Even after years of focus on women’s empowerment, initiatives to educate the girl child, and diversity initiatives by corporates, female participation in the workforce in India stands at a dismal 25 percent, as per McKinsey. The corporate world consistently faces the issue of the ‘leaky pipeline’ – the phenomenon of women leaving formal jobs rapidly after marriage and children. Unfortunately, women professionals are often forced to face what sociologists refer to as the ‘motherhood penalty’ once they become mothers.
According to a study by the World Bank in collaboration with the National Sample Survey Organisation, 20 Mn Indian women quit jobs between 2004 to 2012. In fact, around 65-70 percent of women who quit never return to work at all. 73 percent of Indian women leave their jobs on giving birth, as per a report titled “Predicament of Returning Mothers” released by Ashoka University. The report identified six ‘Action Areas’ for intervention to empower women and reverse this trend. These are guilt management, negotiation skills, career planning, re-skilling, awareness, and time and personal management.
While the problems are still plenty, slowly but surely, we are starting to see a slight reversal of this trend. Women are increasingly exploring avenues to re-enter the workforce after maternity breaks. On one hand, workplaces are trying to be more accepting of career breaks and are willing to welcome them back. Women-specific job portals such as Sheroes, Jobsforher etc. are doing their bit to bridge the gap by educating corporates as well as providing the necessary coaching to the women.
The question then is, what is it that women can do to ease their way back to the workforce so that they can come back to work on a strong footing?
Women should use their maternity break wisely and look at it as an opportunity to take a fresh look at their career aspirations. There are some things that women, as well as employers, can do to make the transition back to full-time work easier:
Upskill through continuous learning
In the information age, knowledge is highly transient as technology is evolving very rapidly. Keeping oneself on the forefront of the knowledge curve is one of the best ways to neutralize any disadvantage that a long break could bring in. Thankfully, there are plenty of avenues for learning that are available for professionals at every level. Whether you decide to explore distance learning courses, online courses, or certificate courses in a specific skill area, the important thing is to find the right avenue that is aligned with your overall career goals and the course of the industry. With the extra boost of education and the right training, you will be well poised to jump right back to the corporate world whenever you’re ready.
Keep a foot in the door
Unfortunately, most people have an all or nothing attitude when they think about professional work. A career does not come with ‘ON’ and ‘OFF’ switches. A career break taken either for maternity or otherwise doesn’t mean that you need to shut yourself completely from your career goals. A good employer will appreciate and understand the fact that their people might have different priorities at different points in life. Explore options for part-time or flexible work at your organisation. These could allow you to focus on your personal priorities without having to completely step off the career track. In today’s gig economy, there are also plenty of avenues to pursue your professional opportunities through freelancing etc. These are good ways to ensure that you stay in touch with your professional circles and indicate that you are serious about coming back.
Focus on the big picture
It is important to remember that empowering women to flourish at the workplace isn’t a ‘Women’s issue.’ Rather, it’s something that can have broader societal and economic ramifications. Greater female participation in the workforce brings immense benefits for the women and for society as a whole. Besides, raising women's participation in the labour force to the same level as men can boost India's GDP by 27 percent as per a study published by the World Economic Forum (WEF) last year.
Even from the employer’s point of view, there are several studies that point to the fact that a diverse workforce positively impacts the company bottom line. A McKinsey global survey of 279 companies found that companies that had the greatest proportion of women on their executive committees, earned a 47 percent higher return on equity as compared to those that did not have any female executive members.
There are several constraints that women face as they aspire to pursue their professional aspirations after having children. But with the right attitude, a little support from the employer as well as from family, and a strong focus on honing your skills, nothing can stop women from shining in the professional sphere.
This International Women’s Day let’s all make a commitment to help ourselves and the women around us reach their full potential!