The struggles of Indian women to come back after a career break

. 7 min read . Written by Shivnandini Tyagi
The struggles of Indian women to come back after a career break

And ways to make the transition easy

Most working women in India take a career break. Many make this move to take care of social obligations like marriage, motherhood, or to attend to elders. While a lot of them want to come back to the workplace, some feel discouraged and hesitant.

Women and the global stigma around career breaks – it’s real

Such is the social structure that often, it is the women who have to take a career break to fulfill social obligations. This could be a contributing factor to the gender gap in the workforce, which is quite high even at the global level. Roughly 75% of men are a part of the workforce, versus only 48% of women. According to an article by SHRM, the number is even lesser for women in India – 23%. There is a considerable gap to cover.  Accounting for the fact that the women’s population in India is almost at 48%, this gap is quite high. One of the focus areas has to be to get women back to work. Isn’t this a significant talent pool that is being ignored?

Career breaks are a reality of life; yet, they are stigmatised by recruiters and women alike. Like one’s qualifications and past work experience, it should be another actuality that deserves a place on the resume.

Photo by S Migaj on Unsplash

Why do women struggle to make a comeback?

One of the reasons why women are hesitant to come back to work is loss of confidence. In a fast-paced, technology and hustle-driven culture, there is constant pressure to be in the race. As a consequence, it is natural for most women to feel they are out of touch and that their peers are way ahead of them. Another factor could be technological advancements that can make it overwhelming. And of course, the dread of facing the much-expected question by recruiters – to explain the career gap – cannot be discounted. Could it be because women always undermine themselves? Could it be the fear of being judged?

“The greatest discovery of all time is that a person can change his future by merely changing his attitude.”― Oprah Winfrey

This does not mean that their fears are unjust. Many working women face significant struggles to get back to work after a break. Some recruiters raise a red flag for women taking career gaps and treat them as unprofessional, unambitious, undereducated, and so much more. 

Yet, the change begins with oneself, and so, women who want to get back to the workforce must take the plunge with confidence. They should free themselves from this feeling of guilt of prioritising another aspect of their life.

“The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward.” ― Amelia Earhart

Here is where the real problem lies!

Women wanting to restart after a career break is not as uncommon as it used to be a few years ago. Yet it is treated as a blot that lets recruiters justify a lower salary package and demotion in roles and responsibilities. But, what if women do not let it become an obstacle for them? Let’s face it – the primary issue faced by women wanting to work after a career gap is that they do not know how to go about it. When they take a break, most are not aware of what to do during that break.

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It’s time for a change

Almost a quarter into the 21st century, it is time to normalise women taking career breaks. If a candidate has the potential and fire in the belly, there is no reason to refuse them a job or offer a much lower salary.

Motherhood is the most common reason for women taking a career break in India. An article by HBR talks about recruiters having a bias against applicants who prioritise staying at home to take care of their children. The message being sent out is something that corporate leaders need to give serious thought to. Are we losing out on a considerable talent pool?

Adding to the woes, according to a report by the World Economic Forum, the gender gap has increased after the pandemic hit the world. As per the report, India stands at 140 of 156 countries. That should give us a lot to think about.

7 steps to come back from a career break

1. Treat it as a fact

A career break is not the end; it is a pause. And women need to treat it as one. It is normal to put professional ambitions on the back burner for some time. Instead of feeling guilty about it, they need to own it.

2. Work on your resume

A resume is the key to strike the first impression on a recruiter. Some important factors to consider when working on an impactful resume are to make it crisp, highlighting skills and mapping competencies. Job seekers must research the latest resume formats that recruiters prefer, and give special attention to cover letters. The cover letter should be customised according to the organisation’s needs.  The use of keywords relevant to the role and industry is an important element of the resume.

3. Learn on the break

There is a considerable lack of awareness on learning on the go. In the academic years, the focus is on gaining a good degree, excellent marks, and landing a great job. What no one teaches or emphasises is that learning is a lifetime process. And hence, while most women take a career break, they also make the blunder of taking a break from learning. All they need is to take out as little as 15 minutes a day to learn. It helps to stay relevant, updated, and also reflects well on the resume.

4. List down strengths

A way to be confident and prepared for interviews is to list down job roles applied for and map the competencies that they need. The next step is to list down the competencies the job seeker has for each role applied. Women can consider their experience from previous work, internships, personal experience, etc. They must highlight these on their resume and mention them during their interview. The skills that they feel they lack, they must figure out how to upskill on that.

Photo by ergonofis on Unsplash

5. Networking

To interact with peers and experts is essential to be relevant in the corporate world. More often than not, when women take a career break, they also take a hiatus from networking (Out of sight, out of mind). They must use this time to get in touch with their classmates, peers, and experts in the industry. With social media platforms like LinkedIn, professional networking has become easier.

6. Prepare well for interviews

Recruiters will ask questions about one’s career break, and there is only one solution to it: prepare! Job seeking women must research all the possible questions that recruiters can ask. It is a good practice to jot them down, seek answers, practice in front of the mirror, and if possible, ask friends or family to take mock interviews. More practice would mean more confidence.

7. Every experience counts

Women who seek jobs after a career break should not discount their past experiences. Be it a past job, a failed venture, or a few months of internship, there is always something new to learn and gain as an experience. They must mention that in their resume and speak about it.

All is not lost

There are many leading companies that have introduced programs encouraging women to come back to work. Some of these are the Tata Group, Accenture, and IBM. From an organisation’s perspective, a relevant issue in bringing women back to work could be the skill gap. If both parties show interest, it is easy to resolve. Having more skilling programs could spark a ray of hope.

“There is always a solution to any challenging situation.” ― Lailah Gifty Akita

It should not be about choosing work or home for women. It is not easy for women to strike a comfortable balance between the two. But there is a solution. A systematic approach to staying relevant even during the break can help women make an easy transition from home to work.

One thing post-pandemic is that working from home is a possibility. So why have we been hesitant about offering this option to women? Instead of looking for reasons not to take them back to work, how about looking for reasons to get them back in the workforce? Instead of rejecting them on the basis of the skill gap, how about helping them gain that skill?

A career break implies giving priority to some other aspect of life. A detour doesn’t make it the end of the career path for women!

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