Taking a break from careers for education, volunteering, travel, or family reasons is common. But getting back to work has its challenges, especially for women. Reduced pay and roles are some of them.
In India, motherhood often pushes women to leave work, making them doubt their abilities. Recognising the worth of women returning to work, companies are stepping up. They're offering flexibility and tailored initiatives to ensure a smooth re-entry.
"Companies today see the value in supporting women rejoining the workforce. They want to tap into diverse skills, perspectives, and experiences. They offer programs for a smoother transition after a career break," says Aarti Srivastava, CHRO – India, Capgemini.
At Capgemini, we understand the importance of inclusivity and the empowerment of women as they make their return to the workforce and offer tailored initiatives,” added Aarti. They also make sure that managers are more inclusive and implement these policies with good intentions, says Aarti.
"Companies are increasingly recognising the vital role of supporting women during this pivotal transition, and they're implementing a range of strategies to facilitate their seamless reentry into the workforce," asserts Deepika Mathur, Head of Human Resources at Teleradiology Solutions.
She goes on to elaborate, "Flexible work arrangements, such as remote options and adaptable hours, offer a pathway for women to skillfully balance their professional commitments and family responsibilities."
Returnship programmes help women refresh their skills and rebuild their professional confidence when they return to work. In addition to providing guidance and a support network, mentoring and coaching can help women stay on top of industry trends through skills training.
"The journey of enhancing women’s representation at the workplace has been a story of progress and resilience, with many women overcoming barriers to create impact as leaders and STEM professionals, enriching teams with diverse perspectives in the process. Increased participation of women across society in leadership positions, academia, and the workforce is contributing to economic growth. While there is progress, there is still a lot to do and challenges to navigate, particularly on gender parity, calling for sustained efforts by organisations. In this regard, policies and programs that further diversity, equity, and inclusion play an important role," says Sarada Vempati, EVP and Head of Enterprise Functions Technology, Wells Fargo India & Philippines.
Moreover, fostering an inclusive company culture, offering family support resources, and providing networking opportunities further aid in women's successful return to work. As businesses understand the value of diverse talent, creating an environment where women feel empowered and supported in resuming their careers is not only beneficial for the individuals but also contributes to a more dynamic and innovative workforce overall.
“The journey that women experience in their career, particularly following maternity leave, is an active example of resilience. After a maternity break, coming back to work is more than just a comeback; it's a successful step forward,” says Harpreet Kapoor, CEO of Kognoz Talent Solutions who has witnessed how women overcome stereotypes and expectations, demonstrating that having children doesn't lessen their professional aptitude.
With unmatched multitasking abilities and embracing their feminine energies, women master the art of successfully managing work responsibilities and those of caregivers. “The way women evolve and adapt to change is extremely encouraging. I believe that equality will be achieved when organisations offer seamless transitions and active mentorship opportunities to women to grow and accomplish their career aspirations,” says Kapoor.
Post-pandemic, many organisations champion remote work for women. But does remote work truly ensure their career progress and sustained engagement? “We emphasise flexibility by understanding women's daily rhythms. Whether starting work at a later hour to manage daytime tasks or alternating office days, we believe customisation is key. By involving men as allies, Amagi rejects one-size-fits-all solutions. Through flexible and personalised approaches, we empower women, fostering agency, equality, and success,” says Prasad Menon, Chief People Officer, Amagi.
Impact on strategies
Having women as leaders gives room for diverse ideas, and leadership strategies and helps to diminish any form of bias within the organisation.“Strategic diversity initiative and more women in leadership roles help succeed in creating an inclusive and safe environment for women,” says Preeti Jain, Senior Manager in Talent Acquisition at Carelon Global Solutions.
In organisations, having equal representation of women prevents potential gender bias and brings in diverse perspectives. “We must actively challenge biases, create opportunities, and empower women to take every opportunity and become leaders. Sensitivity training to help manage gender bias and creating more women role models could help bridge the gender gap and pave the way for more women leaders,” points out Sumathi Bhaskaran, Senior Director, Software Engineering at Lowe’s India.
