Job ad, gender pitch: 23 leading companies seek to hire women on sabbatical

The jury is still out on whether corporate India’s efforts to ensure better gender diversity at workplaces is merely tokenism but if 23 leading companies give a chorus call to women on sabbatical to apply for executive roles, it is certainly an eye-catching development. A recent newspaper advertisement issued on behalf of these companies by Stanton Chase, an executive search and consulting firm, has kindled hopes that these companies are keen to ease the reintegration process.

 

With almost 1,000 relevant resumes received in response to the advertisement published less than a month ago, Mala Kalra Chawla, the global leader for diversity and inclusion for Stanton Chase, feels the client companies’ desire to make the twain — fair gender representation and tapping leadership potential of those executives who want to reboot their careers — meet, is well on track. “I see this as an opportunity to look beyond preaching the importance of diversity by organising events and showcasing some success stories and do something which is more concrete. For a month, we spoke to some selected companies in our clientele list and gave them this idea about reintegrating women into the workforce and a bunch of them agreed to participate,” she says.

 

According to Stanton Chase, screening and shortlisting of applications will be done by them as per the role requirements from their clients. “From there on, the selection and fitment will be decided by the corporates concerned,” Chawla adds. But a woman’s return after a gap is as much about looking ahead as it is about looking backwards, that is, what pushed the women to move out of the workforce and what the challenges in returning after a significant gap are.

 

Charu Sabanvis, diversity expert and director, Delta Learning, summarises the host of individual reasons into three broad categories or what she calls are the 3Ms – marriage, motherhood and mobility. Referring to a McKinsey report, she says that at the entry level, the gender ratio is around 29 per cent women with the majority being men. At the mid-management level, it drops to 16 per cent and this is where the 3Ms kick in, the husband’s job takes precedence over the woman’s. 

 

Shailesh Singh, head of human resource, Max Life Insurance, one of the 23 companies on whose behalf the recent advertisement was published, assures that the selection process after shortlisting the resumes will be purely on merit through a fair process which does not “carry any biases from a gender perspective”.

 

Encouraging as it may sound, biases do exist, say many women who have tried to come back. That’s what Mumbai’s Lakshmi Ravindran felt when she tried to reenter the industry after a two-year-gap. “Having worked for 12 years, I left my job due to family obligations. But it was tougher than I thought. Nobody told me bluntly but I never got calls for jobs which I was totally eligible for. In a couple of interviews, where I was called, they were offering a position which was lower than what I left at. They made it sound as if they were doing me a favour,” says Ravindran, 41.

 

She now works for a FinTech subsidiary of Axis Bank, a job she got through campus placement after completing the Post Graduate Management Programme for Women (PGMPW) from S P Jain Institute of Management & Research, Mumbai, an exclusive programme for reintegrating women who have a gap of four years or more in their resume because of family or social obligation.

 

Ashita Aggarwal, chairperson of PGMPW, says that corporates realise that even away from jobs, the women were managing a different entity, their respective family for the most part, and hence they were adaptive and they understood handling and working with people in a different context. “Also given that ours is a one-year, full-time rigorous programme that requires women to leave their families for the entire duration, the upskilling is taken care of and the seriousness is well-established.”

 

Another expert, Padma Kumar, the chief operating officer of development consulting company IPE Global, agrees that the women’s experiences away from the workplaces are often helpful for them to be better managers post reintegration. “There are many reasons why companies are increasingly looking to rehire women employees. Their family experiences as homemakers makes them better suited to multitask. They also bring stability to the table because they don’t switch very often compared to men. By the time they return, they have figured out a way where children will study, who will look after them etc, which only helps them to focus better,” adds Kumar.

 

Rachna Mukherjee, the chief human resources officer of Schneider Electric India, a smart energy management solution provider headquartered in France, is more optimistic about the future. From the vantage point that her association with a global company offers, she confidently says that some of the best practices adopted in India are being replicated in the West even as women dropping out of the workforce remains as much a reality elsewhere as it is in India.

While Mukherjee’s company has a Second Innings policy for such women, her counterpart in Vedanta, Madhu Srivastava, says the firm has proactively introduced progressive and benchmarked schemes that are focused on reintegrating women in the workforce as it aspires to increase the representation of women in the company to 30 per cent by next year.

Smooth comeback

Some dos and don’ts of reintegration

  • The position and perks offered must commensurate with experience and skill, yet merit should not be compromised with. The human resources teams should be proactive in identifying the most suitable roles for those coming back after a significant gap
  • A gap in one’s resume is seen as a bargaining chip by some companies to offer them lesser roles. This should be discouraged
  • It is also important to allay any fears of those who took only the stipulated leaves — maternity or otherwise and not a sabbatical —about being shortchanged by lateral entry of those who took longer breaks
  • Absence from work also requires reskilling and upskilling, the recruiter should make those arrangements according to the period of absence
  • Family obligations do not end even after reintegration, so policies should continue to be supportive