In a recent social media post, Manish Advani, a C-suite professional and speaker, discussed the challenges his wife Gauri faced when attempting to re-enter the workforce after a seven-year sabbatical to care for the couple's two young children. In the post, Advani mentioned how, despite having an excellent track professional record in India and Canada, his wife was offered a pay package comparable to what she was earning more than a decade ago. And by the look of this, his wife isn't the only one - a 2018 study by Ashoka University revealed that while 73 percent of Indian women exit the workforce after giving birth, only 27 percent advance in their careers and continue to be part of the workforce.
Of these, merely 16 percent advance to hold senior leadership positions. The report mentioned unsupportive workplaces as a leading reason why women fail to achieve their true potential at the workplace, with many supervisors harbouring the notion that new mothers are unproductive and inefficient.
Although certain organisations are leading the way in offering supportive work environments for women re-entering the workforce, many still continue to struggle with workplaces and working practices that are not geared to accommodate the needs of working mothers. Business mentor Sonalee Panda points out that women, especially those working in high-pressure sectors such as manufacturing and sales, are often relegated to secondary roles, away from the frontlines.
"For new mothers, the emotional challenge of leaving their young children behind is a significant one. Many also worry if being out of action has led them to lose touch and become irrelevant. How well women can adapt and contribute to the workforce post motherhood is largely reliant on how mature the organisation and its culture are," she shares.
More than numbers
Many organisations are realising the importance of more inclusive workplaces, beyond appearances' sake. "Diversity is no longer just a buzzword as companies are realising that, in the digital age, any missteps made by their brand can be amplified quite instantaneously. Those that have made efforts to include diverse perspectives in their workforce are now reaping the rewards," Panda explains. Accordingly, many organisations have taken initiatives such as offering childcare facilities or tying up with crèches. Women are also being offered flexible working hours. "Interestingly, the COVID-19 pandemic has taught many organisations that several roles can be essayed in a WFH setting with ease. This, again, is encouraging to new mothers," says Panda.
Adhura Minocha, an HR head, who responded to Advani's post, wrote to cultivate a culture that values diversity and inclusion, organisations must make deliberate efforts to understand and accommodate special skills and consideration. "Most mothers returning to work, after taking a break to look after their children and homes perform very well in their roles in a very short span of time; organisations and leaders should create a culture that supports them," she wrote.
Business and technology consultant Rohit Kumar also observed that applicants' talents and skills are not affected by gap years. "In fact, gaps are great if they help one to regroup themselves after life-altering episodes, whether for motherhood, mental health or the demise of a loved one. Instead of expecting people to keep working at jobs just to survive, one must understand the point of hiring and their own role of assessment," he wrote, adding that as an employer, he considered going through CVs an outdated practice. Instead, he views hiring as a counselling process to understand if the candidate can adapt to the environment so as to enable both the business and themselves to flourish.
Make your presence felt
Panda asserts the importance of women not succumbing to being relegated to a secondary role and accepting pay cuts. "During your interview, point your employer towards your past professional experience, achievements and your output. If this is comparable with other contenders for your role, their argument is irrelevant," she says. At the same time, it is also important for women to make efforts to stay in touch with the professional sphere even during their maternity break if they are keen to re-enter the workforce.
"Take up short-term courses to update your knowhow. Continue to network, even if only for a couple of hours a week. Use this time to engage in discussions online - LinkedIn is a valuable resource. Read up about your area of expertise and stay abreast with the latest developments in your field. At the time of re-entry, these will be valuable bargaining chips and can open up new avenues and opportunities for you," she signs off.