Corporate and urban India is home to nearly 100 million working women. Out of these, almost 70% take a career break due to various reasons. According to some estimates, there are almost 30 million women in urban India who wish to renter the workforce and build a career. Most of them feel ill-equipped and ill-supported to start again.
Clearly, the work-life choices that women have to make are not the same as men do. While the sociological aspect of the issue can be debated, the need to reconcile and respect the difference in choices exists. Preparing women for second careers means overcoming internal and external barriers. Internal ones include motivation, confidence, spouse support, family issues while external ones are flexible work opportunities, workplace resistance, mentoring/peer support.
If comebacks are second careers, then they do need a certain amount of career support and induction. Psychologically, fresh career decisions are easy to make and unbridled. Second careers are harder, owing to uniqueness of situations and choices one has to make. The idea of investing in making a professional comeback is new to India.
Investment in support systems: A culture of investing in support systems — whether institutional or at personal level — will help address a lot of micro issues that need to be addressed. Support systems may include care-giving infrastructure, tele-commuting support, small office, home office (SOHO) set-ups amongst others. A social investment in community care and support will also aid the cause.
“There is a clear discontinuity on the work front in terms of consistency, commitment and ability to manage choices. The need to cultivate a clear perspective on choices made and supporting those choices can enhance (women’s) longevity in the workforce,” says Rakesh Shukla, managing director, The Writers Block, a technical communication firm that employs women in majority and often prefers to hire back-to-work women professionals. He adds that there is a perception that women are not committed to their careers. Therefore, companies display reluctance in hiring women after a break. If there were initiatives that help bridge the gaps of perception and reality, corporates would surely be more welcoming to women.
“Out of an average MBA batch of 100, there are 20-30% women, even lesser in engineering colleges. After a period of 5-8 years, less than 15% remain in the workforce. Women are very committed workers but I am not sure they are committed to themselves, their own (goals) and their careers. There is a need to build a culture of independence, assertiveness and preparedness — something that starts early on,” Shukla adds.
Women re-entering the workforce also implies being sensitive to their needs and choices. A change in choices or options often is sought with a need for flexibility — an imperative businesses are recognising now. The ‘workflex’ movement is steadily gaining acceptance in corporate India.
Choices that women need to make, especially when opting out of the corporate structures, throw up a need to prepare and manage a different level of variables. There are few options that prepare women for making effective comebacks.
Being able to make an effective comeback to work-life means managing various aspects — skills, confidence, preparedness, family support, health, support systems and an enhanced peer network.
Readiness to stage effective comebacks also requires consistent go-to points, peer mentoring, support and relevant reskilling and training. Steps being taken in this direction include programmes like TATA Second Careers, while companies like Accenture, IBM, Shell etc are also taking initiative in this regard. The commitment will only grow stronger if there are initiatives with a long-term overarching perspective on the issue. Fleximoms 2nd Chance — Back to Work programme is one such step. However, to effectively make a long-term change, the space needs more catalysts and enablers, most significant of which are women themselves.
Priya Iyer, who made a successful comeback after attending a Back-to-Work programme organised by Fleximoms, says, “The programme was a huge learning experience. Not only did it inspire me to take the step, but also execute it. Today, I know that if one has clarity and support, one can do whatever they want to do. It does need planning and attention.”
The bottom line is that there is value waiting to be extracted out of this talent pool. Companies that recognise this and respond to this change stand to benefit.
This was originally published in HT Shine