women at work

Tips to improve your chances of getting hired after a career break

Niveditha Naik, a software engineer, quit her job after working for three years at Infosys. She wasn’t unhappy at work but family was a priority. “My husband was in the merchant navy and used to be out for months. Even when he was home, we hardly got time together, as com-muting to and from work took me four hours every day,” says Naik.

She quit her job in February 2008. Her daughter was born in July 2009 and her son in 2011. When her son turned one, in 2012, she was ready to go back to work. However, finding a job after the four-year break was difficult. “As soon as recruiters saw that I had taken a long break they would dis-count my application,” says Naik.

That she completed an MBA, through a distance learning pro-gramme, while bringing up her children didn’t count. “A break is con-sidered a blotch in the and one has to be perseverant and ready to make compromises,” says Rituparna Chakraborty, co-founder and senior VP, TeamLease Services.

Naik did get job offers but none related to her core skills. Finally, she had to take up a sales job in the financial sector. “From day one, I felt overqualified. There was no comparison with the earlier work quality and culture,” says Naik.

She has quit again and will now wait for the right job . She is not sure how long it will take. “I had a strong start and had I not taken the break, companies would have wanted to hire me. I wouldn’t have been considered irrelevant,” she says.


Whatever the reason-family, health or education-an applicant who has taken a career break makes recruiters apprehensive  even if one manages to convince them about their ability. So, one must be prepared to explain the reasons for the break. Also, one must be ready to face questions such as-What if the problem resurfaces? Why do you want to join work now? What did you do during the break?

“Most organisations are not equipped to handle job breaks. There is little in the name of coaching, mentorship and assessment,” says Sairee Chahal, co-founder, fleximoms.com, which connects women to employers who offer flexitime options and runs a ‘back to work’ programme, Second Chance, for women with a career breaks. Why only women? “Because other than pursu-ing higher education or health reasons, men generally do not take long breaks,” says Chahal.

Most women need maternity break , and it is usually mothers who put careers on hold to take care of the children. Other reasons are marriage and relocation. “Though some men also attend our programme or are looking for flexi-career options, their number is small, 2% perhaps. It will take time for this ratio to change,” says Chahal.

The ratio may be skewed but the difficulties are same for both men and women. Rejoining will mean adjusting to a newer and more evolved marketplace of skills and stepping out of the comfort zone. Here are some ways to retain your employability during the break so that the comeback can be as smooth as possible.


Before the HR manager puts this question to you, ask yourself: Why do I want to work again? Unless you are doing it for financial reasons, the first step should be a analyse of your decision to return to the workforce.

Much would have changed since you left. At this stage, analyse what you are capable of handling. This is crucial if you had quit due to personal responsibilities.

“If I had the option to work from home or flexible timings, I wouldn’t have resigned,” says Amanpreet Bindra, who left her job at Reliance Communications as she felt it was coming in the way of her responsibilities as a mother. She now works for an NGO from home.

Also, assess your current interests. It is not necessary to return to the old role. You can use this stage to make a career shift.

Gauri Bafna was consulting head, human resources, PwC, Jakarta, when she left the job to take care of her family. After 10 years, she wanted to work again, but not in the corporate world. So, she did a course in bakery and confectionery and turned a hobby into a business.

“This is not for money. I’m pursuing a passion,” says Bafna. At present, she runs Swetcentric from home and bakes on order. She plans to open an outlet soon.

Bafna had to build from scratch. But it’s not the only way. There are a range of options. For example, running a franchise or becoming part of a partner network or reseller programme can be easier than going solo. You can also work with start-ups that value your experience or be a consultant in your area of expertise.

“Combine your experience with developments during the break to assess where you can fit in best,” says Chakraborty of TeamLease. For instance, Bindra used her experience in the telecom industry with Reliance to work for an NGO, where flexible options is easier.


Employers want people who are abreast of the latest trends related to work. Therefore, stay updated during the break. The traditional ways to brush up skills and knowledge, books, magazines and courses help. However, staying in the field through freelance work is best.

“Rather than doing a course, if possible, take up part-time assignments,” says Sunil Goel, MD, GlobalHunt India. One can also help a charity, work for NGOs, enhance digital skills or give a hand to startups. This will give the impression that you have used the break well.


Keep in touch with old colleagues and employers. Networking will help you search for an appropriate opening or get good references that can increase your chances of getting selected in a job interview.

Keep in touch with old colleagues and employers. Networking will help you search for an appropriate opening or get good references that can increase your chances of getting selected in a job interview.


A gap does not show well. But trying to cover it up makes it worse. So, explain the reasons clearly, either in the covering letter or a line in the resume. “Be clear in your communication. Most important, convey your sincerity and eagerness to take on the new assignment,” says Chakraborty.

Recruiters often check your digital footprint. “Align your profile on social and professional networks with your resume,” says E Balaji, MD and CEO, Randstad India. If you do not have an account on these networks, make one. It will give you the option of explaining things in detail, which might not be possible in a two-page resume.


You are at a disadvantage at this stage and, so, being flexible will help. Salary, for one, should not be a big deciding factor.

