Recently I had the privilege of being invited as a mentor to young women professionals at a city event. Here was a room of educated and accomplished women with considerable work experience, who had taken a career break and were now keen to get back to work life. The room was high on energy and enthusiasm. In the interactions that ensued, it was evident that most of these women would undoubtedly make a comeback to work life. However, as various studies show, the `comeback' is anything but easy. As a recent Chennai based study (Latha J, & Sindhuja M) and of women in the IT industry shows, it is clear that the career trajectories are not smooth and undisturbed. There are socio-cultural, structural and job-related aspects which often create impediments on a career woman's corporate journey.
In order to make a truly successful comeback, women returning to work need to get rid of some 'baggage' and don new`hiking gear' to be ready for the exciting and possibly bumpy trail ahead, let's take a look.
- Banish guilt: A common observation is that women on a career break experience guilt, stemming from a belief that they had in some way let down the employer and themselves by putting personal life before their careers. Worse, this causes them to adopt an apologetic stance. What all women getting back to work need to know is that this feeling of guilt is a global phenomenon. It will also help to know that progressive organizations today acknowledge the life stages women go through and provide the necessary structural support (flexihours/ part-time work options, select roles to name a few). The years for marriage and child rearing coincide with the early/mid-career periods when their male counterparts are doggedly pursuing their careers. A career gap on the resume for personal reasons is acceptable to progressive employers.
- Time for a reality check: This is a good time to assess what path you wish to take personally and professionally. Evaluate your options (full time/ part-time/ virtual) and pick those which fit your new requirements of managing work and home. It may take some time for you to be back on track and into your groove. Take it one planned step at a time rather than wait for the `perfect break'. Take hope from the fact that you have taken the first step back to your dream destination. It would also help to be rational on compensation. It may take a few conversations with potential employers to determine a realistic estimate of the compensation that may be expected.
- Plan your support system: Introduce the support system which will manage your personal front well ahead of you actually starting to work. It will give time to `settle' your personal matters well ahead, and free you up for attending interviews and networking. Your physical movement back to a full-time job would be a smooth transition. The importance of a robust support system cannot be emphasized enough.
- Take the spotlight: Be physically and mentally prepared to the stage again. Be professionally attired, and also be professional in presenting yourself to the corporate world. Draft a resume and practice facing interviews all over again. Negotiate with confidence in your capabilities. Sharpen your communication skills, present your strengths and achievements articulately and demonstrate a commitment to your career. Social hiring too on the rise, and hence it is also important to be noticed through social media. Be found!
- Play to your strengths: rather than acquire a new skill and make a fresh start in which you have no experience, forging ahead with proven strengths may prove to be more fruitful. Do not hesitate to list and call out the competencies you have gained - both technical as well as soft skills. In case you do choose to switch careers, do it with professional guidance and with the requisite qualifications. Tap into the networks you may have built over the years where your credentials are known - you will then need to work less at building their confidence and it would be possible to focus on the task ahead.
- Adopt a 'growth mindset’: The growth mindset is a belief that failure is not a permanent condition. Even if one interview or the first job after coming back fails, keep persisting until you reach the desired end goal.
- Adjust to your new reality: Once you get the job, ensure that you deal with the present. You may be reporting to a younger boss or a peer/ junior if you are returning to the same organization - note, there is no room for comparison. It could also be that you are required to learn some new skills - take it in your stride as learning is a lifelong process. Most importantly, own your decision to take a career pause. Do note that individual priorities are different and we will all take our own paths. A mature professional adjusts to and stays relevant to the present.
- Deliver to expectations: Do not expect lenient or easy terms for yourself. Consider yourself an equal partner to your colleagues. Not only will this win you respect, it will also be a reflection of your true capabilities. Set high professional standards for yourself and consistently deliver.
- Seek a mentor at the workplace: Connect with decision makers, seek support to fill in the `gaps' if any and coming up to speed' after the break. If you have returned to your prior organization, it is important to take the necessary measures to know the current policies and practices and contribute meaningfully.
In her Ted Talk, Angela Duckworth speaks of the power of grit, passion, and perseverance. Grit is passion and perseverance for long-term goals. It is having the stamina to stick with your aspiration and working hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it's a marathon, not a sprint. This rings especially true for women returning to work and for just about anyone who may have to go the extra mile to reach the future of her dreams.
Gritty women… get set, go!
1. IOSR Journal of Mechanical and Civil Engineering (IOSR-JMCE), e-ISSN: 2278-1684, p-ISSN: 2320-334X, PP 56-63
2. Grit: The power of passion and perseverance