Ready to bounce back?

The best of both worlds: Where women get to be mothers and professionals Photo: Shaju John  

Nivya Manikandan, 29, an employee at an MNC in Texas, U.S., has a toddler to care for, but is worried about taking a mid-career sabbatical. What if she does not get a job again? This is a concern thousands of other women share.

As many see it, a break (over six months) is a blot on an otherwise clean career profile. Worse, it’s permanent. Mainly because résumés with career breaks occupy the bottom of the pile of job requests, and many who manage to get a job, find themselves in a workspace that has transformed from what it was when they had left it — be it for marriage, taking care of children and ageing parents or shifting cities with spouses. Despite the necessary qualifications, they feel like misfits, simply because they were absent from the scene for a while.

To help this pool of talent — a majority of who are women (48 per cent abort their career midway in India) — get back in the game, organisations such as AVTAR, JobsForHer, HerSecondInnings and Sheroes have mushroomed across the country.

At the global level, the movement is in full swing, with companies such as Morgan Stanley initiating 12-week re-entry programmes, and platforms such as iRelaunch (created by Harvard alumni) and Après. Besides providing a network of employers, mentors and counsellors, they also introduce options such as paid internships, and work-from-home and part-time work options that candidates can apply for.

“Research shows that at any given point of time, there are 1.8 million ‘second career’ women in India. A chunk of them want to get back to their careers. We would be able to fill up almost 60 per cent of vacant job positions if we channelised this talent in the right manner,” says Saundarya Rajesh, who founded Chennai-based AVTAR Group in 2005; it has been instrumental in helping close to 10,000 women get back to work. “What’s more, it is beneficial to the Indian economy. According to a United Nations Development Programme report, India can see an increase of 26 per cent in its GDP if the men-women ratio in workplaces is balanced. A first step could be simply by highlighting this sector in the Prime Minister’s National Skill Development Mission.”

There was a time when boards outside certain manufacturing and engineering companies read: ‘Women do not apply’. And, in a few, there was a diktat that résumés with career breaks will not be entertained, she recalls.

Probably, companies began to notice the high attrition rate among women. “After the boom of professional institutions in the 70s and 80s, and the liberalisation and globalisation in the early 90s, a large number of women started to get into jobs that spanned fields — insurance, IT, telecom, finance, BPO…. Eventually, they dropped out because of marriage, motherhood and restricted mobility.” This naturally translated into a loss for companies, and they concluded they were better off without women, who were stereotyped to be “less serious about their careers”.

Saundarya wanted to change things around. She started interviewing both women who were looking for a second innings and companies that had job requirements. As it turned out, the problem went beyond getting a job offer. “Once in, women were dissatisfied, because they were given lesser pay, appointed at a lower position than when they left, found it hard to fit among youngsters, and faced ego clashes,” she explains. Take, for instance, Sangeetha Sankaranarayanan, who used to work with an MNC for five years before taking a year’s break. “Now, I am not able to command the same salary. So, I have settled for the post of a part-time HR consultant,” she says.

So, besides being technically updated, women seeking to return to work also needed counselling sessions to help them fit in. “Also, employers need to realise that hiring second-career women professionals brings in maturity to the team, and creates balanced leadership. The candidates have been through diverse experiences, and are better equipped to handle stress and time management, and deal better with people,” she adds.

The corporate world is beginning to understand that too. “Today, companies have become more open to the idea of hiring second-career women, and a few have systems in place to make the re-entry easy,” says Puneet Dhillon, marketing and events head, Sheroes — a community of over six lakh women and 70-plus mentors. A few examples include Intel’s ‘Home to Office’ programme, IBM’s ‘Bring her Back’ initiative and Axis Bank India’s ‘Re-Connect’.

“At Ford, we have introduced a flexi-time concept, where employees can work 50, 60 or 80 per cent of the day for a respective percentage of the salary; another popular option is ‘Share a job’, where two employees can finish an assignment together,” says Gangapriya Chakravarthy, director — human resources, Ford Motor Company, Global Business Services.

While taking a break is no longer a cardinal sin, given an option, avoid it, says Saundarya. However, given that 80 per cent of the breaks are unplanned and due to a lack of choice, the next best option is a click away, she adds.

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Printable version | Oct 20, 2021 6:29:48 AM |

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