“Companies always look at the last role and compensation. So, do not compare your pay cheque or job profile with those who started with you and have grown while you were on a sabbatical,” says Goel of GlobalHunt India.

This doesn’t mean you should allow yourself to be treated as cheap labour. The compensation should be in keeping with your experience and industry standards.

It is often easier to make a comeback in emerging high-growth sectors or smaller firms. Emphasis should be on job profile and prospects and not on the size of the organisation. “The company was small compared with my previous organisation but the business was expanding and growth prospects were good,” says Bindra.

Also, it is easier to get into roles that focus on individual skills and competence and not so much on ability to manage teams and organisational structures. “One has a higher probability of returning in teaching, programming and recruiting far more smoothly than a managerial or marketing role,” says Chakraborty of TeamLease.

However, it is incorrect to say that one cannot make a comeback in other professions. “One’s ability to persevere, confidence and readiness to make adjustments to get back to work matter,” she says.

This article was posted in Business Today.


Home is where the work is

Yahoo! chief Marissa Mayer may think working from home hampers productivity, but those lucky enough to be able to do it in India say they have the best of two worlds, says Varuna Verma.

Priya Rao took a six-month break from work when she had her baby last year. The Information Technology (IT) professional had thought that it would give her sufficient time to bond with the child and help her regain her strength before getting back to work. But when her maternity leave was drawing to an end, Rao realised that she couldn’t leave her infant son at home in the care of a nanny for the whole day. “But I did not want to give up working either,” says Rao, a software architect at a Bangalore-based software company.

That is when Rao approached her company’s HR team to figure a way out. And she found them willing to make adjustments. “For the next one year, I worked half days and put my son in the crèche on the office campus. This way, I could check on him between meetings and conference calls,” Rao says.

With the growing number of women in the workforce, the practice of flexi-hours (which particularly helps women mind both their jobs and homes) is slowly catching on in India. Not surprisingly, Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer’s recent decision to annul a company policy that allowed employees to work from home has triggered a debate on the pros and cons of the practice.

Hundreds of women in India would disagree with Mayer. “Flexible work routines are a growing trend in India,” says Sairee Chahal, founder, Fleximoms, a portal that connects women to companies offering flexi-work job options — such as work from home or doing suitable hours. “Workflex is gaining currency because of better access to technology, a lack of traditional care giving and the rise in double income households,” she explains.

Launched in 2009, Fleximoms claims to have a community of 1,00,000 virtual women members, of whom 5,000 have found suitable flexi-jobs. Its corporate clients include Honeywell, Intel, the Royal Bank of Scotland and Castrol.

Many companies have been encouraging employees to adopt flexi-time. PricewaterhouseCoopers India has several options on offer. Telecommuting is an option where employees working in their local office may sometimes work one day a week at home, while Flexitime is an arrangement where an employee starts and ends the workday outside the “normal” working hours.

“Individuals continue to work the standard 40-hour work week, and receive full-time income and benefits,” says Mark Driscoll, leader, human capital, PwC India.

Those in favour of working from home argue that the practice gives employees, especially women, the opportunity to work and look after the family. Studies have shown that this jacks up productivity, makes employees happy and leads to lower attrition rates. And, of course, it cuts a company’s infrastructure costs.

“At PwC we believe that flexible working arrangements are alternatives that assist employees in balancing work and personal commitments while meeting business needs and objectives,” Driscoll stresses.

Sangeeta Lala, senior vice-president and co-founder, Teamlease Services, a Bangalore-based staffing firm, believes that women professionals in India don’t seek work from home options on a priority basis. “Flexi-work ranks below job role, salary, proximity to home, work load and bonus on the checklist,” she adds.

Those who don’t believe in flexi-hours hold that they hamper employees from performing to capacity, take away the opportunity to network or exchange ideas or scale up the career ladder. Bosses are often left wondering whether the employee is taking a power nap or picking her children from school during work hours. “The practice only works in jobs where there is a clear output requirement,” Lala says.

But those who are in favour say that it gives women the opportunity to work professionally, as well as take care of domestic and familial needs. “I work so much better from home,” says a media group employee who often edits from home. “At home, the telephones don’t ring constantly, visitors don’t keep streaming in and colleagues don’t tempt you with coffee and gossip,” she says.

Many organisations encourage women to work from home to retain staff. Chennai-based consulting firm Avtar Career Creators (ACC) conducted a survey in 2005 which found that 18 per cent of all attrition in Indian industry was caused by women who stepped off the career track, never to return. “This totalled around 50,000 women quitting their careers every year in the major metros,” says Saundarya Rajesh, founder, ACC, which specialises in providing flexible work choices to career women.

Started in 2000, ACC has a network of 26,000 professionally qualified women. In the last five years, the company claims to have created second career and flexi-working opportunities for 3,500 women. Its clients include Goldman Sachs, PepsiCo, Unilever, Heinz, Standard Chartered Bank, Google, Microsoft and Cadbury Kraft.

The Tata Second Career Internship Programme, started in 2008, also helps women who want to return to a career after a break by offering them flexible work schedules to help ease the transition process.

