Reema, a senior banking executive with 14 years of work experience, took 3 years off to take care of her son. Trying to return to work was stressful, to say the least!
“I bought into the rhetoric about diversity and helping working mothers! There is so much hype in the online media and the companies all say the right things, but on the ground, I had to endure some very personal comments from HR. I was a bit taken aback and then realised that the attitude that women returnees can be paid less and that they should be glad of whatever profile they get, is widespread.
“Personally, I also realised that my options are seriously limited and that I need to tone down my expectations – at least for the first year. Which is OK, I was expecting that; what’s not OK is the attitude.”
Reema’s experience was not exceptional.
While at senior policy level there is an evolved awareness of the benefits skilled women workforce bring to the table, and the need to create a supportive work culture for returnees, the finer nuances and details of the policies have yet to trickle down to the rest of the organisation.
Why does it make sense for companies to retain women employees?
Diversity promotes success!
A wide-ranging survey of publicly traded companies across 91 countries reported that “the presence of more female leaders in top positions of corporate management correlates with increased profitability of these companies.”
A women-inclusive board brings balance to company decisions as a diverse set of opinions lead to more innovative and effective problem-solving. Women have also proved to be better collaborators and mentors.
Stephen Mayne, a director of the Australian Shareholders Association, has spoken about leveraging women’s sensible and grounded approach in business as a way to improve corporate governance.
“Shareholders lose money in over-priced takeovers, and it’s often the aggressive men [on the board] who want to dominate their opponent, and who are prepared to take bigger risks.”
According to him, men are driven by their egos in the middle of a corporate raid, while women think more strategically and objectively.
For companies to unlock these women-centric benefits at the top, they have to make sure women remain at work at all levels of the organisation. Because the only way you will have women leaders is by creating an environment that nurtures them throughout their careers.
What are the biggest hurdles women face?
The latest report highlighting India’s poor record of female participation in the workforce – we are ranked 121 out of 131 countries by the International Labour Organisation – has set ablaze many online social forums.
While there is a wide range of complex motives that are at play around the country, no one can deny the biggest reason for women dropping out of the workforce has always been motherhood and marital pressures – whether she is in a village or in a corporate boardroom.
For women coming back to work after a few years, adding company policies such as flexible time management and on-site child care facilities are just the first step.
What is needed is long-term, organisation-wide strategy to uncover talent and make the workplace attractive to women returnees.
What can organisations do to make women happy employees?
Developing effective strategies for attracting women returning to the workforce begins with understanding what motivates them to return, what women look for in a job and what they want from an employer after a career break.
With only around 24% of women returning to the same employer after a career break, employers that understand what women in this situation are looking for are positioned to attract the best talent.
The unspoken and passive bias against women – especially mothers – must be the first cultural shift that needs to be tackled.
Women across the world undertake more than their fair share of caregiving and child-rearing responsibilities. And unfortunately, somewhere along the way, it has become the norm for bosses to question a woman’s dedication to the job.
Changing this mindset will take generations, but maybe corporate India can become the flagbearer of this cultural change. One small way to aid this transition would be to ensure that fathers get some time off too.
Adding Equal Opportunities and Equal Pay Policies
Majority of women returning after a break, face decreased opportunity. A few years of a gap on their resume usually amounts to playing catch-up for years just to get to a position where the career break stops mattering.
An open-minded and transparent hiring policy would go a long way in ensuring that women are judged purely on their expertise and experience. There is also a need to ensure that fair salary structures are put into place that doesn’t end up indirectly penalising women returnees or taking advantage of their desire to restart their careers.
A transparent appraisal system that equates both male and female employees on common goals and KPIs is also needed to create an organisation that is perceived as fair to women.
Flexible and Family-centric policies
A company with family-friendly policies is not just great for women but for all employees. Flexible work schedules, office crèche facilities, and maternity, as well as paternity leave, can go a long way in making the organisation an attractive place for all.
Corporates are taking the right path – from the generous maternity leave, and baby bonding bucks at Google to Accenture’s recognition of the needs of breastfeeding mothers to Mondelez’s women-only mentoring programmes – the biggest organisations across the globe have taken the lead. Our hope is that this trickles down and pushes corporate India to walk the talk on women’s issues as well.
There is no doubt that women returning from a career break remain ambitious and committed to developing their career; managers just need to see this potential and develop it for the long-term benefit of the organisation.
If your organisation is trying to improve its diversity ratio, then we can certainly help.
As a women-led team with hands-on experience working with returnees, we know what you need to do to motivate and attract the right talent for your company from this vast pool of skilled women. Click on the Request Consultation button above.