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Whether we like it or not, a career break for women implies that they may have home-front challenges when returning to work. In the world we live in, employers do worry about this part of the equation.
The other day, I was having a discussion with my husband about interviewing. We were discussing a couple of meetings I had lined up to discuss prospective roles. Full-time roles in fairly large organisations, at fairly senior designations. I was seeking to join back work after an eight-nine month break; a break I had taken primarily because I no longer wanted to do the role that my previous organisation was offering. It was a decision based on the fact that my long-term career prospects were not very exciting.
Of course breaks in a career are always questioned by prospective employers. So we were talking about what I would say about why I quit cold-turkey, without looking for another job as a replacement. I then admitted (out loud) something which I hadn’t before acknowledged fully to myself.
When a woman takes a break and says she did it to focus on her family, everyone nods their head in understanding. But somewhere at the back of their head, an alarm triggers. Is this a regular occurrence for her? How will she be able to manage again now? Will she look for a similar break again after a few years? It is understood, but it is loaded with “understanding” about what the woman’s priorities in life are.
Contrast this to a similar conversation with a man on the other end.
“Oh wow! You decided to take a step back from your career because of your kids? You’re setting such a wonderful example for dads everywhere. Here, take this inflated pay cheque and do join us.”
There’s no concern now about how will his kids manage if he joins back the workforce. No questions on how often he plans to do this over the course of his career. It is considered a sign of good character. A definite positive. This man knows what his family needs, and he does it.
Last year, arguably one of the most successful career ladies of our generation Indra Nooyi made the headlines for saying, “A woman can’t have it all.” My initial indignation (How can she say things like this? What kind of an example is she setting for aspiring women everywhere?!) has turned to acceptance. Whether we want to ignore the facts or choose to live with them, home and work are always a part of a woman’s life. The order in which she prioritises these may flip a few times over the years, but there is always a choice she makes. It’s a choice that she is expected to make, but a man isn’t.
So in my interviews that followed, I said that I’d taken a break to spend some time with my son. But I also made sure to tell them that he’d been going to a daycare since he was six-months-old and that I had provided for his care in my absence. Whether the question was implicit or not, I made sure my answer was obvious. I was choosing work as a priority now and would continue to do so.
In an ideal world, I shouldn’t have had to worry about what they will think when I say that I was with my son. In an ideal world, me showing up for the interview should have been a sign enough that I’m interested in the job.
In an ideal world, my life is balanced.
Image via Vecteezy
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