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Welcoming women back into workplace: Here’s how

Gayathri Ramamurthy

This article was originally published in People Matters and has been reproduced here with permission.

Author Annabel Crabb summarized the challenge for working mothers perfectly: The obligation for working mothers is a very precise one: the feeling that one ought to work as if one did not have children, while raising one’s children as if one did not have a job.

Yes, it’s a dilemma! The Indian industry, especially the tech sector, is limited by a culture in which having children and a career doesn’t always gel. And the dilemma is compounded when an employee returns to work after maternity. The result? More women abandon careers NOT because they’d rather be at home, but because they feel they have no other choice.

In an industry where maternity is considered disruptive, post-motherhood isn’t any easy. Analysing the reasons for women leaving corporates, a ProEves survey found one-third of them left for reasons of maternity. This could translate into discrimination in compensation too, per a World Bank study. The result? Women’s careers especially post-maternity face constant derailment.

Returning to work isn’t easy, but the industry mindset is changing

Returning mothers face the same problems everywhere — flat earnings, long hours, blurred boundaries between work and home, and declining job security. At the workplace, they face unintended biases, possible deterioration in professional relationships, and a general lack of confidence due to their absence. There are also questions about their ability to perform their roles as before.

Employees flourish in environments that support their growth and development, professionally and personally. This is especially true for new mothers. Fortunately, the industry mindset is changing! In IT, where talented individuals are prized possessions and attrition is real, there is a rethink on how to support women’s careers after motherhood, and the systemic changes needed to help them.

The answer lies in a robust employee engagement system that goes beyond creche facilities, work at home, flexible timings, etc. For example, an inclusive hiring strategy, a conducive returnship programme for women and especially for returning mothers, creating a sustainable pipeline of women talent and increasing women’s representation at senior levels – this is the environment that all women need at the workplace.

Women who have been away from work often find they are lagging behind or overlooked due to any gaps in their careers. Therefore, companies should develop a comprehensive comeback programme for returning women employees. Such focused developmental interventions, successfully implemented in some companies, address the experience gap through exclusive learning — training in behavioural skills, mentoring engagements, and interaction with leaders and fellow participants.

Similarly, organizations should introduce programmes specifically designed to help expectant mothers during their transition from office to maternity leave. This will help them stay connected with the organization and colleagues and ease their return to work post their break. Given the speed of organizational changes, higher workloads, and the need to learn more skill sets in a fast-paced industry, initiatives like these will help women stay connected with disruptive technology trends and integrate their career seamlessly with motherhood.

Going on maternity leave and rejoining … it’s indeed a two-way street  

Returning to a once-familiar life after a long break isn’t easy. But returning mothers should know the biggest hurdles exist inside our heads – our fear of failing, our aversion to risk and our tendency to underestimate our ability to handle it. But as they say, nothing is impossible!

At the same time, employers should have a robust system in place to make returning moms feel welcome on rejoining. Every organization has programmes in place to ease their return. How these are implemented and practiced helps women make a successful transition from one home to the ‘other.’

After all, there’s nothing better for a mother than having a good day at office and returning home to her little one’s smiling face!