“There is a great deal of emphasis on flexibility as well as relevance of business projects,” says Amit Chincholikar, vice-president, management development, Tata Group HR, Mumbai. “Technology that enables telecommuting (or working from home) provides participants the flexibility so that they can balance their personal situations as well as deliver on deadlines,” he says.

Rajesh, however, feels the Indian corporate sector still has some navel gazing to do on diversity and inclusion at the workplace. “The investment made in empowering women goes waste as they often do not get the right work choices or the infrastructure to manage home responsibilities along with a career,” she says.

But it may not be long before India Inc embraces the practice of working from home or flexi-hours. For one, it’s slowly catching on everywhere. Polling firm Ipsos found that in a survey published recently almost a fifth of over 11,000 workers from 24 countries surveyed said they telecommuted “frequently”, while 7 per cent said they worked from home every day.

Another study — this one by Stanford University and the University of Beijing — found that telecommuters at a call centre in China handled calls more efficiently, took fewer breaks and were 13 per cent more productive than those who worked from office.

On the other hand, American retailers J.C. Penney found last year that a third of its headquarters’ bandwidth was taken up by employees watching YouTube in office!

This was originally published in The Telegraph

What does Yahoo’s work from home ban mean for Indian cos

Soon after internet giant Yahoo took away employee freedom to work from home, Indian companies are slowly voicing hitherto unexpressed concerns about productivity losses such flexibility may cause. “Flexitime is a utopian concept that is not going to help anyone,” says K Ramkumar, Executive Director, ICICI Bank.

“Whatever is not natural to the market and commerce, will not work. Customer is the king.” India Inc has mostly celebrated work from home or remote work as a best practice to attract and retain talent. Hardly anyone has yet voiced concerns of productivity losses such practices may cause.
“Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home,” a Yahoo memo announcing the rollback observed. “Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings,” it added.


Some HR heads of companies that have given employees such flexibility are now beginning to echo Yahoo’s concerns. None of them have yet moved to curb the practice, nor have they given any indication that they may consider such a move. “In India, unlike the west, employees do not have a separate office space in their homes. In that way, productivity could get hampered if one works from home,” says Saurabh Govil, vice-president HR, Wipro.The company offers flexi-work on a case-to-case basis. In the US though, Wipro has been asking its people to come to office, especially those who do not have to stay at customer’s site. “Coming to office helps in developing a culture that is crucial; even small water cooler conversations are important,” Govil adds. Srimathi Shivashankar, AVP & Head – Diversity & Sustainability, HCL Technologies, says working out of home in India is quite challenging.

“If you ask me whether Indian homes give women/men this kind of work ambience then my answer is no,” she says. There are many reasons for this. Firstly, extended family members have very little understanding that working from home is equivalent to working at office and that the individual should be supported to stay productive.

Secondly, the household support staff do take holidays, leaving the individual working from home with household chores. Thirdly, when it comes to telecommunication/calls/online meetings, Indian households with noisy surroundings have a good distance to traverse vis-a-vis our western counterparts. Fourthly, network connectivity and security is still an issue in many cities. Lastly, power cuts across Indian states also act as a dampener on productivity. HCL Technologies introduced flexiwork options one-and-a-half year ago despite these challenges. Unlike 5-6 years ago, when such flexibility first found its way into Indian workplaces, the pressures of the recent economic slowdown may also be forcing companies to reconsider their assumptions.

“Now companies have other concerns like top line and bottom line. They are insisting on ownership and accountability from their employees,” says Saundarya Rajesh, founder president, AVTAR Career Creators & FLEXI Careers India. Mahindra & Mahindra, which employs 150,000 employees, says such flexibility works only when there is a structure around it. It works only where one can measure productivity and performance, says Prince Augustin, EVP – Group Human Capital & Leadership Development at Mahindra & Mahindra.

The Economic Times published the article here

What I Gained From Mentoring

Women in India running their own businesses find thatmentoring helps them address new challenges. A woman entrepreneur shares her story. 

By Ruche M Mittal

Before I moved to Bangalore (after my marriage), I had been running my business for a year and a half. I had a team of 4 people at ideaPerfect Communication and during that time, I experienced many challenges such as managing a cash crunch,time management, team management, client handling and building a company culture.

At this stage, I felt that I needed to share my plans of growth and expansion with somebody, and at the same time wanted to discuss certain business questions that I felt I needed guidance on.

Why I needed a mentor

I already knew the problems and pain points in my business and also my own shortcomings, but I had no clue on how I could organize/arrange things better. Since I had to close my unit in Kolkata and restart my work in Bangalore, I decided to use my time to not only explore the business culture and opportunities in Bangalore, but also find solutions to the problem and difficulties I experienced.

While one can talk to friends and family, there are times when you feel they are judging you or sometimes you don’t feel like sharing all your challenges with them; but with a mentor, the relationship is different. The entire relationship is based on a system where we know that we are both here to discuss challenges and shortcomings, mine as well as that of my business – and to explore solutions for the same.

The entire relationship is based on a system where we know that we are both here to discuss challenges and shortcomings…

I connected with my mentor through the Goldman Sachs 10000 Women program with ISB. I joined the program because I wanted to understand how other people look at business and business problems. I felt this was critical for me since I come from a design background and my understanding of business comes mainly from my exposure to others running businesses in my family.

