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70% of India’s Working Women Struggle to Resume Career After Family Leave: Report

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Dec 10, 2019

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Image Courtesy: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg

Women leave the workforce for three reasons, former chief of the State Bank of India, Arundhati Bhattacharya, said at the recent India Economic Summit of the World Economic Forum. First, they leave to raise children; second, to prepare their children for exams; and third, to care for the elderly.

And if the gendered norms that make these things the responsibility of women weren’t enough, a new survey reveals there are limited options for those who attempt to resume work at a later date, Quartz reports. Around 70% of Indian women in the formal workforce who left their jobs for family reasons are currently struggling to re-enter the workforce — this despite the fact the women report working to update their skills during their leave and to keep up with technological advancements and other developments in their respective fields. The survey, carried out by workplace diversity consultancy, Avtar Group, also found 69% of these foresee a pay cut upon restarting their careers.

“The prevalence of ‘motherhood wage penalty,’ wherein mothers returning to work suffer severe pay and hiring disadvantages, is a reality. This gap needs to be bridged,” Saundarya Rajesh, founder and president of the Avtar Group, told Quartz.

This is not the only piece of research throwing a spotlight on this harsh reality. Various studies have compared men and women who are parents and who showcase the same amount of output and productivity at the workplace and have concluded that having children affects women’s careers more negatively. For instance, one 2007 study of academic careers found a man with children is four times more likely to be promoted to full professor than a woman with children. The other consequences of motherhood in academia are that women are less likely to be promoted than men and also less likely to be promoted than non-mothers, the same study concluded.

“This happens for irrational reasons; children do not cause this difference,” write the authors of the study. “The explanation is not simply that mothers work less because they have more to do at home. An important part of the explanation is that the very fact of being a mother is perceived as a disqualification.”

The current survey in India took into account responses from 783 Indian women with an average work experience of 9.5 years who returned to the job market after an average gap of 4.4 years. Nearly half of the women surveyed cited raising children as the most common reason for stepping out of the workforce, followed by an extended maternity break, or pursuing a hobby. Other reasons included quitting to care for an elderly family member, or relocating after marriage.


Related on The Swaddle:

Study: More Men Are Availing Paternity Leave, but Women Still Bear the Burden of Housework, Parenting


Contrary to popular belief, as many as 63% of the women trying to re-enter are interested in full-time jobs; within this group, only 34% are seeking flexible work hours. A much smaller portion — 13% — is seeking part-time or project-based work. Overall, around 7 million Indian women are looking to make a re-entry into the workforce.

However, re-entry is not easy, they report. The women surveyed say they face barriers such as the loss or weakening of professional networks and lack of up-to-date skills, which reduce future job prospects. In addition to this, some even anticipate a lack of support from family or family restrictions on their mobility will complicate a second entry into the workforce. All this might explain why many report a lack of confidence, too.

“We have been seeing how companies are benefiting by recruiting these second-career women. While there has been steady progress, more and more companies across segments and geographies must come forward to implement women-friendly policies,” Rajesh said to The Economic Times.

Organizations may be revolutionizing ways to retain women employees and introducing ways to make their re-entry smoother, but the real need of the hour is family-friendly policies, not just women-friendly ones, as The Swaddle (TS) has reported earlier. These policies will, “equalize expectations and opportunities for men and women, fathers and mothers,” reported The Swaddle.

It starts with equal pay. “When women start getting paid the same money for doing the same work, the choice of who, between partners, leaves the workforce, if and when it becomes necessary, can be more nuanced,” The Swaddle’s editorial team states. It also takes organizations to introduce a gender-neutral family or parental leave to ensure women not only stay but also don’t hesitate to come back into the workforce. And last, if childcare assistance policies, that allow babies to be accompanied by their nannies or a family member at employees’ workplaces, are also aimed at men, it’ll help, “reinforce the very mindset such policies are meant to counter: that childcare is only a responsibility for women.”

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Written By Anubhuti Matta

Anubhuti Matta is an associate editor with The Swaddle. When not at work, she’s busy pursuing kathak, reading books on and by women in the Middle East or making dresses out of Indian prints.

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