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#TwitterChat: Perception biggest barrier to women returning after a break, say experts

Adgully organised a Twitter Chat on February 21, 2020 in the lead-up to our event ‘Women Disruptors’ on March 6, 2020. The topic of conversation was ‘Restarting your career after a break’, where we engaged high profile women professionals across the industry spectrum to understand what it takes for a woman to advance her career professionally while balancing life priorities.

Joining us for the conversation:

  • Anita Kotwani, Senior Vice President, Mindshare India (@kotwani11)
  • Anjali Malthankar, National Strategy Director, Tonic Worldwide (@anjmalthankar)
  • Arunima Singh, EVP – Growth, Social Beat (@arunimasingh13)
  • Chanpreet Arora, Business Strategist, Startup Evangelist, Speaker & Educator (@chanpreetarora)
  • Monaz Todywala, VP – Growth & Strategy, Wavemaker India (@monazt)
  • Shivaani Srivastava, Senior Consultant, Marketing, PR and Corp Comm (@shivani72)
  • Shradha Agarwal, COO, Grapes Digital (@shrads_agarwal)

Challenges

The common challenge seems to be of pay and prioritising life over work as a perceived lack of interest, say experts.

Anjali Malthankar: It depends on what the break is taken for – sabbatical, maternity or something else. But the common challenge for women continues to be of pay.

Shradha Agarwal: For maternity leave, one of the biggest challenges you face is the break you need every 2-3 hours to feed or pump. It makes the same very distracting for oneself and the team as you are literally on the clock and can’t stretch.

Chanpreet Arora: Many a times, the sole responsibility of parenting rests on the shoulders of the mother. The uncertainties related with children can lead to unplanned holidays, taking time off due to children being sick is perceived as lack of interest in work.

Societal pressures and prejudices often cause women to drop out of the workforce after having children. A lack of understanding of the pressures of parenting leads to a lack of empathy by team members followed by poor goal setting.

Shivani Srivastava: There is also the perception barrier of everyone concluding that ‘oh, she’ll not be able to handle things’ since things have changed at the workplace. Hence, the compromise to work for less money!

Monaz Todywala: Some of the challenges that women seem to face are reskilling, not getting enough support at work, lower remuneration, and slow track progress.

Reskilling

Experts agree that reskilling for a fast changing work environment is essential. Top tip to keep your skills sharp was freelancing in different fields.

Shradha Agarwal: To be honest, I have never left working. My WhatsApp group has helped me in remaining updated on what’s happening. But that is only possible on work sabbaticals lasting up to six months.

In case, your sabbatical is for a longer duration, it is difficult to be on top of execution for sure. However, you can stay connected to your industry by reading up on all the latest updates and trends.

Chanpreet Arora: The status quo in every industry changes every eight quarters; freelancing is probably the best route to staying connected and reskilling as well.

Shivani Srivastava: Keep abreast by being a voracious reader. Work as a freelancer in any stream or area which gives you an exposure to the world. Try learning new courses and keep yourself engaged and connected with the professional world.

Organisational Support

Organisational support is a must. Experts state that empathy from co-workers can go a long way in creating a supportive environment for returning employees. Hiring back employees on a break and flexible leave policies are a big plus.

Anjali Malthankar: There is a tendency to overcompensate when you return to full time work. An organisation which cares can reassure and make the woman feel secure and not burn out. Critical work travel can be planned around the woman employee's convenience.

Shradha Agarwal: The first basic support that an organisation can display is hiring a person who was on a long sabbatical. That itself showcases the belief and values of the system.

Arunima Singh: A new parent needs empathy from their manager and co-workers. Make them feel like they’re still a valued employee. Make leave policy more flexible. Allow remote working. Policies have to be more adaptive.

Perception of ‘lost time’

The duration of the break dictates the challenges faced by women returning to the workforce, however, experts urge women not to ‘kill themselves’ over this perceived loss of time.

Chanpreet Arora: This perceived loss is over emphasised upon. One can quickly catch up on once you find your new rhythm. The biggest barrier in your new journey is the baggage of expectation from yourself to have the same time for work as you did when you were not a parent.

It’s not your perception, but your momentum that takes a hit. The longer you take to return to a fulltime job, the wider the gap becomes. This could mean lost promotions, pay rises and you may even find yourself reporting to your earlier colleague.

Monaz Todywala: I think one must change to a more realistic dialogue, lost time cannot be recovered and women mustn’t kill themselves trying to prove otherwise. What women gain during that time should be emphasised upon.

Work-Life expectations

You will need to ask for help, say experts. Setting the right expectations at the workplace and at home will be key to achieving the right balance.

Anjali Malthankar: I think expectations will have to be set with everyone in your life once you are back to full time work. Be it your team, your family or friends or even in-laws.

Shradha Agarwal: There is no answer to this. You have to find your own ways, set your own rules. Strike your own balance because no conversation will prepare you for this. You need to analyse the situation and set you own goals.

Monaz Todywala: My mother-in-law taught me to unabashedly ask for help, which, trust me, all mothers need. Also, having a support group of mothers helped me to feel less guilty and gave me the courage to not give up.

Chanpreet Arora: It is important to ask for help. Sharing parenting responsibilities with our partners is critical to the success of our second stint.

Arunima Singh: Effective delegation/ empowerment to responsible people definitely frees up a lot of your time to scale your merit for larger objectives.

Keep the edge sharp

Experts share their pro tips to getting back to work in top form.

Anjali Malthankar: I consulted before getting back to full-time national role. That not only gave me the ‘expert edge’, but even helped phase out the transition.

Shradha Agarwal: The acclimation period to get back on track may vary from the job role to the sabbatical period. But I genuinely feel not more than 2-3 months will be required for this.

Chanpreet Arora: Focus on networking with clients and service providers.

Monaz Todywala: I am not so sure of the acclimation period, but I know that mine was no more than two weeks, after that it was the understanding of my work colleagues that helped.

A lot of things change in an organisation and in the marketplace in 6 months to a year. One trick is to treat it like a new job with a familiar environment. Get HR involved in identifying a training schedule.

Anita Kotwani: I wonder if we ever take a break and are completely disconnected.

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