ISB was a great platform to understand how business owners interpret the same problem in a different manner and derive solutions accordingly.

The mentoring program

The 10000 Women program is 3-month program where we have 3 weeks of classroom sessions in all, 1 week per month. We were assigned mentors during the first week and for the rest of the program we were to connect with our mentors and develop our business plans.

My mentor is Gopa Kumar, a soft skills trainer and a visiting faculty at ISB. I connect with my mentor once a month for an hour or two and apart from that, we talk on the phone as and when required. In times of emergency, he does give me more time.

I soon realized that Gopa was very different from me. I am more of a technology person while he keeps himself away from technology as much as possible; I come from a design background and he has nothing to do with that industry. But, the beautiful thing in our mentoring relationship is that when we brainstorm together, we write down our pointers and then discuss the same with an open mind and heart.

He never tells me, “Do this.” Instead, he leaves me with questions and helps me if I am limited by my own thinking. He would say, “Is there any other way of doing this?

Since he does not come from my industry, his glass was empty, as in, he didn’t have any preconceived notions about my industry problems and would explore them in his own way. This leads to more learning.

Challenges with mentoring

Having gone through the experience of receiving mentoring, I feel the challenge in mentoring is to set the correct expectations. People think mentors are supposed to hold their hand and tell them what to do with their business, but it doesn’t work like that. In a mentor mentee relationship , it is the mentee who should drive the relationship and learning curve.

People think mentors are supposed to hold their hand and tell them what to do with their business, but it doesn’t work like that.

The real mentoring is where your mentor leaves you with questions and suggests other paths for you to explore. He or she is not supposed to tell you what to think or foist her own thoughts on you.

A mentor is meant to listen to what you have to say and to your questions and then leave you with a question to answer the same. He is a sounding board where you can go and talk and never feel judged.

I feel that mentoring is definitely a tool that can be used by business owners (Read, Getting The Best From Mentoring In The Workplace), especially if they are the sole decision makers on their business and feel like sharing their challenge and growth plans with someone else.

It is a way to reach someone who does not judge you, but listens to you with 100% attention and interest and helps you reach the solutions to your business problems.

This article was originally published in Women’s Web

Managing An IT Career Transition

Tips for managing a career transition (especially for IT professionals, but also relevant to others):

Assess your strengths. While this is easier said than done, working on this objectively may pave the way for a long term roadmap for you.

Don’t shortsell. Never begin a career conversation that begins with “I will do anything.”

Assess your skills and competencies. Imagine if you were to redefine your CV by telling the other person what skills you have or more simply put what you can do – rather than your designation and programming platform you work on. Feel free to use professional assessment tools to view this in relation to the job market.

Interest areas Are you a programmer with a gift of the gab or way with words? You love Bollywood and are known for getting projects with multiple stakeholders done on time? If you have specific interest areas, things that excite you or you haven’t let go of – these might be your clues to your next career. At Fleximoms, we have alumni who have gone from being project managers to culinary divas, from being IT Analysts to Tech PR pros, from being internal programmer to specialised consultants. What binds them is a conscious decision to reshape their careers and lives and ability to take help where it exists.

Network. Where are your networks? Do they know you exist? Are you valuable? Are you seen and heard often? An average man is more likely to know people in his domain than an average woman – alumni networks, colleagues, geek communities, start ups, tech events, clients – people work with people they know everywhere.

Coaching and mentorshipUndervalued propositions, especially in the context of women making career transitions. A good coach can be the bridge between your aspirations and your reality. A great mentor can be the support system you never imagined you had. Behind every success – big or small there is an objective brain and a committed heart of a mentor pinning for you. Don’t let that go waste!

Things are changing, especially with the emerging opportunities and availability of new terms of engagement and there are women who are transiting and not leaving this industry.

An encouraging sign after all!


This post was published in Women’s web

2nd Innings – The Ecosystem’s Getting Ready

“To love what you do and feel that it matters-how could anything be more fun?” -Katharine Graham, the first female CEO of a Fortune  500 enterprise (The Washington Post Company)

It is indeed the fun of doing what you love to do and want to do, that often triggers the strong urge in some women to desire a second-time career, in pursuit of that elusive happiness, apart from reasons of gaining financial stability etc. These women are one of a kind-having learnt to manage their energies, both negative and positive during their breaks. These are women who at one point in their lives would have screamed from the rooftops: “God, give me a break” and then having quit and now wanting to get back, say: “Give me a life, a Second Life”.

We at Dataquest are not debating if such women are able to make it back, we know for sure that some do as we try to dig out and learn a few home-truths pertinent to the Indian scenario and, of course, the go-getting Indian women.

Organizations today are definitely willing to encourage the raring-to-go women talent-the kinds who want to get back to careers after a sabbatical or a break or are wanting to have a go at it once again, with far more positivity, zest and enthusiasm. It’s a taken that organizations do have gender inclusivity/diversity as priority areas in their people powering agenda, now having understood the difference that attitudes of women can make to the successful running of the organization. Ever since the world-famous observation of George Harvey (CEO of Pitney Bowes in the 1980s) that retired school teachers made excellent salespeople and who henceforth decided to nurture women talent in the company at all levels-be it at the top, or middle or entry level-was noticed, a distinct change has begun to be noticed globally. This seems to have begun to be imbibed in modern day organizations in India too.

