A TV advertisement shows a woman getting ready for office, her family members fussing over her. The woman is nervous and rightly so – she is returning to work after a nine-year-long sabbatical. Many women around us, who have returned to work or are struggling to do so after a break, taken mostly for marriage, raising children or maybe owing to spouse’s profile, can very well identify with this scenario.
In fact, a good number of women who want to resume work are unable to do so owing to strenuous, inflexible timings and competitive work culture. According to a study by the World Bank in collaboration with the National Sample Survey Organisation, about 20 million Indian women left jobs between 2004-12, of them, as high as 65-70 per cent never returned to work.
Barring a few corporate houses that have begun to realise the need for gender balance, most still have a long way to go.
Neha Kumar, who worked in a reputed estate company, and was promoted to a manager over time, had to quit to take care of her first child. Soon, she realised how important professional life was for her. “Office engages your mind and balancing it with home brings out the best in you. You cannot be dependent on your husband for everything you need. But now when I updated my resume, there are hardly any jobs for me. Either they require advanced skills or want me to devote over eight hours. Balancing both is a Herculean task. At the end of the day, our health suffers. It’s difficult to restart career without support from every quarter.”
Moreover, it is the double income in a family that has become increasingly important. In a survey by job portal Monster.com, in terms of the reasons for working, 36 per cent women believe they must contribute to family income whereas 18 per cent women respondents work as they are the sole breadwinner of the family. However, some 27 per cent women said they have been questioned for wanting to work.
While the government has brought the Maternity Bill that provides six-month leave to pregnant women, whether it helps women employees to join the workforce is debatable. Most female workers want flexible timings and friendly leave policies from employers. But not every company offers that.
The survey from Monster.com found an equal number of men and women brought out lack of childcare facility at work as one of the challenges for working women. Unanimously, 70 per cent of them welcomed the Maternity Bill affirming that it will give mothers time to adapt their new lives and return to work. At the same time, 53 per cent women revealed that their organisations do not offer flexible work structure.
What do women want?
To use their rich experience, there are companies that are bringing work to their doorstep. From writing blogs to digital marketing, many new job sites – mostly run by women – are catering to this section. Neha Bagaria, founder and CEO of Jobsforher.com, points out that almost 40 per cent of women are looking to get back to work in the IT-Software, Internet/E-Commerce/ startups, teaching, banking and BPO/ call centres.
“Startups have always been keen on hiring women who want to restart their careers,” said Manjula Dharmalingam, founder and director of job portal Hersecondinnings.com. “Women in the returning workforce have been found to be committed and it works as a cost-effective option for startups,” she said.
Among the worst hit are women who were in shift jobs. Ankita Sharma, a journalist, was asked by her previous company to re-assume her old role. However, due to irregular shift timings, it became impossible for her to manage her two-year-old son. “Crèche and in-laws support is not 24×7 available. When I applied to other companies, the response was not encouraging. I tried part-time as well but I could not enjoy the profile. The excessive burden during festivals and family functions never let me return,” said Sharma.
Rejections for hiring women at corporate levels are high. Dharmalingam said in the last three years, during their interactions with 150+registered companies on their website, they have seen more than 50 per cent refusals. “The recruiters do not have the right kind of experience to gauge the profile of a returning woman professional and match it against the job requirement. At times it so happens that the profile of a returning professional is compared against a lateral hire, therefore it becomes difficult for female job-seeker to compete against a lateral hire who has the right skill set and industry experience. Lack of latest skills and confidence are other reasons,” she said.
What is needed to get back in the race?
Women have to figure out what skills they lack and maybe get it fixed by enrolling in various courses/ programmes. Several organisations have already started initiatives to bring or retain talent. From IBM, Delloite to Tata, they run programmes to upgrade women employees skills. On the International Woman’s Day, many companies have listed internship programmes as well. Online training platform, Internshala, has also recently launched ‘Internships for Women’ campaign to help women resume their career.
In India, the hiring industry as a whole is still at a nascent stage when it comes to choosing returning professionals. Hiring managers must be better aware of the parameters to be considered while hiring a woman professional who has taken a break. To implement this, it’s important to have involvement from senior management as well. A CXO level commitment is a key towards better implementation of this initiative.
Bollywood actor Rani Mukerji recently said we need to create a conducive environment for working mothers. If everyone — from family to colleagues — put in a little effort to accommodate them, India can fill the gender gap in the workplace.