How to attract and manage women professionals re-entry to office

Women contribute majorly to a nation’s GDP by participating in informal and formal sectors. According to Census 2001, Indian workforce is about 400 million of which 275 million are men and 127 million are women. Women not only actively contribute in formal economic activities, but they are also significant contributors in informal sectors too. According to a recent report SHEROES- Women at Work, India 2014, about 23% of women professionals with significant experience, skill and adaptability have stopped working. The reasons for quitting their jobs include marriage and childbirth, additional responsibilities of care-giving roles in the family or spousal associated displacement. Various life events that characterize a woman’s life are responsible for the social factors that lead her to a career break. Some of these key life events are marriage, spouse relocation, pregnancy, child care, elder care, pursuing higher studies or under unfortunate circumstances chronic illnesses. Even if women overcame these barriers, structural barriers like poor day care, crèche and nursing facilities, limited reliable childcare infrastructure access, longer distance between workplace and their homes, and higher costs are reasons which force women professionals to take a break from their work and manage the chores themselves. Increasing atrocities on children and elders aggravate the concerns of depending on outside help and consequently many women professionals trade-off their career prospects. Job related factors such as night shifts, frequent travel, etc also discourage a woman professional from continuing her job.

The economic loss of women quitting jobs has significant social and economic impact. A study of Korean women workforce estimated that the departure of female workforce led to about 14.2 % of loss to Korea’s GDP.  A 2012 report by Booz and Co., estimated that India loses a quarter of its GDP because of female workforce exits. With India facing an estimated shortage of 5 million skilled workforce exits from labour markets is a major concern.

Towards addressing this issue, many companies have initiated several initiatives to attract women professionals to return to work. GE India has a program to recruit women, whether they are an ex-employee or who are on a career break. Tata SCIP is a flagship program that offers opportunities for women professionals who have been on leave for at least six months with a minimum of two year experience in their field. Godrej runs GROW (Godrej Revival of Opportunities for Women), which enables qualified women professionals to join the workforce after a break. Mahindra runs Start over – a return to work program for who have taken a mid-career break for personal reasons. Browne & Mohan has run a program titled, returning falcons from January 2009 to attract women professionals who have taken a break.

From an organization perspective there are several decisions that need to be made before embarking upon such a program. First HR and line management must be clear on what areas and at what levels would they like to attract the talent.  While social media is certainly a good platform to attract the talent, some companies have discovered fliers at high end beauty saloons and well run Crèche as ideal place to reach out to prospective candidates. One company has successfully run fliers at key bus stops of reputed school bus route to reach out to candidates.

While middle management is a safe bet, companies need to consider the work group dynamics and work content implications also. Next, companies must prepare a comprehensive induction, quarter-wise assessment and involvement plan. It is important to design a comprehensive induction covering not just the job areas, but also across functional areas. Companies must plan to have at least a month long induction to help prepare the individual cope up with new work environment. A senior mentor must be involved in supporting and guiding the new associate. Smart companies use induction period to assess the capabilities of the individual and mould required support structure in tandem. Our experience has been to offer non-critical tasks in functional areas to bring back the confidence and expertise to fore in the initial quarter. It is important to have monthly feedback to the re-entrant with respect to how they are coping up with the company culture, tasks and so on. Mentor and HR must discuss with the new associate what has been the expectations, how they have done and elicit any challenges that are facing in adjusting to the new demands. Many a re-entrant leave due to the conflicts of work life balances. It is imperative to take a three quarter perspective of immersion and outcome whenever re-entry programs are designed.

A crucial aspect of running an re-entry program is to have a systematic plan to expand the role and responsibilities. Companies must have a comprehensive plan of what responsibilities can be added without compromising the work-life balance, and role expansion that would meet the aspirations of the individuals. One of the biggest challenges of pursuing re-entry programs is the ability to expand and retain the associate. Many companies face a challenge when the associate does not wish to expand role and responsibilities. It is not uncommon to see many of them refusing promotions and responsibilities after couple of years. Companies pursuing re-entry program, especially SMB, must be prepared to short or medium term view of the programs. In our experience, while the long term impact of returns may not accrue for most companies, yet there are certain short term advantages. Senior women professionals re-entering the job brings loads of experience and commitment to their job. Many companies have witnessed their unique ability to connect across generations and can do attitude a huge rub off on the floors. Client engagement is an area where many companies witness a perceptible change with re-entry of women professionals. Credibility, experience sharing and solution selling capabilities are gains that companies benefit with women professional re-entry.

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