“Often I notice, having an opportunity to make a comeback also is a motivating fuel. So it’s a win-win, the woman employee feels included and it’s a welcome situation for the organization as well,” says Sunita Cherian, VP, HR, Wipro Ecoenergy.

However some questions that do arise are:

  • Are such women really capable of adjusting into current real-life situations at work? How long would the enthusiasm of getting back sustain? More critically,
  • To what lengths would an organization be willing to invest in terms of time and money in nurturing this talent? What initiatives do the companies take to help this talent get back into the grind?
  • How do colleagues take the re-entry of such women in their stride? After all, these women are the sure-hopefuls for rebuilding strong careers and get hand-picked by the top bosses for re-entry?
  • Does this have a backlash or does it generate healthy competitiveness in the various rungs, thus helping the organization succeed?   And more importantly, do these women actually succeed and rise to the top and thus give cause to the younger generation women to follow as their role models?

What we discovered was very surprising. No doubt, women talent nowadays is being given impetus as women have been found to have a very collaborative and participative approach to many issues. Meritocracy, of course, is largely the keyword. The individual is inducted solely on the basis of her skills and talent, ability to pick up and adjust to the changes, her willingness to get back to the same position where she had left off despite the probability of juniors bossing over her now, her improved management skills on the home-front etc. And of course, there’s much more encouragement if she is backed by an empathetic employer organization who is willing to tap her potential.

Modern day organizations in the IT industry in India are making every effort to minimize the chances of women leaving their jobs in the first place, and then going in for recruitment of ex-women-employees rather than spending more on fresh recruits. For example, for Infosys, diversity in talent is not an option but a critical success factor. The company says, “As a global corporation operating in multiple geographies, diversity will enable the company to build confidence and trust in the minds of customers and employees. And further, it is important to expand the bottom of the pyramid ie, at the entry level intake of more women, it is equally important to chart out a strategy to retain women as they move up in their career lifecycles. As part of retention, it is also necessary to maintain the gender ratios by enabling the increase of women in senior management.”

“At Infosys we have seen steady growth in the number of women applying for the jobs available. Today 34% of our workforce comprises of women. These women are as competent and capable as any other male member. It is essential for us to nurture them and provide them the support that is required at different stages of a women’s life cycle some of which are very important especially in the Indian context-marriage, childbearing, child care, elder care, etc,” the company also adds. Many companies such as Accenture India, Wipro, IBM India, Genpact India etc, subscribe to this concept today.

Leaving Flourishing Careers

Focusing on the lot of women who are wanting to come back, companies claim that the approach has changed for the better as mindsets are changing. These women may have left flourishing careers due to several reasons such as opting for higher studies, or wanting to balance their careers and personal aspirations with other priorities such as looking after family members such as their husbands, in-laws, parents, differently-abled children, etc, and these issues could require as much, if not more, of her attention at any point of time in her career. “Yes, a woman does not leave a good career out of choice, it is more due to different roles’ expectations from her, especially in a culture like ours; it is tough doing the juggling act,” says Nirmala Menon, co-founder, Interweave.in, a diversity consulting organization.

These thoughts are echoed by several organizations. “Today working women, we would say do not leave their careers but opt out of it for some time due to their personal engagements/requirements. And let us tell you that it is very difficult for a woman to quit a job which becomes her personal and professional identification over a period of time. It is also said/believed that a lot of women opt out of their careers also because of inappropriate support from the organization also. At HCL, our senior management extends its full support to formulate policies that prove helpful for women and add to our business advantage,” says Srimathi Shivashankar, AVP, diversity and sustainability, HCL Technologies.

What underlies the pysche behind leaving flourishing careers is clearly depicted by what Jyothsna Hirode, senior manager, India Diversity Team, HR Integrated Services Team (IST), IBM India, says “Well, if we look at the exit interviews…these women have left IBM earlier because of something extraneous, something due to personal reasons, relocations-to be with the family/social reasons etc. IBM tracks them as there is an opportunity to bring these women back. Certainly we are familiar with their skills, they are familiar with IBM-it makes a lot of difference.

Underlying all this is the overall diversity philosophy of IBM-to have more women is not just the line to have-it is more because of the value diversity within the workforce, because we feel that it is likely to bring in more innovation and that will bring more value for our clients. Underlying is the need for attracting more women, advancement of women and related constituents that are prime to us.”  Yet despite these breaks, many women want and manage to get back too after a sabbatical. A trend that has been observed is that several organizations are looking at this seriously, although it may not have become a standard practice as yet. “Losing out on women who have taken a career break would mean highly talented brain-drain, especially if they are a cultural fit. We do not want to lose the talent after putting in so much of training and skilling time,” Rajnish Sinha, senior VP, HR, Genpact India and Philippines says. “We look at the historical performance of the woman, if she has been a good performer, there is no reason not to try to accommodate her,” he adds.