India has a robust STEM culture that offers ample opportunities for its growing talent base. Within the country's thriving ecosystem, India’s mid-market businesses have 36% of women holding senior management positions, which is 4% higher than the global average of 32%. “
A strong 21% of the female workforce in India works for core tech companies. While we celebrate these remarkable achievements, there's more work to be done. Women in the industry still tend to face challenges like equitable representation, work-life balance, the pay gap, gender bias, societal norms, and more. “The true mark of progress is measured not by the pace of innovation, but by inclusivity and diversity. We must consider that the quality, relevance, and impact of technology solutions we build today, can be improved by having more women on the team,” says Olga Lagunova, Chief Technology Officer, GoTo.
In the ever-evolving tech industry, transformation has been a steadfast guide, shaping an exciting journey of growth. With abundant resources and the powerful strides made by women, creating a stronger gender-equal future and an inclusive workforce is the need of the hour. “While we acknowledge that there is still a long way to go to achieve truly equitable representation, with the right technology and a desire to be inclusive, organisations can start making a difference today,” asserts Krishna Muniramaiah, Altimetrik Head of HR for the APAC region.
Upskilling is important
Workplaces have evolved, but challenges remain for women, particularly in blue-collar jobs. Taking career breaks is encouraged, yet it's not consistent, especially in tier 2 cities. Women face uncertainty about returning to work due to a lack of support systems, education about gender equality, and societal views. Indeed’s recent report, ‘The Pulse of India's Blue-Collar Workforce', uncovered that lack of support systems in place to help women (56%), lack of education about gender equality (53%) and societal views (49%) are some of the major barriers in achieving gender equality at the workplace.
“Only 19% of employers surveyed by Indeed last year revealed that they have up-skilling/ reskilling programs to equip women with the necessary competency, and only 4% provide re-entry programs. It is important for organisations to ensure that women feel inspired and motivated in their career advancement, by addressing career gaps. A top priority is fostering a culture that provides safety and value for women, which can be achieved through offering learning and development opportunities. While there is still a long road to achieve equality across different job roles and industries, we hope to see a positive shift in mindset gradually,” says Nishita Lalvani, Marketing Director, Indeed India & SG.
It is never easy for women to make a comeback to the workforce after taking a career sabbatical. However, it helps if they establish a strong peer network, not only within their area of expertise but also across the organization and the industry. Secondly, it is crucial to upskill oneself in order to keep up with the talents that employers are looking for. And finally, self-confidence - it pays to be more outspoken about one's objectives and assured of their abilities.
“Companies should take steps towards increasing the number of women working with them. We at Zoho Corp. have a returners program called Marupadi ('once again' in Tamil). It's essentially a boot camp for women trying to get back into the workforce after taking a break, including training, reskilling, and mentoring sessions to help them gain confidence,” says Deepa Kuppuswamy, Information Security Architect, ManageEngine, Zoho Corp.
Psychological safe and supported enviornment
From an organsational perspective, it's essential to create an environment where women returnees feel psychologically safe and supported at work.
“As part of our Spring program, women returning from breaks are hired full-time with tailored support for their reintegration, along with upskilling and dedicated assistance. During the initial six months, every returning individual is partnered with a mentor, and provided with self-paced learning programs and a buddy to help navigate new surroundings,” says Shefali Sharma Garg - Co-Chief Talent Officer, Publicis Sapient India.
“Simultaneously, women can take steps to facilitate their own growth too. Establishing professional networks upon their return is one such step - an area most women typically tend to shy away from. Cultivating a certain sense of comfort in this pursuit can not only help accelerate their progress, but also allow them to develop self-expression and the ability to learn from diverse viewpoints while fostering collaboration instead of toiling in solitude,”adds Garg.
Priya Venkataraman, Senior Vice President, Huma Resources, Indium Software, believes that the concept of "returning to work" or "return-to-work" has its merits, but an important facet tends to be overlooked: women are not merely coming back to their jobs, but they are returning from a period of personal responsibilities. “It is essential that we recognise this distinction when a woman decides to re-enter the professional sphere following a hiatus, it signifies a return from a phase of added duties. We must foster understanding and usher in a new perspective that embraces the idea of taking a break. Women should feel secure, valued, and embraced, with a positive environment that warmly welcomes them. It's time to shift our perspective. This shift requires acknowledging the significance of breaks and creating an inclusive environment that embraces women as they come back to the workforce,” concludes Venkataraman.