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Guest AuthorNeha Bagaria

Climb Every Mountain: The Journey To The Top For Women Returnees

By Neha Bagaria | Founder & CEO, JobsForHer

The path to the top is very different for men and women, and particularly so in India. While most men enjoy a linear career growth path, women tend to experience a zig-zag journey because they are the traditional caregivers – for children, aging parents, and in-laws.

This makes the path to a senior leadership position a strenuous one for women, because they juggle many balls at the same time as their personal lives grow and evolve. It is now a well known fact that men outnumber women particularly at the middle management level and above – because this is the time that women are more likely to cut back or drop out, when they get married and have children.

In fact, the numbers tell a story all on their own – 48% of Indian women drop out of the work force before they reach the middle of their careers.

This is what is now known as the Leaky Pipeline – “The largest percent of Indian women leaving the workforce (the ‘leak’) happens between the junior and middle level, as opposed to between the middle and senior levels. Familial pressure and cultural norms are most often cited as reasons for leaving in the early stages, and women often find it easier to remain at junior levels or to leave the workforce altogether”.

The participation of women in the labour force in India is actually falling. According to the International Labour Organisation, the participation of Indian women in the labour force fell from 37% in 2004-05 to 29% in 2009-10, leaving India to be ranked 11th from the bottom out of 131 countries in this regard, well behind counterparts like Brazil and China.”

It’s a no brainer that women add value to the work force. Enabling corporate and state policies that help women get back to work, while balancing their personal responsibilities, is key to ensuring a healthy diversity ratio.

This is why JobsForHer was started – to reverse female brain drain in India. There is a vast, untapped talent pool of women in India who want to restart their careers, and JobsForHer helps them do just that.

Women Who Are Making It Work

As things are changing, slowly but surely, one woman at a time, it always helps to highlight the role models who are already in the fray; the women who have done it against all odds, some at a time when it was literally unheard of to be a working woman and a mother. We take a look at some of the amazing women who are inspiring other women to believe in themselves and get back to work.

Many of these women are now Mentors to JobsForHer’s women returnees – MentorsForHer, imparting their knowledge and experiences to inspire and help women return to work from their career breaks. These success stories are testaments to both, the determination of the women themselves and the groundbreaking companies and environments that empowered them to get back in the game.

Vaishali Kasture, for example, is a restarter with an inspiring account of self-discovery while on her career break. She took an 18 month break, relocating to Hong Kong where her husband was posted. The break made her nervous, because she had no idea what she was going to do with her time.

By sheer serendipity, a friend of Vaishali’s signed her up for a marathon in Hong Kong. On a whim, she went for the race, finished it, and realised that she had enjoyed every minute.

This is what Vaishali calls the Third Dimension – something outside of family and work, that she enjoyed and loved. She found a new joy during her career break. Running has been a part of her life for the past decade, ever since she ran that first marathon.

With 24 years of experience across banking and financial services, Vaishali has worked in many roles across operations, sales and product. She is currently a Partner at Deloitte Consulting, and a part of JobsForHer’s MentorForHer programme, through which women who want to restart their careers gain access to informal peer groups, contacts, and the best corporates in India.

Vaishali’s story is a unique one, because she gained something valuable in her life while she was on her break. When most career breaks are considered a negative on your CV, Vaishali’s added something new to her life that she wouldn’t have found had she not embarked on that break.

Vaishali returned to work at the same level as when she left, and continued to build her career, mostly because she hadn’t been away from work for too long and also because she maintained her professional networks while on her sabbatical. It is important for women to understand the importance of maintaining these networks, meeting up with old colleagues and keeping those connections alive – because you never know when you might need it!

Aparna Sanjay is another #MentorForHerwhose career path was not linear but, in her own words “more like a jungle gym, with many ups, downs, and plateaus”. A management professional with 13+ years of experience, she found her true calling in the development sector.

Aparna volunteered with non-profit organisations when she was in college, while she worked at IBM, and also during her career break of 4 years. Shortly after her daughter’s birth, she also started a Masters in Development Studies from the London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE). This combined experience and exposure empowered her to move into the CSR space, where she could stay in the corporate arena while trying to find purpose in her work.

Today, Aparna is the Executive Director at SVP Philanthropy Foundation. Her career and journey proves that women can bounce back after a break from work, and shape their own futures in unimaginable ways.

Bhavna Dalal is another inspiring Mentor with JobsForHer, who stepped away from the workforce for 10 years. When she decided to return to work, and had set her mind on what she wanted to do, she was faced with the challenge of not only restarting, but also doing it in a field where she had no prior experience.

“[Bhavna] fell into entrepreneurship by founding a learning & development company called Talent Power Partners. Her specialties as a leadership coach and facilitator have led her to a variety of opportunities – work with NGOs, technology startups and Fortune 500 companies within the sectors of education, retail, banking, consulting, and technology.”

Bhavna is an exceptional example of a woman who took an extended break – an entire decade – and was able to bounce back better than ever. She is a role model for other women who want to return to work and don’t know where to start, and an example for companies, that an extended career break isn’t a negative.

Meeting Them Halfway: What Corporate India Can Do To Bridge The Gap

Many companies are now understanding the intrinsic value of diversity, and are adopting policies and training to achieve the same. JobsForHer is partnering with some trailblazing organisations, helping them design returnee programmes, volunteer and internship roles; enlisting mentors from within their ranks to help women restarters with tips and advice; organising expert chats and webinars to connect the talent pool with companiesand of course helping companies recruit from our talent pool of women returnees.

There is still a long way to go, but we’re thrilled that the conversation is finally happening in India. There are lots of great tips for companies looking to improve their diversity quotients – beginning with understanding why women take career breaks in the first place, and how society and traditional roles mandate the break.

Companies can set specific public goals for representation of women and regularly measure progress toward them. This demonstrates that the company is putting its money where its mouth is – when the goal is made public, there’s more pressure to meet it. Writing a mission statement to be diverse and inclusive, without following up on it, does not serve any purpose.

Companies also need to invest in sensitisation for frontline managers, to help them understand that unconscious biases play out in the workplace all the time. Managers make assumptions about female employees based on what they know about their personal lives – not considering them for more challenging work, for instance, because a female employee is a mother. Sensitisation helps managers to understand the personal problems and burdens that women shoulder, as wives, mothers and daughters, and how they can help female employees rather than passing them over for employees who aren’t parents.

Company policies around parenting can also be distributed equally between male and female employees, so that unconscious biases are not directed towards women. Companies can urge men to work from home, and distribute parental leave between male and female employees. This ensures that men also take on some of the responsibility of parenting.

JobsForHer partners with over 2,000 companies across India, helping them build their diversity quotients by connecting them to our invaluable talent pool of women returnees. We can help you design returnee programmes tailored to your business, and show you the different ways in which you can engage with this talent pool so that your bottom line grows, year on year.

Just write to pritha@jobsforher.com and let’s get started today!

Author:

Priya Desai currently researches and writes for companies, for JobsForHer, and is a working mom to a two-year-old. She has studied Environmental Law & Journalism.

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