There is strong backing from the organization for women returning from a sabbatical too. “From an organizational standpoint, flexibility is part of managing an inclusive corporation; it is a means of integrating principles of inclusion into practice, enhancing our ability to function seamlessly as one global network across time zones and borders and allowing for “voice and choice” in how our people deliver results. We as an organization focus on outcomes and not hours to determine if an employee is productive. When a woman returns to an organization to start a second innings, she requires added support to strike a balance between her professional requirement and family commitments,” Manoj Biswas, lead, HR, Accenture India states. Organizations understand the criticality of the issue and are now being very accomodative. “The industry, across sectors, has realized that it is critical to retain the existing women workforce and those wanting to come back. Numerous studies have shown that increasing gender equality enhances the productivity and corporate performance of the company. Thus today companies are providing platforms for better talent management, flexible work culture to accommodate their personal needs and launching initiatives that foster their personal and professional development,” Srimathi Shivashankar, HCLT, emphasizes.

In fact, the recent Global Gender Gap Report 2011 released by the World Economic Forum suggests that among the women in India, the ability of women to rise to positions of enterprise leadership is strong, with a score of 4.45 with the responses scale being 1=worst and 7 the best. So, why should companies have any reason to miss out on such women talent?

Challenges these Women

Face The challenges are plenty-both for women wanting to come back and also for women who have made a comeback. The challenges for women wanting to come back are primarily dependent on the organizational needs-whether companies would find her to be the right fit in a right role; are there suitable vacancies, would she be able to cope up with family issues better now, and most importantly, whether she would be as good a performer as she had been before.

The concerns for women who have come back could be in terms of behaviors in teams, in terms of competition from erstwhile peers-a junior could now be her senior when the woman returns or someone may resent her coming in, having expected to step into her role while she had been away. “This situation could happen sometimes, and I believe that it’s very important for the team and manager to bond well together for a great experience,” says Sunita Rebecca Cherian, VP, HR, Wipro Ecoenergy. “We have programs like New Manager Assimilation to enable a new manager and team to settle in quickly, and behavioral programs for improving individual ability in influencing the peer ecosystem. Bringing in transparency and discussing issues openly usually clears the air and sets the platform for productive working relationships,” she adds. The other main issues are in terms of quicker adaptability to the changed or latest work culture and environment in the organization, how empathetic her manager or senior is, how updated her skills are, how quickly she’s able to reskill herself etc.

“These women are coming back with much clarity in their minds, if everything else is fine but you have a wrong manager/senior who is insensitive to your needs, your efforts will fail. Making the person sensitized is very essential,” says Nirmala Menon, Interweave.in. Not everyone shares similar polarity. “How unique are such issues for these women? Are they not similar to those faced by other teams or members?” Kritika M, senior diversity manager, Nasscom questions categorically. She also adds, “It’s also no different for companies in India or globally. In fact, in India, start-ups are looking at inclusion of such women much more seriously than bigger established companies.” The 6th Annual Nasscom Diversity and Inclusion Summit 2011 is one of the many initiatives that Nasscom has taken to keep the diversity issue including women coming back after a sabbatical alive in organizations. “I think in the technology industry, the primary challenge that anybody who takes a break has to deal with, is the technology changes that are really, really fast paced.

So it is important for people whether they are taking a break or otherwise, when they come back into the industry to have kept pace with the changes in technology, so I think that’s the primary thing but our recruiting process takes care of that and people who have skills get hired. The second thing is that when people have taken a break, it takes a little while for people to get back to the groove of actually working on full time jobs. Full-time jobs come with deadlines, we all know that full-time jobs also come with a lot of expectations of delivery and responsibility, so that usually is the challenge for people to readjust to, actually working with deadlines and being able to work with multiple people across multiple time zone,” sums up Aparna Ballakur, VP, HR, Yahoo! in India .

Yet another challenge is adapting to the work schedule in the organization. “The challenge could be in terms of adapting oneself to the new 9-9 format instead of 9-6. The higher you rise, you need to put in more flexi hours,” says Anita Vasudeva, co-founder, Fleximoms.in. And from the organization’s perspective, the framework has to rise up to the occasion. “Also Training/Induction sessions need to be designed to bridge the gap created by the break (such as workshops on IT skills to update them on latest technologies, Time Management workshops, Project Management sessions, etc) help immensely to make a smooth transition back to corporate life,” says Radhakrishnan Nair, VP, talent acquisition, Tata Group HR.

Getting Back

A woman making a comeback needs to be very assertive, to tackle the challenges that the workplace will throw at her. Most companies talk of the woman individual’s ability to take proactive measures on her own, to discover opportunities, network with her previous organizations, and remain in touch with the latest technologies. This is highlighted by Srimathi Shivashankar, AVP, diversity and sustainability, HCLT: “After a career break and to enhance their career prospects, women themselves have to be assertive in terms of their rights and prospects at the workplace. They would also need to ascertain their unique skills and aptitudes and be clear about their professional goals and expectations. It is also advisable that they find mentors and learn from experience sharing, adapt their style to the needs of the organization, be forthcoming in terms of learning new skills in order to accept personal and professional challenges.”

