Return of the Stay-at-Home Mom: The Way Forward

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According to the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Gender Gap Report 2016, Pakistan ranks 143 out of 144 countries in the gender inequality index, way behind Bangladesh and India which rank 72nd and 87th respectively. Pakistan is also the worst performing state in South Asia and has been for the last couple of years, while Sri Lanka ranks 100th, Nepal 110th, the Maldives 115th and Bhutan 121st.Pakistan ranks 141st on the Economic Participation and Opportunity sub-index this year. It is one of the ten lowest-performing countries on all indicators of this sub-index with the exception of Wage Equality for similar work. Pakistan is one of the three countries with the lowest percentage of firms with female participation in ownership.

Approaching the issue of women’s re-employability with sensitivity is a must in order to achieve the targets listed in the newly ratified United Nations’ sustainable development goals – gender equality and economic growth through employment. True economic parity, however, can only be realized when women can go beyond making a choice between contributing to their countries’ development and sustaining their households and are able to perform both roles successfully.

Raising children, going back to school, personal tragedy – no matter why you had to take a lengthy break from your career, the prospect of re-entering the workforce can be terribly intimidating. Many people who have taken long breaks from the workforce find themselves facing unique challenges when it comes to landing a new job. Those who manage to break into the workforce are regarded with amazement and envy—especially during these days of high unemployment. In fact, getting the job is only the first step in a challenging readjustment.

Not only do former at-home parents land like real-life Rip van Winkles in a strange new world of technology, team dynamics, office fashion and water-cooler talk at the office, but they must simultaneously renegotiate their relationships at home, with spouses and kids. They usually take a big cut in job status and pay, while facing pressure at work to prove themselves all over again.

The key challenges faced by women returning to work after a career break are the lack of workplaces that offer flexible work options and the unavailability of quality pre-schools and daycare centre’s for childcare. Only when quality and affordable childcare is assured to them, can women be empowered – both financially and personally. Having childcare support in place, whether off-site or on-site, not only helps companies bring women back to work but also boosts their morale, reduces absenteeism and increases productivity.

Apart from quality childcare, companies can offer re-introduction programmes with internships or part-time positions before getting employees on board full-time to make the transition back to work as seamless as possible. In this way, companies can hire individuals who have valuable life experiences that can benefit the company and recruit from a fresh pool of highly talented individuals who they can’t reach through normal recruiting methods.

Further discouraging women from returning to employment after their career break, is the insensitivity and indirect pressure present in the working culture of many companies. A working mother is not always considered a long-term asset to the company — they are seen as liable to take more leaves and likely to quit.

The five top challenges women returning to the workforce face are:

 

  1. Getting your confidence backThe actual transition back to work after a prolonged hiatus might be tough for women who have spent months or even years out of touch with their chosen field. This causes a reduction in their skill set and in turn decreases confidence in their working ability. The emotional intelligence research shows that women are significantly less confident than men; women out of the workforce have added challenges of wondering if their skills and accomplishments have a shelf life that has expired or whether they can compete effectively once they’ve gotten off the treadmill.

2. Translating your accomplishments – Women have a harder time marketing themselves than men do even under the best of circumstances. Women are more uncomfortable touting their accomplishments or even seeing their accomplishments as something special. They tend to talk about “we did this,” rather than claiming credit individually and they tend to deprecate their accomplishments, “Oh, it wasn’t that big a deal.” Women, much more than men, believe that good work speaks for itself, and the very idea of “selling” is unseemly. But the truth is that people speak, work doesn’t.

Translating your contributions into quantifiable accomplishments is hard for any job-seeker, but especially for someone who has been out of the workforce. It’s hard, but it’s also imperative: Look for specific contributions with quantified results on your former job, as well as with any volunteer or part-time work you may have done while away from your career. If you organized a successful fundraiser for your child’s school, raising 50% more than in prior years, say so. Accomplishments build your case for your next job, no matter where you’ve been recently.

3. Dropping your self-defeating stories – Women who have been out of the workforce are vulnerable to the self-defeating stories that they tell themselves and others tell them about how hard or impossible it will be to reenter the work force. What are the most popular stories that women tell themselves?

  • My skills and knowledge are out of date – who is going to hire me?
  • I cannot market myself.
  • I’m not the contributor I used to be, so I’ll have to settle for what I can get.

