A few weeks ago I told you a story of a dreamer, since then I have received a lot of messages from people especially women who have asked me to share my journey, while many others have criticised that my story has no business being in a business magazine, but I think it does! Women make up almost half of the workforce and are also the large majority of family caregivers, and in the absence of reliable family supports, too many women are forced to make difficult decisions between keeping their jobs and caring for their family members. Most of the times, this is a non-refundable one-way ticket out the corporate door.
This got me thinking and I headed straight to my happy place with my laptop and a cup of coffee to find out what happens in other parts of the world. I was surprised that this does not happen only in Asian countries, it happens all over the world, and it happens a lot! Stress and emotional distress associated with household chores, social commitments and other obligations make raising kids a delicate balancing act for women, which tends to take a toll on their career ambitions.
Women mostly tend to give up their dream jobs to care for their families and once the kids start going to school and things at home are more streamlined, they want to go back to work, but it becomes almost impossible to find that one door which leads them back into the corporate world. In the West, there are still possibilities and opportunities, but sadly in our part of the world, its next to impossible. In a country as large as India, I could find only four companies which specialized in helping women get back to work after a career break. In Pakistan, I found only one company, which has a special program for the returning moms. I am still looking for more and hoping that the situation is not as gloomy as it looks right now.
No head hunters or recruiters were willing to invest their time into marketing a highly educated and experienced candidate with loads of potential just because she took a long career break. While most companies I applied to didn’t even consider me, I still bagged a few interviews through my social network and old colleagues, which boosted my confidence and I found the hidden me under all the dust that had gathered in all these years.
Going back to work after a career break can be tough in the current climate, but the toughest challenge you face is building up your confidence to apply for jobs. Lack of confidence is a huge barrier facing women who have taken years out of the workforce. You need to think about the experience you already have, both in work and outside work. Not only have you built up a raft of skills as a parent which are useful in the workplace, including time management, communications skills and patience, but you may also have been involved in voluntary activities, such as on the parent teachers’ association.
Quoting David Cameron: “The drive for more women in business is not simply about equal opportunity, it’s about effectiveness.” The evidence is that there is a positive link between women in leadership and business performance. We have witnessed first-hand the benefits of nurturing high performing staff regardless of whether they are a man, a woman, a new mom, or a returning mom. Not utilizing all the investment that went in the training and development of someone having real potential to reach the top would be such a waste of talent!
Some of the recruiters have shared their apprehension over hiring me because they feel that I might be taking time off frequently because of my kids. But I say that at this point in time I am making a conscious choice of making a come back realizing the challenges I might have to face and they may be no different from any other potential employee! On the contrary, I am more prepared to deal with the challenges effectively. It’s important to remember that in every employee’s working life there may be times when they need to work in a more flexible way – this could be anything from raising a child to compassionate leave. It isn’t just mothers that benefit from working differently.
In Norway the shared responsibilities of parental care after a baby is born sees dads actively taking three months paternity leave. 40% of women sit on directorate boards in Norway, and although this is enforced through quotas, there does seem to be a general acceptance that both parents can have careers that fit around their family life.
Mentoring programs, flexible working, better communication and adaptable approaches to new ways of working have to be supported and implemented from the top. They help reduce barriers to create a more level playing field for women in the workplace. And for it to be genuinely accepted that women can have it all – a career and a family life. Women bring other skillsets to the table, such as fantastic time management and multitasking skills from having not one job, but two.
Not to mention, it could work wonders for the company’s image, where there is a lot of demand of gender balance within the companies from our foreign partners and clients. Just like it was way back in the 90’s and the early 2000’s when companies were encouraged to have day care facilities for children of their female workforce, welcoming the stay-at-home moms would be a fresh breath of air in the corporate world.
What really makes me sad is that a lot of us don’t even try going back because of fear. So many of highly educated and capable women hold back their dreams mainly due to fear of discrimination and fear of rejection – I have faced both and still struggling to find a way in. I have been mocked, ridiculed, rejected (a lot), discouraged, encouraged and motivated by friends, ditched by ‘friends’ who promised to help, helped and guided by strangers who became friends in the process but never lost hope that one day I will realize my dreams. The story of the ant who fails 99 times and achieves her goal at the 100th attempt keeps me going everyday. People tell me that I should give up and become a teacher to keep busy, but that’s not who I am! Look closely, and the woman in the blue overalls and a yellow safety hat in a factory, working on Continuous Improvement and Sustainability, that’s me!