Women who have been there and done that for the family, now want to come back to the workforce with a bang! These are the women who are currently seeking opportunities to upskill themselves and join the race. They represent an important and underleveraged talent pool for organizations. Catalyst’s report First Step: Women in the World found that organizations that can stem the tide of women leaving the workforce can reap rewards that translate into economic impact even at the national level. According to the report, increasing the levels of female employment comparable to male levels could raise the gross domestic product (GDP) by 5% in the United States, 9% in Brazil, 9% in Japan, 11% in Italy, 12% in the United Arab Emirates, and 27% in India.
Unfortunately, most women find that returning to their careers is much harder than they had anticipated.
Challenges Faced by Women Seeking to Rejoin the Workforce
Working women, in comparison to working men, are still the primary care-givers at home which results in many more interruptions in their careers—both short-term leaves of absence and long-term career breaks.
The challenges faced by women who want to rejoin the workforce include:
- Finding the right opportunities to upskill and update their technical knowledge and other aspects of professional life.
- Policies and process at organization to manage challenges when colleagues have gone ahead of the returning employee on the career ladder.
- Managing emotional and psychological challenges when they have to start at lower role than the one they had before.
- Having an ecosystem to support them to ease back to the workplace like flexi options or childcare support systems.
The Importance of Learning and Development Programs
Learning and development programmes are essential for getting ahead in today’s often hard-to-navigate environment, and these programmes are vital for both men and women who seek to re-enter professional life, as well as new recruits and existing employees. Some of the tools that organizations use are:
- An online portal specifically dedicated to returning women that uses a sound, multistage selection process consistent with the rest of the workforce.
- E-learning tools for women on break which keep them in the loop of the changes happening in companies, the industry and the economy.
- Dedicated on-boarding and trainingmodules designed specifically for employees who are rejoining the workforce.
- ‘Returnships’—Internships which use short-term (6-month) projects for women who were on a break and would like to re-enter the corporate world.
- Buddy systems—Designated “buddies” in the organization who help women on breaks keep in touch with colleagues and the happenings in the organization.
One of the most crucial tools that women can use while seeking to return to the workforce are ‘Returnship’ programs offered by some companies wherein women get to work on the latest projects, using the latest technology. This gives them a fair view of the present industry scenario, thus building their skills, capabilities and confidence. Several reputable companies have returnship programs. The Tata SCIP (Second Career Internship Programme) enables professional women who have taken a long break from the workforce to re-enter the professional sphere. Similarly, Hindustan Unilever has ‘Career By Choice’, which gives women who seek to return to the workforce the opportunity to work on business projects. Participants have the option of flexible hours and often receive guidance from senior people in the company for their assignments.
Additionally, mentorship and sponsorship programs are also vital for getting women back on the professional track. Mentoring is necessary for employee development and advancement so that employees gain feedback and knowledge about new, important unwritten workplace and industry rules. Sponsors are high-level mentors who advocate for their protégés and ensure them of opportunities that make them more visible and help them rise in their careers. Sponsorship can make all the difference: women who had mentors at the top got promoted at the same rate as men who had high-level mentors.
Learning and development programs should focus not just on the women (and building their confidence with respect to skill-building and support) but also on organizational infrastructure and culture changes that are critical to the successful reintegration of talented women. Catalyst’s research indicates that women tend to stay committed to their organizations in comparison to men with the same tenure. This is especially true of working mothers with older children; these women are more likely than working fathers to remain loyal to the companies they work for. Organizations can benefit tremendously from women employees’ loyalty and commitment. Therefore companies should invest more time, money and effort into tapping this particular talent pool. Opportunities provided to women will add to their experience, the benefits of which will be reaped by both the employee as well as the organization.