Although there are plenty of stories out there in the media about difficulties people face in re-entering the work force and all of us know people who have experienced such difficulties, the main limitations women face in pursuing their dreams and goals of getting back to work are self-imposed, by stories they tell themselves about how their own skills, knowledge, marketing abilities, and potential contributions are lacking or less than they were, should be, or must be. All these negative vibes reinforce poor self-confidence, diminish women’s professional demeanor and self-presentation, and decrease their efforts to find the right job, and lead them to settle for jobs and salaries that are below their capabilities.

4. Getting your foot in the door — When you’ve been out of the workforce, it can be especially difficult to get a prospective employer’s attention but with the help of people who know how intelligent, hard-working, and dedicated you are, you have the chance you need to show why you are the best hire. Women executives at the top of their game have difficulty using their networks in this way; women who have been away from the workforce are especially hesitant to use their networks, doubting their contributions as well as unsure about whether this is a misuse of their contacts.

5. Finding a good employer – The most traditional male-dominated companies and industries are less likely to be successful targets for women returning to the workplace. Identify companies with family-friendly policies, larger numbers of women managers and executives – companies, in other words, more receptive to life/work balance and emphasizing the importance of women in the workplace.

Five Top Misconceptions Women Have About Returning to the Workforce

  1. Your new job is not on the internet — Despite the attention given to job websites, the fact is that the vast majority of jobs are still filled by using your contacts and not the internet. Putting your time on the highest yield strategies is one important path to a new job.

2. A recruiter is not going to find a job for you – Another common misconception is that recruiters work for job-seekers. Recruiters work for the companies that hire them to fill vacancies and they are generally looking for round pegs for round holes – in other words, highly traditional candidates, NOT a woman who has been out of the workforce. Put your emphasis on your network where people can provide endorsements and introductions that can open doors for you. Recruiters are highly unlikely to open doors for women returning to the workforce.

3. Updating your old resume is pointless — Updating your resume is not the goal, transforming it is. The traditional resume filled with job descriptions is not what will catch an employer’s eye, certainly not with a gap in employment. If you can present your work achievements in hard-hitting terms, your achievements will impress an employer, not any gaps in your employment.

4. Using your network is not unseemly, it’s essential – There is plenty of evidence that women don’t do a good job of professional networking. Why is this so, when women are excellent at building friendships? Because women believe that using a relationship for a business purpose, like an introduction to an employer, information about an industry or company, or endorsement is a misuse of a relationship. Women need to learn what men have always known: that their network is among the most powerful assets which help them in landing a new job, a source of introductions, information, and endorsements that can be invaluable in helping you back into the workforce.

5. Luck has nothing to do with it – effort does. The evidence shows that the more time you devote to your job search, the faster you are likely to be re-employed. If you think re-entering the workforce is a matter of luck, you have less incentive to work at it. If you are waiting for a lucky break, you could be waiting a very long time. By getting out there with your network (which includes the husbands and family members of your women friends, many of whom are employed and likely to be good sources of contacts, referrals, and jobs), you take the first important steps to getting back to work.

Five First Steps for Women Reentering the Workforce

  1. Determine your “right job right now” — what makes for the right job for you at this stage of your life and career? Define your target precisely.  

2. Build your strongest case for your target job with an accomplishment-oriented resume. You need your “A” game to reenter the workforce and you can do this with a resume that emphasizes specific contributions and results you’ve made on the job or in the community. It will also build your self-confidence as your accomplishments remind you of what you have to offer.

3. Define the facts about your career (competitive advantages) that show why you are the right person for a particular employer or opportunity.

4. Focus your job search on your network (not the internet or recruiters).

5. Act self-confidently to build self-confidence. The psychological evidence shows that the best way to build self-confidence is to behave in a self-confident manner and your beliefs about yourself will change in line with your behavior. If you are afraid to get out there, take the advice of any female executive whose career had known many ups and downs and who was a mentor to other women. Your behavior will change your attitudes.

After two years of continuous struggle, today I have not one but three job offers from three great companies, and I will be joining one of them soon. At a recent interview with the CEO of a renowned group, he asked me if I was looking for a job in my field after such a long break for the money. My answer to him was that everyone needs money, but I am doing it for my boys who will grow up to be husbands and fathers one day, and for other women who need motivation and inspiration to get back there and use their skills and education for the betterment of the society.

In my life as a teacher I came across many bright young women who had aspirations and dreams to do something different, and they would tell me that they want to be like me when they grow up. So yes, I want them to look at me and say that we didn’t give up on our dreams because of you. To all the talented beautiful girls out there, your dreams have no expiration date, go get them!