In a world that is changing at a faster pace than we can imagine, where the corporate market place lives by the mantra of “innovate or die”; where organizations and individuals constantly strive to adapt to the ever-evolving business environment; one can only imagine the mammoth challenges that women face who are seeking to re-enter the workforce after a long career break. For women in the Indian workforce, the odds are already stacked against them. India ranked 124th, (almost last out of the 136 countries) in the 2013 Global Gender Gap Index for Women's Economic Participation. Even when it came to the G20 economies, India ranked second lowest while measuring women’s’ participation in the workforce (Oxfam report, 2014). Does our country need more women in the workforce?- Yes!
Then why are we making it so hard for women to re-enter corporate life after a break?
The discrimination against women re-entering the workforce comes at a huge cost to capable women as well as to the nation- we are losing almost 50% of our nation’s talent to prejudice. According to “Second Innings: Barriers Faced By Indian Women On Re-Entering The Corporate Workforce”, a report prepared by Open Spaces Consulting Ltd. for the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), more than 90 percent of the women in their study said they were trying to get back into the workforce. This report captures the views and expectations of employers and prospective women employees with regard to reentry of Indian women to the corporate workforce, after a career break.
The study identified that women are forced to leave their job because of certain reasons:-
• Maternity and Spouse relocation
• Organizational Politics
• Child care issues
• Lack of opportunities after career break
They also found that employer policies do not make it easy for them to play their second innings. There is an unspoken, but very real perception that once a woman has been out of work for a sufficient period of time, her skills become outdated, leaving her unemployable. Very few employers see the benefit of rehiring a woman after a long career break. However, those that do see their strengths are able to identify that second career women tend to have valuable experience, and hence, lower training costs. They also tend to be more loyal and a better cultural fit.
Some of the most common reasons associated with women taking long gaps from work are family related, often to do with childcare. Another reason identified is that women tend to take time off for educational attainment. One study found that women with bachelor’s degrees from prestigious institutions who were married and had children were 20 percent less likely to work than women in the same group who did not have children.
It’s important to note that despite the fact that many of these women take a career break in order to be available to their children, their intent has often been to return to work in a few years. However, due to lack of women friendly policies and opportunities available to them, reentry into the job market has proven to be an uphill task. The reason that many women even want to re-enter the workforce is usually associated with financial security or the desire to fully realize their potential, not just as women but as a successful professionals.
In the end, although a challenge, these barriers can and need to be overcome. Women need to approach these obstacles with an open mind and simultaneously ready themselves for a different world than they had left behind. While they might not get to start right where they had left off, it is an opportunity for them to carve out a new career trajectory where they will have the chance to bring significant value to their new roles.
There are many solutions to this problem. The top 5 employer policies that women think can ease their re-entry in the workforce are:
• Travel - Pick and drop facilities
• Anti-harassment or Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH)
• Maternity bonus
More than 50% of organizations in India do not have a Flexi-time policy, further restricting women from staying on in their jobs, once they have had children. These stringent policies which force women to leave an organization due to lack of flexibility and support not only negatively impact their careers, but they also lead to higher rates of attrition for the organization. The company is then left to bear the significant cost of investing in new employees. The cost incurred in creating women friendly policies, flexible work hours and a safe, comfortable work environment that enables women to stay on in their jobs is vastly lower than that incurred on hiring, training and developing their replacements.
Today, employers need to step up and do what is in their capacity to encourage the reentry of women into the workforce. They can do this through the provision of training or mentoring programs that support women’s smooth reentry into work life, create women friendly policies such as adequate Maternity Leave, Flexi-Time policies, etc.
According to Pallavi Jha, Chairperson & Managing Director, Dale Carnegie Training India, who is also the Chairperson of the Indian Women’s Network, CII Maharashtra, “Organizations are getting more driven on their diversity goals as recognition of the fact that women in general provide dependable and quality talent. In order to support women through their various life stages especially with maternity leaves is par for the course these days. Organizations are beginning to become more sensitive to women’s needs and many forward thinking companies offer fairly long maternity leaves and benefits, flexible timings and some even offer facilities like crèches at the work place. Giving an extended maternity break with full benefits along with flexible timings in the initial join back period definitely helps women to stay the course and continue their careers with the organization. It’s a great way for them to ensure retention of women employees. At the same time organizations are realizing that the loss of productivity and costs associated with maternity leaves or retraining this proven talent is far less than the cost of attrition, recruitment and training of the unknown and untested new hire.”