Mind Matters: An expert guide for women resuming career post a break
Saundarya Rajesh March 4, 2020
Founder - President, Avtar Group.
MORE IN Her Futures
At the weekly family dinner, 36-year old Bharti Menon broaches the topic of her professional life, and carefully voices her intent to return to works. Bharti, a mother of two (aged 8 and 4 years) receives mixed responses from her immediate family. The usual suspects were thrown at her – “why do you need to work”, “why don’t you get into some NGO-type of work”, “do some freelancing”.
Reasoning her professional aspirations, Bharti manages to convince her family. Were they? Not really!
The next round of discussion begun. “how will you manage kids (read: family) and career at the same time.” For the next couple of hours, amid the clanking of cutlery, Bharti also heard voices filled with bits of advice, the “to-dos” and “don’ts”. All well-meaning words supposedly meant to “prepare” Bharti before she takes the “plunge” to re-launch her professional life.
Was Bharti prepared for all this? The answer lies in a Yes and No!
Eight years before this dinner table conversation, Bharti was a vice president at a multinational bank. She chose to sacrifice her high-flying job on the altar of motherhood. The initial few years flew away with the nappy days. The last couple of years have instead been emotionally challenging for her. After much deliberations with self and her husband, Bharti finally decided to get back to her career and pick up from where she left.
Later in the night, as Bharti cleared the kitchen, she was swept by an enormous emotional wave. She found herself riding high on a varied set of feelings – guilt, separation anxiety, low self-esteem, fear of nonacceptance, so on and so forth. The words, family, kids, school, education, home, grocery, et al. kept echoing in her ears. The cherry on top of the cake was the whole new world that she was going to (re) enter. The once-confident and effervescent Bharti found herself on a self-pitying and doubting trip!
Almost every Indian Woman Professional (IWP) goes through this existential intersection of wanting to pursue her career, while also being committed to personal demands.
Other than the indecisiveness that a woman experiences, post a career break, she also rides on a host of other apprehensions- anxiety, fear of not being accepted, guilt, low self-confidence, work-life integration, and of course wanting to be the best at work. When an IWP (re)enters the workspace with such clouded mind-sets, the process of re-integrating into workspace gets even more treacherous.
It gets worse in the Indian context where there is a massive disparity in the gender chore gap. Women take the overwhelming burden of family care and managing the household compared to men. This adds enormous mental stress on the women.
In a recent survey conducted by Avtar Group on “Second Career Women, The India Story”, close to 50% women attributed insufficient support at home, gender stereotyping and low confidence as key barriers for career re-entry.
The process of rebuilding a career – right from scratch in some cases – gets daunting when the IWP carries the tag of “career break” in her resume. Women not only have to prove their worth at their jobs, but they also have to juggle between their professional, personal and social lives as well.
A lot has changed in the past few decades. Today, organizations are beginning to build an ecosystem to ensure career continuity for women professionals returning to work after breaks. And these are companies that have realized and reaped the benefits of a diverse workforce.
As per 2019 Working Mother and Avtar Group’ Best Companies for Women in India’ (BCWI) study, 53% of the companies have formal second career programs for hiring women. 87% companies that participated in the study provide mental health consultation and 79% of them have stress management programs.
Organizations are investing in holistic well-being and development of their women employees to attract, retain and develop women talent. Programs range from support for the emotional health of returning women employees to child-care and extend to eldercare support.
To all those Women intending to make their career comebacks in 2020, I urge you not to let that “motherhood guilt” or “unpreparedness” come in the way of your comeback! All you need to do is approach your career strategically and intentionally. Prepare yourself for your comeback journey during career break! Follow the simple model below that will help lighten the mental load and help you make an astounding return to the professional world!
Your career comeback journey begins the day you decide to take that pause. You can start preparing for the returning date from Day 1.
The first thing to do is to stay connected. Social media platforms are great channels to remain in the know-how of things. Catching up with your ex-colleagues once in a while will help you stay connected to the developments during your break.
Second is skill-building. Often, confidence gets eroded when a returner finds herself lacking in skills. For a successful return to the workplace, begin bolstering your confidence by identifying, recognizing and valuing the skillset you have gained through your lifetime.
Upon that, do a SWOT analysis of yourself to identify your core skills and the gaps that need to be filled. It will help you in determining the skill gaps. There are several online and offline courses available that will help you bridge the gap. The third and the most critical step, start putting together a support structure (for your children or elder care) in place that will come handy during the transition period.
Women don’t usually like to go gung-ho about themselves. It is all right to blow your own trumpet. Build a CV that appeals to employers and will differentiate you from the others in the market. As you meet prospective employers, identify your priorities early and be clear on what you want and what will work for you based on the personal situation that you are in.
Flexible working is becoming the norm increasingly for new mothers – and all members of the workforce. Have an open conversation with your prospective employer factoring this in, if it’s something the organization can offer. Many employers already have policies such as flexi-hours or working from home in place, so don’t be afraid to ask.
Give yourself some time to settle in when you return to the workforce. Go easy on yourself and seek help whenever. Don’t let the change in your routine and the resultant stress weigh you down. The workplace will also provide you with a new social outlet. You will be to build a quasi family at work, and soon have allies at home who exude positive energy. Look out for mentors and buddy groups within the organization that provide support and guidance in areas such as career aspirations, work-life integration and life stage changes.
With a strategic and international approach to your career, you will see yourself grow from strength to strength in your professional pursuit.