With a world that is slowly inching toward gender equality, women representation in the workplace has seen a significant rise. Pew Research Center estimated that as of today, women make up more than 40 percent of the workforce in 80 countries. Yet a staggering 60-70 percent of women who quit their long-standing careers never return to work at all. That is a big pool of talent wasted, and globally, it is a cultural-economic challenge today.
The statistics look grim. Forbes reported that only a quarter of S&P 500 CEOs are women, and women make up only 20% of the board members of those companies. And, women leave their jobs at over three times the rate of their male colleagues: 24% vs. 7%, according to the Network for Executive Women. Closing this gender gap in the labour market would lead to an additional contribution of $28trillion to the global economy. Country like Singapore can achieve higher economic growth with gender parity.
Why are well-qualified women not opting for career enhancement, and more, unfortunately, why some of them are leaving at the prime stage of their career?
It’s been an uphill battle for women to strike a perfect work-life balance. Women always have shorter work span compared to men, therefore leading to fewer career opportunities. A woman always ends up choosing family commitments over their work. Unlike men, married women simply lack the luxury to work without the pressure to be a primary caregiver or a nurturer. In a recent survey, 57% of working mothers cited work-life balance as the top challenge for career advancement. Also women in most of the OCED countries enter the labor market much later than men, thereby impacting their future career growth.
Another breakpoint in women’s career is when they become mothers. A ticking biological clock after 30s calls for making pregnancy a top priority. Then comes the childbirth, maternity, health, childcare, and an overall need to engage themselves full-time at home—the combined workload at home at the workplace results in burnout. The risks tend to outweigh the gains from a successful running career.
Most women in several countries are tied up with social conventions that require them to prioritize family first. Unless there is a need for a secondary breadwinner, they would choose to take up the family resposibilities even if their career is seeking a peak. It is a significant loss to not only the women but also the economy and the society since most of these women are qualified and skilled.
Not every time a woman opting out of a career is due to a lack of difficulty in maintaining a career. Many women voluntarily chose to start with their entrepreneurial stint after a few years of work. That is a welcome step. An entrepreneur doesn’t earn only for herself but helps others earn too, which certainly is an edge and priority in terms of employability. Nevertheless, sometimes such start-ups get hung midway because of inadequate funds or planning.
What stops women from returning to workforce??
It has always been a daunting task for women at work front after their motherhood to maintain an ideal work-life balance. As a transition from a female employee to being a mother, returning as a working mother can be a significant shift adjustment in her life. As per McKinsey Global Institute, after the age 30 and beyond, more women than men quit their jobs permanently, mostly due to family commitments. In Singapore 4 out 10 females leave their full-time career due to starting a new life like marriage or motherhood. Here are some of the obstacles faced by the female workforce, which stops them from returning to work.
- Career advancement opportunities – Women returning to the workforce are often not offered higher-paying occupations. Many women take part-time jobs, choose family-friendly occupations, don’t accept promotion due to time constraints, change of location, or require extensive travel. It hampers their career advancement opportunities.
- Salary Gap – Women’s pay is hugely impacted once they enter their motherhood journey, often known as the motherhood penalty. This pay disparity is as much as 20percent, especially in sectors like business law and medicine.
- Perfect work-life balance – Women feel despite the flexible-working hour programs existing in organizations, aren’t readily available to maintain the work-life balance.
- Not offered high profile jobs or senior positions – Women account for less than a third (29%) of senior roles globally. There is an under-representation of women occupying higher managerial positions in operations as compared to shared services like HR, External relations, and Legal departments. Resuming work has a lot of stigma attached, as organisations find women less committed, less authoritative, or dependable after motherhood.
- Lack of Peer Support: Women feel rejected by recruiters due to the career gap. Even if they make it through the interview, and they are often are looked down upon by their peers with little or no hope to scale up the company ladder to reach for higher positions. Often the glass-ceiling ends at the immediate managerial level. Also, a lot of women also face sexism regularly in their workplace. Therefore, it is not uncommon for her to feel shunned by her male colleagues for getting sure legit support.
- Motherhood guilt – Working mothers are always under this guilt for being there for their kids.
The above reasons are not the only ones that make women reluctant to start the second innings of their career after a gap. An ICEDR survey has found that women around age 30, due to lack of Learning & Development, and a shortage of meaningful work, prime reasons for leaving organizations.
What can women do to remain in the employment map and get back to working again after a gap without hesitation?
Women mostly take career break to start a family or change in career path due to redundancy in current job. But there is always a performance-anxiety when it comes to thinking of rejoining work. After a few years of career cap, one of the most significant hiccups is the drop in confidence level. It is wise to keep the mind engaged in learning and improvising both in related and unrelated fields. Women can also look out for many companies online that offer career-returner programs.
Also, as a next step would be to bridging the skill and training gap. Internet accessibility has made it easier to take paid and unpaid online courses to learn new skills and improvise on the existing skills. Staying in touch with friends from the industry, staying informed and updated about their current trends in the industry, keeping an updated CV and a cover letter can be a lot useful to plan a career return.
A vast pool of women who return to the workforce face issues like technology-led disruption too. Various companies have designed women-oriented programs keeping in mind hire women who had gone sabatical or taken a career break. Most of these programs work on building scope for an internship, training to bridge the skill gap, and offering short-term projects while preparing women for full-time jobs. Companies such as IBM, Microsoft etc. have special programs for women to bridge the technology-led disruption after a gap. It is a good idea to keep an eye on such programs.
Women on a career gap can explore opportunities through networking and research. Women can make the best use of ample of opportunities in social media to stay updated, network with people, and grow even when they are not an employee anywhere.
Choosing to opt-out of a career to move to a new mode of entrepreneurship is great. The real concern is women leaving careers without being left with any choice.
Companies and recruiters need to reassess their current policies to encourage more women not to leave their careers and not feel reluctant to join back to work after an unavoidable gap in their careers.
Singapore’s Minister for Manpower, Josephine Teo had referred to 2016, Marriage and Parenthood survey where women with children below six years have a strong preference for “full-time work with flexible work arrangements (FWAs)” rather than “part-time work”. In view of this, the ministry has increased the Work-Life Grant budget from S$30 million to S$100 million. To provide more childcare support, preschool capacity has been doubled from around 90,000 in 2012 to almost 180,000 places today.
Furthermore, the Adapt and Grow initiative in Singapore offers a suite of programs to help jobseekers enter new jobs and overcome mismatches in skills, wages or job expectations as a part of employment facilitation.
Clearly, the onus is not on the women alone. Companies must re-work their pay structures to close the gender-pay gap faster. They can focus on empathy and support in helping a woman achieve the necessary work-life balance without burning them. These changes will augment her capability, focus, and output. More support from her peers and a strict HR policy that looks into cases like sexism or bullying can go a long way toward supporting a returning-career woman.
Women statistically have higher emotional quotient that gives greater organizational awareness, adaptability, and empathy, which is a significant leadership advantage. Research, conducted by the Korn Ferry Hay Group, used data from 55,000 professionals in 90 countries that found in “emotional intelligence competencies” women outperformed men. It is an excellent reason for employers to build up women with returning careers for leadership.
Women returning to the workforce often come with renewed energy and motivation. Employers should focus on ways to utilize this enthusiasm and build ways to prepare them for senior roles, such as directors or vice presidents, which is still less in proportion globally.