A vital dependency of course, is the availability of various suitable positions. “Many ex-Wiproites do reach out to us and we welcome such women back depending on the availability of suitable positions,” says Cherian. On a slightly different note, says Aparna Ballakur, VP, HR, Yahoo! in India , “When we look at somebody’s resume and see a break in the career, we don’t kind of penalize people for that break, we treat them like anybody else and go through the process like anybody else when they come back.”

Most companies agree that they would prefer to reach out to their ex-employees (women included) as they are familiar with the ex-employees’ strengths and skills and this works well for the ex-employees as they too are familiar with the work culture of the organization. Some companies such as IBM India sound out their ex-women employees on available opportunities through online social media measures, ex-Alumni networks etc. The company had in fact, held an ex-women alumni meet last year on the International Women’s Day under the aegis of the India Women Leadership Council to attract ex-women alumni talent. Reaching Out to Women

This piece was originally published in Datauest

After the break

Corporate and urban India is home to nearly 100 million working women. Out of these, almost 70% take a career break due to various reasons. According to some estimates, there are almost 30 million women in urban India who wish to renter the workforce and build a career. Most of them feel ill-equipped and ill-supported to start again.

Clearly, the work-life choices that women have to make are not the same as men do. While the sociological aspect of the issue can be debated, the need to reconcile and respect the difference in choices exists. Preparing women for second careers means overcoming internal and external barriers. Internal ones include motivation, confidence, spouse support, family issues while external ones are flexible work opportunities, workplace resistance, mentoring/peer support.

Enabling environment

If comebacks are second careers, then they do need a certain amount of career support and induction. Psychologically, fresh career decisions are easy to make and unbridled. Second careers are harder, owing to uniqueness of situations and choices one has to make. The idea of investing in making a professional comeback is new to India.

Investment in support systems: A culture of investing in support systems — whether institutional or at  personal level — will help address a lot of micro issues that need to be addressed. Support systems may include care-giving infrastructure, tele-commuting support, small office, home office (SOHO) set-ups amongst others. A social investment in community care and support will also aid the cause.

 Corporate perspective

“There is a clear discontinuity on the work front in terms of consistency, commitment and ability to manage choices. The need to cultivate a clear perspective on choices made and supporting those choices can enhance (women’s) longevity in the workforce,” says Rakesh Shukla, managing director, The Writers Block, a technical communication firm that employs women in majority and often prefers to hire back-to-work women professionals. He adds that there is a perception that women are not committed to their careers. Therefore, companies display reluctance in hiring women after a break. If there were initiatives that help bridge the gaps of perception and reality, corporates would surely be more welcoming to women.

“Out of an average MBA batch of 100, there are 20-30% women, even lesser in engineering colleges. After a period of 5-8 years, less than 15% remain in the workforce. Women are very committed workers but I am not sure they are committed to themselves, their own (goals) and their careers. There is a need to build a culture of independence, assertiveness and preparedness — something that starts early on,” Shukla adds.

 Driving readiness

Women re-entering the workforce also implies being sensitive to their needs and choices. A change in choices or options often is sought with a need for flexibility — an imperative businesses are recognising now. The ‘workflex’ movement is steadily gaining acceptance in corporate India.

 Choices that women need to make, especially when opting out of the corporate structures, throw up a need to prepare and manage a different level of variables. There are few options that prepare women for making effective comebacks.

 Being able to make an effective comeback to work-life means managing various aspects — skills, confidence, preparedness, family support, health, support systems and an enhanced peer network.

 Readiness to stage effective comebacks also requires consistent go-to points, peer mentoring, support and relevant reskilling and training. Steps being taken in this direction include programmes like TATA Second Careers, while companies like Accenture, IBM, Shell etc are also taking initiative in this regard. The commitment will only grow stronger if there are initiatives with a long-term overarching perspective on the issue. Fleximoms 2nd Chance — Back to Work programme is one such step. However, to effectively make a long-term change, the space needs more catalysts and enablers, most significant of which are women themselves.

Priya Iyer, who made a successful comeback after attending a Back-to-Work programme organised by Fleximoms, says, “The programme was a huge learning experience. Not only did it inspire me to take the step, but also execute it. Today, I know that if one has clarity and support, one can do whatever they want to do. It does need planning and attention.”

 The bottom line is that there is value waiting to be extracted out of this talent pool. Companies that recognise this and respond to this change stand to benefit.

 This was originally published in HT Shine

Making Flex Work For You

“Flex” careers are becoming popular world over, but the responsibility for creating them does not lie just with employers.

Whether it is taking care of babies, pets, homes or the elderly – worldwide, the majority of that responsibility lies with women, and more so in India. However, women also need to work, more than ever before – for various reasons – fulfillment, money, career, independence etc. Women are making more work-life choices and picking those that suit their individual needs.

A flexible career or a workflex role is one of the many choices that women make, one that allows them to find a match between their professional and personal roles. However, making flexible work – work for you – is an opportunity and a challenge. Opportunity because it allows one to find a good fit, challenge, because it needs one to consistently learn and unlearn.


