In India, companies have been waking up to the reality that ramping up the diversity in their workforce means better results for their bottom line. They have begun to design returnee programs tailored to women who are restarting their careers and renovating HR policies to accommodate this growing talent pool.
There are several things that companies can do, in the long and short term, to attract and retain female talent. Currently, the conversation in India is focussed on attracting talent, to fix the 'leaky pipeline' in the workforce and get more women back to work. Companies are going the extra mile to understand this talent pool of women returnees, and are opening their doors to them.
However, it is important that we also make our workplaces more returnee-friendly in order to retain women returnees in the long term. While fixing the hiring gap is no doubt, very important, we also need to start thinking of how to keep this talent pool engaged, challenged and satisfied.
Flexi-time is the single motivating factor for women employees, particularly young mothers, to keep working. In India, childcare can be expensive and difficult to sustain, and mothers still shoulder the majority of the caregiving responsibilities. Companies need to understand this, and design flexi-time and work-from-home policies in such a way that as long as the employee is performing and meeting targets and deadlines, it doesn’t matter when they work. This empowers women returnees to work on their own terms, and manage their personal lives too.
In order to truly achieve this, work needs to be templatized as much as possible. This ensures that employees don’t need to work 9 to 5, or 10 to 6, 5 days a week. Converting time-based work to output-based work is much more valuable, both to the company and the employee. It should not be about how many hours an employee works - rather, it should be about the work that she delivers.
According to a report by Alison Colwell, Former Associate-Director at BSR (Business Social Responsibility), Unilever North America, for instance, also provides women returnees with the option of cutting back or increasing the amount of time they can work, at their own discretion. This is particularly useful for young mothers, for whom unforeseen circumstances (like children falling sick) are almost a daily occurrence.
There is an urgent need in India to go beyond maternity leave and bring fathers into the fold too. This is where corporate India can play a big role in changing the status quo.
As a society, we have to realize that familial responsibilities are not limited to just women, but men as well. When fathers start to pitch in more with the family, and companies recognize that they need to be given time off to do so without prejudice or judgment, only then will women stop being the target of unconscious biases and sexism at work.
So rather than focussing on offering women extended maternity leave, companies need to seriously consider offering longer periods of paternity leave, to really get to the root of the problem. Most Scandinavian countries led the way in providing equal opportunity to both men and women, which shows in their gender balance at the workplace, and the high rate of development of their economies.
Equal opportunity and equal pay
Just because women have taken a break from work does not mean that they have gone back to square one. Taking care of the house or raising children is no less challenging than working, and companies need to appreciate this. Women returnees should not be penalized for their break, particularly when it comes to pay.
Companies that are opening their doors to women by designing returnee programs, must also put salary brackets in place that are applicable to both male and female employees. Even in [seemingly] progressive countries like the U.S., women “still earn 82 percent of what men typically earn, childless or not”, according to Sarah Buhr of TechCrunch. This is another gap that needs to be bridged.
Transparent performance review systems
It is important to set expectations for different roles before people are hired. This allows for evaluation of the employee’s performance against the roles and responsibilities laid out at the time of hiring.
Performance for male and female employees needs to be treated the same.“It is commonly seen that most organizations promote men on potential and women only on measurable and proven performance. Check your talent management systems and do away with such biases,” says Monty Majeed of YourStory.
This may also require some amount of sensitization for frontline managers and HR executives at your company.
All of these measures will go a long way in retaining female talent across the board.