Sairee Chahal, Fleximom, works towards creating, enhancing and co-creating work-flex opportunities for women professionals. In a candid interview with Interweave, Sairee shares insights gained while helping women and enterprises negotiate returning to the workforce.
1. Eight out of ten career women don’t go back to corporate careers after a break. What could improve these numbers?
Women re-entering the workforce or making successful career transitions challenge internal and external barriers. Internal barriers include motivation, confidence, spouse support and family issues; and external barriers include flexible work opportunities, workplace resistance, and mentoring/peer support. Gender stereotyping and lack of support systems also impacts women re-entering the workforce.
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 are unbridled. Second careers are harder, since a lot of personal clarity is needed to make your choices work for you.
A change in choices or options is often sought with a need for flexibility – an imperative that businesses are recognising now. The work-flex movement is steadily gaining acceptance in corporate India.
2. To integrate back into the workforce, as seamlessly as possible, what would you advise: (a) the employer and (b) the prospective employee?
My suggestion to both is – hire for value, negotiate for flex and seek recourse in process.
There is a reason the person had to quit the workplace in the first place, and any comeback cannot be successful if the expectation is pegged at the same level and within the same framework as before the break. The same also stands true for the person making the comeback. The workplace and businesses have changed and one needs to respond to the reality of today.
At the heart of this success is a welcoming mindset committed to creating seamlessness and value in delivery.
3. What strategies should women employ to remain on the path without losing out on positions and options; on managing motherhood and work?
There are few options that comprehensively prepare women for making strong, effective comebacks.
a. Invest in yourself – If you are the best that can possibly be hired, why wouldn’t employers make way for you to come in keeping your needs in mind.
b. Stay connected – One can never underestimate the power of professional networks and peer support.
c. Seek and provide value – One can never underestimate the power of professional networks and peer support.
d. Prioritise – Only you can decide what is important to you but knowing that helps action it.
e. Bring up your support system – Your support system is the best investment you will ever make: whether it includes a nanny, driver, tablet, double broadband or that car pool.
f. Widen your horizons and seek, help, share – Your struggle is not only yours, there are many others in the same pool and sometimes co-learning, co-creating throws up brilliant solutions.
g. Alternative choice of opportunities – Invest in alternative talent pools, formats and eco-systems
4. Career options narrow down when a woman goes back to work for a second time. What kinds of opportunities are available for her?
Let me begin by saying that, opportunities are gender and age neutral; it is our perspective of them which changes. While one set of opportunities become unattractive, unsuitable, there is a plethora of opportunities waiting to be tapped: Mobile Apps, Cloud Computing, Digital Marketing, Publishing, Social Media, Retail, Education, Learning, HR, IT – however, each of these opportunity marketplaces is competitive, intense and fast growing – which is what the opportunity and challenge is all about.
5. Despite proven results such as access to a trained, experienced talent pool, cost savings on facility management and as an employee benefit, most Indian companies are not embracing flexi work.
Deploying more flexible work practices means moving away from tried and tested conventional methods for most corporates, where time, resources, and attention span is at a premium. Unless the business case and readiness for work-flex becomes more acute, companies will have a buy-in without the actual buy.
Having said that, work-flex is a business mindset and a lot of young, new economy businesses see the value in that. Many are experimenting with the idea and using alternate talent pools to create business value for themselves and their stakeholders.
6. Women shift gears mid-career, change vocations and have a whole climb up the path all over again. What coping strategies could they employ to survive this and be more successful the second time around?
Mid-career transitions are for real – for men and women alike but women end up doing more career changes, since they are the one railing the care-giving economy. Career change is not a bad word. It really means a chance to try out new things, to explore, to experiment. Do it at your own pace – something a lot of men would give an arm and a leg for.
This article originally appeared on Interweave