We Need More Sustainable Ways To Integrate Women With Skill Gaps Returning To Work

Women returning to work after a career break for any reasons, need organisations to support their unique needs, and for the women to also consider what is required of them.

In the age of fast-changing technology, bridging skill gaps continues to be a major hurdle for organizations. It is in this context that hiring women on a career break is of utmost importance as these women comprise a huge untapped and potential talent pool. However, there are challenges on either side.

While companies worry about the presumed low cost-to-benefit ratio of upskilling women returnees, women often struggle to find a level-playing ground to bounce back on their career path. Hence there is a need to address challenges on either side and arrive at sustainable ways to hire women on career breaks to bridge the skill gaps that exist in organizations.

Challenges faced by companies while hiring women returnees

A study conducted by FLEXI careers India reveals that 38.66% surveyed felt that line managers are apprehensive about the performance of women returnees. 25% opined that managers are against such hiring probably because of the cost and efforts involved in retraining and mentoring these women returnees.

There is also an apprehension that they may not measure up to their peers and disappear again!

About 25% of the managers harbor fear that women would have slipped into a new ecosystem dictated by their changed priorities. Therefore, they may not be able to break out of it and channelize their energies in rebuilding their career.

There are also some major challenges faced by women returning to their careers.

Emotional penalty

The path to a successful second career begins with an elaborate guilt trip – a guilt that is either self-inflicted or generously bestowed upon by the society. Women in India are borne down irrationally with both domestic and professional responsibilities.

Leaving her child at home and getting back to work is the toughest choice a woman has to make as she has to ensure that her child gets a safe, positive and a stimulating growing environment before she takes the big step. And that isn’t always an easy decision which leads to the beginnings of a guilt trip.

It is still a societal norm in India that a woman is cornered and questioned for any failures or shortcomings at the domestic front, be it the child falling sick or not eating well, right up to the elderly care and keeping families together. A man would rarely be questioned or held responsible for any of these shortcomings.

Wage penalty

Wage penalty greatly affects the earnings of women returnees. Not only are they hired at a lower pay scale, but they also stand the risk of being “mommy-tracked”. Consequently, they are associated with absenteeism and employees who would have umpteen work-from-home requests. Invariably, they face a slowdown in increments and promotions. It acts as a discriminating factor that severely hinders their long-term growth prospects and thus, organizations can never provide a level playing field for them.

Way back to the corporate world is not easy

Women returnees find it difficult to justify the “gap” in their career and, more so, to prove the fact that their skills haven’t rusted due to the gap.

The lack of flexible work timings, work from home options, part-time job opportunities and lack of family support coerce women to often stay back at home, return to jobs for which they are overqualified or take up roles at a lower level than their previously held positions. This ultimately means they have to start from scratch and have to work harder to get noticed and prove themselves, all over again.

Sustainable ways to hire

There needs to be sustainable ways for companies to hire women on a career break in order to bridge the skill gap.

Women returning from their career breaks can prove to be invaluable resources to companies and add to the diversity of the organization. Here are ways that the corporate sector can pitch in.

Flexible working hours for ‘Dads’

There is a need to redefine the societal outlook towards sharing domestic responsibilities and organizations can act as catalysts to bring about the change. Companies can look at offering flexible working hours, not just to Moms but even to Dads. It will go a long way in providing a level playing field in the corporate world while encouraging the fathers to be a partner to women in shouldering domestic responsibilities actively.

Offer internship programs

While companies may look at upskilling women on career breaks to be a huge cost to the company, internship programs, on the other hand, can open a doorway of win-win opportunities for both the parties.

Technology is changing at the blink of an eye. Internship programs will help women returnees to learn the new skills hands-on while the companies can assess their capabilities in order to hire them for a permanent role. Also, a skillful woman returnee can then be hired at salaries on par with their male counterparts making it a fair play – companies get to bridge the skill gap while women need not suffer a wage penalty.

Frequent reviews

Women returnees face an impending challenge to ward off their employer’s apprehensions and work harder at proving themselves beyond doubt. Frequent reviews will help them to work around the expectations and measure up to their peers. Women who continue to outperform can be given revised pay thus helping them up their remuneration to be on par with their counterparts who didn’t have to take career breaks.

Providing childcare support

Child care is the biggest roadblock which prevents a woman from re-launching her career. If companies can set up an in-house crèche facility or have tie-ups with childcare centers offering top-notch childcare services, it serves as a strong backup to women who can look at getting back to work guilt free.

Let women returnees know what skills you are looking out for

Companies can use online communities, events and job boards to connect with women returnees and let them know precisely what skills are required to gain an entry into the organization. More often than not women returnees are unaware about which skills to upgrade, even if they intend to upskill themselves.

By providing them direction, companies would gain a committed set of employees precisely matching their requirements. Not to mention, it also saves huge employee training costs.

Bringing it all together

Women wanting to re-launch their careers are more stable, committed and have high energy levels in order to make their second innings successful. Their previous work experiences, industry-specific trainings and academic qualifications become highly invaluable with an added mix of emotional maturity and renewed zeal. Companies need to look out for win-win solutions to tap this huge talent pool while also providing women returnees with a sustainable career.

A version of this was first published here.

Image source: shutterstock

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