction to the situation. For example at the end of your work day, do you look at your workload and feel stressed at how little you managed to get done, or pat yourself on the back by acknowledging everything you did get done?
Can you give examples of how people can integrate mindfulness into their everyday lives?
You cannot always control the stresses that come your way, but mindfulness teaches you to control how you respond to it. Being aware of this, is the first part of becoming mindful, and then having a consistent routine or mantra, whether it is meditating first thing in the morning, at a set time during the day or in the evening.
Do you have any mindfulness tools that you find most helpful at work?
This is a very useful exercise, not just for work but for home too. Try taking a deep breath and repeating the message to yourself that every step you take, is a step, and even though you cannot always see the finished outcome, you are making progress. Having questions, doubt, fulfillment are all part of acknowledging your surroundings and accepting your feelings around it.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to use mindfulness tools or practices
This article provides some great tips for implementing, supporting and remaining consistent in your mindfulness practice at work.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
The best advice I ever received was from my mother. “You never know what you’ll enjoy doing until you try. See the world, try everything at least once. And when you find your call, never give up.” These are the words that shaped who I am today, and now I impart on my two children.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I would love to see a much more robust maternity and paternity leave policy in order to help people launch their families in this country — the U.S. is the only developed country in the world without a mandatory paid parental leave policy, and the numbers of re-entrants into the workforce has gone down. Uma wants to help change that, and much of our Research has been focused on this. Being a mother is the toughest job I’ve ever done requiring laser focus, an unparalleled skill set and immense dedication, yet because there is no compensation for being a mother and caring for your children, you are not part of the GDP calculation in the US. Despite women forming more than 70% of all US household consumer decisions, there is no quantifiable salary for being a mother, thus no economic recognition and you feel like a forgotten segment of society.
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!
About the Author:
After 15 years working in Commercial Real Estate in New York City, Ashley Graber changed the coast she lived on and the direction of her life from Real Estate to the worlds of Psychology and Meditation & Mindfulness. Ashley came to these practices after getting sober and in the decade plus since, she now runs a busy mindfulness based psychotherapy practice at Yale Street Therapy in Santa Monica, CA where she see adults and children and speaks on the benefits of meditation and mindfulness practices.
Ashley is an Owner and Director of Curriculum for the next generation meditation app & mindfulness company ‘Evenflow’ and launched the company’s one to one online mindfulness mentoring program. Ashley also educates teachers and administrators in schools and presents in businesses across Santa Monica and Los Angeles.
Ashley was trained in Meditation and Mindfulness practices by prominent teachers; Elisha Goldstein, Richard Burr and Guiding teacher at Against the Stream Boston, Chris Crotty. Her Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) certification was done through The Center for Mindfulness at UC San Diego. Additionally, Ashley is trained by Mindful Schools to teach Meditation and Mindfulness practices to children and families. Ashley’s unique combination of psychotherapy, trauma reprocessing and meditation and mindfulness practices make her a sought after therapist and mindfulness educator and speaker. Her passion for the benefits of mindfulness practices as well as her enthusiasm for helping young kids and adults is the drive to teach these very necessary, life long skills and why she wrote and runs the Mindfulness for Families program at The Center for Mindful Living. This is where she teaches groups of families with children ages 6–12.
Ashley was featured on Good Morning LaLa Land, presented on Resilience at the renowned Wisdom. 2.0 Mindfulness & Technology conference, and presented at the TED Woman conference offering an in-depth look at the profound psychological and physiological consequences of chronic stress, and how meditation and mindfulness practices can alleviate these effects. Ashley is also a nationally syndicated columnist on Thrive Global and Medium Magazine.