After six years of being bang in the middle of action, when Juiee Sampat confronted the ‘family’ or ‘job’ dilemma peculiar to most Indian working women, she followed her heart. For this chartered accountant, nothing was more important than her 10-month-old son who had taken ill. Crestfallen, she bid farewell to a blazing career.
“My whole outlook changed. Priorities changed. It was something I had never foreseen. After a point, I felt as if something was missing,” says Sampat.
While nurturing her son back to normalcy was satisfying, the urge to return lingered. Two long years at home only sharpened the feeling. Searching for a way out, Sampat came across a second career internship programme being offered by the Tatas. Completing a six-month finance assignment with Tata Sons, she was offered long-term projects on, what is the most important aspect of it, flexi-hour basis. As swift and unexpected as her withdrawal from the professional scene was the 33-year-old’s return.
For Indian women professionals, letting go of a high-paying job is tough. But returning to the fold after a career break is virtually unthinkable.
Until recently, that is.
According to a March 2014 Grant Thornton survey, 20% of Indian businesses reserve jobs for women who have been on maternity leave for over a year. Around 16% provide childcare vouchers, salary raise and onsite childcare.
While this may not match up to the scene in many advanced countries, it represents a sea change in the accommodative character, sensitivities and inclusiveness of India Inc. With several companies opening their doors, women looking to restart their careers now have a much more open arena.
Besides ambition, things that mostly draw them back to work are the need for financial independence, the family’s need for dual income and, sometimes, personal crisis. On a drive to raise their diversity ratio, organizations, too, are making special efforts by offering flexible office timings, work-from- home options, childcare provisions, mentoring, training and development programmes to accommodate and retain women talent.
“Half of the world consists of women. It is in the organizations’ best interests to leverage this talent pool rather than only mining the other half,” says Aadesh Goyal, global head-HR, Tata Communications.
A 2012 McKinsey report shows less than 40% Indian women aged 25-54 as economically active. The figure is 82% for China.
The highest rate of career dropout, it is observed, happens at the middle level. So, firms are taking into account the reasons and incorporating policies to tackle the issues. A sensitive approach to women’s issues is seeping into corporate culture. For instance, companies are ensuring that maternity doesn’t impact performance appraisals or career growth. Special considerations are given for new mothers by not transferring/ deputing them, but keeping them closer home to tend to kids.
The Tata programme, launched six years ago, hires around 100 women managers every year for projects across consumer products, retail, energy, engineering and I-T. “While the programme enabled me to return to work, I also got a chance to connect with other women who had taken such breaks,” says Sampat, now a consultant with Tata Sons.
When Chennai-based I-T firm manager Ann Mathew (name changed) returned to work few years after she was forced into complete bedrest following health complications, it was tough. But her organization’s atmosphere and colleagues’—both new and erstwhile— attitude softened the blow. “You have to bring the focus back on the career. My friends and then colleagues had moved up a few notches in their career. With several flexi-job options, I could find my feet again.”
In Delhi’s Park Plaza Hotel, when a front office associate got married and moved to Mumbai, she put in her papers. But when her husband got transferred to Delhi, the same hotel re-hired her.
Tech Mahindra’s ‘Starting Over’ initiative encourages women who have taken at least a three-year break to get back to active employment. In 2012-13, the company inducted 20 such candidates, says Mahindra Group president-HR Rajeev Dubey.
With over 10,000 women employed across India, Muthoot Finance discourages them from quitting due to location change caused by marriage or other factors. “We encourage such women to apply for a job at our branch in the new area of their residence and put them on priority,” says Muthoot Finance V-P-capability building Ramanathan Murugappan.
ICICI Bank is one of the most generous in this area. “Besides six months of maternity leave, we give women child-caring leave till the time the child is two years old,” says MD & CEO Chanda Kochhar.
In fact, ICICI Bank has gone a step ahead. “We also provide leave to employees who adopt children. In that sense, we first take care of their need to be with their children at the most critical time and then, of course, we always encourage them to come back once they feel comfortable,” says Kochhar.
The hospitality industry, one of the biggest recruiters of women, and known for odd work hours, has been taking similar steps, allowing women to choose shifts as per their convenience. Job portals are doing their bit, too. Fleximoms, a website catering especially to women, helps find them jobs that fit their personal restrictions and commitments.
With such tectonic shift in attitudes and systems, India Inc is giving an all new meaning to the old adage: ‘Mummy’s the best!’
(With inputs from Mayur Shetty and Samidha Sharma)