Research by Catalyst shows that "increasing women's labor force participation by ten percentage points could add $700 bn to India's GDP by 2025 (or a 1.4% increase). Over the years, there has been a steady focus on addressing the gender gap in corporates around the country. This feature looks at one such program at Philips India.
At Philips India, where diversity and inclusion is a key feature of the company’s people practices, there was a looming problem. Despite having near equal representation of men and women at the entry-level, the company faced a growing gender gap at the middle management level.
“When women take a career break, whether it is a maternity break or for any other personal reason, they find it difficult to come back,” said Armaan Seth, Head of human resources, Philips India.
To hire women candidates at the middle management level, the company began a program called “Back in the game.” The goal was to ensure a smooth transition for the returning women. Just like an MBA internship, selected candidates would go through a 3-month project, where they get a first-hand experience of working for the company.
“It’s a win-win,” Armaan said, “It not only gives candidates a fair idea of what the culture is like, but it also gives them a sense of whether they can build a long-term career. And from a company’s standpoint, it’s a great way to assess whether the candidate is able to skill up.”
‘Back in the game’ was an organization-wide women returneeship program cutting across all jobs – functional and business.
The program had a simple eligibility criterion: Women talent with a work experience of five to ten years, who may have taken a break and would like to return to corporate life.
Interested candidates were sourced through employee referrals, advertising on social media, job sites, and alumni networks.
The goal is still to identify the best talent out there. We are just trying to tap into a pool which is not always top of mind when a recruiter or a consultant reaches out. Women on a break aren’t always the first people to get contacted, Armaan said.
Once selected, each candidate goes through the onboarding program and has access to all the employee perks, just like a regular employee. Each employee is also assigned a buddy. A buddy is a person who has already been through the program or is a strong leadership-level sponsor.
Apart from time, and support, a key feature of the program is a rhythm of “giving and receiving feedback.” Designed like an internship check-in, the feedback sessions had to be set up as a structured review mechanism for experienced professionals.
The individual challenges of the women were mostly dependent on how long they had been away from work-life. Women who had been away from the workforce for a longer time needed more support. They needed detailed reviews, one-on-ones, and information to course correct. The program gave the flexibility to extend a three-month term to about six months, in case a specific candidate showed the ability to skill up but just needed more time.
Challenges for HR
“Attracting talent and getting them to join is the easy part; the proof of the pudding is in giving the right kind of experience in the 3-4 month period. And for the women to start considering the company as an employer of choice” Armaan said.
For an initiative like this, there was also a need to create projects with open-roles. These roles had to feed into an internship. Designing these roles with the end-in-mind of giving flexibility is a critical step.
Another challenge the company had to navigate was to convey “to the business that the talent hired via the program are just candidates who need flexibility.” Business roles don’t always have the flexibility needed for a soft landing and skilling up. The focus for HR on driving business buy-in was to convince the business that has there was a clear RoI. And once there is a clear connect back to the business, employees turn active promoters of the initiative.
Launching a program like a women returneeship program is a double-edged sword. If you do it well, it will be received well, but if you do it poorly, it will not only impact the women employees but will affect the brand of the company.
“Ensure that you have the right platforms internally, and if that means aligning internal processes first, do it,” Armaan said, “Spend time on the processes and launch only when you’re ready.” Only when everyone sees the positives of an initiative like this, will it become a success.