Understanding flexible work schedules

Flexible work may be broadly defined as a work arrangement outside the 9-to-5 format, that allows a person to manage responsibilities in more than one place, in a manner most suitable to her needs. Some commonly used Flexible work formats include: Work-from-home, tele-commute, part-time office/non-office hours, project based, job-sharing, flex-day etc.

The whole philosophy of workflex is centered on delivery, quality and timely completion of work, as opposed to spending a certain amount of time in a physical space.

There are two main aspects – Conceptual and Practical – to considering a flexible work format and failure of flexible work often comes from collapse of one or more of these aspects.

Conceptualizing a move to flexible work

Assessing Workflex needs – One of the first and biggest concerns in a Flexible work format is understanding of one’s Workflex needs. It is also important to understand that asking for a flexible format is not a reflection on one’s performance but an indication of changing choices one needs to make and managing them effectively. Meghna Khanna* used to be a high-flying senior consultant at a large firm. Once her son was born, she moved to a research desk role at the same firm with a half-day commitment. She still gets lucrative offers to join large consulting projects, but to her, time with her son is not negotiable and her flex career is built around that.

…asking for a flexible format is not a reflection on one’s performance but an indication of changing choices one needs to make and managing them effectively. 

Managing Workflex Readiness – Each kind of workflex arrangement has its own implications and one needs to be prepared to manage that well. For example the context of a Small Office Home Office (SOHO) entrepreneur will be totally different from that of a tele-commute flex worker. One’s flexible work needs may evolve over time but workflex readiness helps one navigate those changes.

Before you consider “flexi”, some practical aspects to think about

Level of skill – Workflex is not built for low levels of proficiency and skill. It is imperative that the worker has a high level of competence in generic skills such as communication, analysis, use of technology and teamwork, besides a core specialization. If one is considering a workflex career, the first thing one needs to do is upgrade skills, enhance proficiency and gain expertise.

Stay Connected – ‘Out of sight, out of mind’ is the hardest challenge facing flex workers. As a flex worker, it helps to put in place a communication protocol. Daily calls, IMs, mails, shared docs – or periodic face time – all help enhance cohesiveness between teams. If teams feel there is a consistent virtual presence, a work environment conducive to flex takes shape much more effectively and smoothly.

Equipped to handle – Flex is built on the backbone of communication and remote working infrastructure. If Internet is the lifeline of your work, make it a point to invest in it. Not being able to work, because ‘my Internet is not working’ is akin to ‘Dog ate my homework’.

If Internet is the lifeline of your work, make it a point to invest in it. Not being able to work, because ‘my Internet is not working’ is akin to ‘Dog ate my homework’.

Managing expectations – Make sure you let everyone in your work sphere know about what they can expect. If you are expected to have a weekly review meeting, make sure that happens. If you are going to be unavailable, let that be known well in time. There are few things worse for a team than having a flex worker not deliver on time, but not escalating issues while in process is one of them.

Creating back-up – The best thing one can do to make a flex career work for you is to make it as sustainable as possible. Pooja Saxena*, Associate Consultant, Legal at a Digital Media firm has been working with a large corporate set-up on a flex basis. She is their go-to person for all their legal queries. For over 5 years, Pooja has made it a point to have a peer manage work, while she takes her annual trip to the UK. Not only has she created a back up for herself, she has found a perfect flex fit for her company and herself.

Careers for women – making it work

Invest in Workflex – Being raised as a woman in India has its own nuances. Often we are conditioned not to make professional investments in ourselves. The idea of professional support and training for women in career-transition is hard to digest for many. It is a choice that one is making, because it will add a certain value to one’s life – (better balance, more time, money, greater opportunity or keep your skills alive). Don’t shy away from making that investment in yourself. It is unfair to expect companies to invest in flexibility at work, if those who need workflex options are ill-prepared.

It is also important to ramp-up one’s readiness in order make-up for time lost, if one has been on a career break. The changes in work environment, skills at work, growing level of solution-oriented approach and no recent proven success make it hard for someone who has been away from workplace to orchestrate a successful workflex career.

Being raised as a woman in India has its own nuances. Often we are conditioned not to make professional investments in ourselves. 

Think employer benefit – Flexible work is clearly a two-way street. It is vital to gauge the real scope and value of flexibility – both for employer and employee. In a lot of cases, a partial view of things or a ‘what is it in for me’ attitude without taking into account the context and suitability becomes a recipe for failure.

Play with formats, propose new ones – Flex is contextual. There are a host of best practices and policies but indigenous solutions are the way to go when proposing workflex for oneself. Think what works for you and the other party and feel free to propose it. When Rashmi moved houses to a sub-urban area, daily commute became a real hassle with more than 3 hours each day being spent on it. With her employers, she put together a solution, where she travels to work 3 days a week and works from home 2 days but with the same office hours. When an important project is being delivered, she makes it a point to keep up and be with the team. The arrangement proposed by her has lasted over 3 years and works for her company as well for her.

Deadlines are not flexible – The only thing not flexible in workflex are deadlines and if one keeps that in mind at all times, in all situations – there is no way that flex will not work for you.

One can adopt a flexible approach but it is imperative to stay committed to decisions and deadlines.

*Names changed to ensure privacy

This piece was originally published in Women’s Web.