Women professionals who quit for personal reasons are being wooed back by companies big and small that value their multitasking abilities.

After losing sleep for days, 26-year-old Gurpreet Bhatia finally took the painful decision to quit her fledgling career in human resources. With a management degree from XLRI, she had entered the profession when she was 22 and had begun to prove herself as a young manager, first at PriceWaterhouse and later at Intel.

She was forced to leave all that behind and accompany her husband after he took up a job in the US. “But soon, I returned to work, as a volunteer though, with Red Cross. And then, when I returned to India, I joined Honeywell and worked for six years. But I had to quit this, too, to take care of our two kids,” Gurpreet says.

Today, she heads Human Resources at TalentSprint, bouncing back into her career with confidence and ease. “After my stint at Honeywell, my confidence levels were very high. I took up freelance work with companies like Tata Advance Systems. Fifteen months later, I joined this company,” Gurpreet, now 35, says.

She is among hundreds of women professionals who are returning to the workforce after quitting for personal reasons. And companies big and small are welcoming them back with open arms, acknowledging their much-valued multitasking abilities.

Corporate majors such as IBM, SAP, Mahindra Satyam, Hindustan Unilever, Virtusa Corporation and many Tata companies have dedicated programmes to woo back these ‘second career’ women.

Persuading the fence-sitter

Business software solutions company SAP India is currently rolling out a programme to bring back women employees who have quit in the last 18 months, says Suchitra Hurtis, Manager (Human Resources, Diversity and Inclusion Lead).

“We are partnering with a third-party exit interview service provider. While we do have our internal database on exit reasons, we believe that a neutral party will ensure a more honest response from our former employees,” she says.

Through an initiative called ‘Stay in Touch’, the company ensures that women employees return to work after a sabbatical or maternity leave.

Observing that employees who go on long leave mainly to start a family usually quit when the leave period ends, Suchitra says the company tries to stay engaged with the employee through a single point of contact called ‘Amico’ (which means ‘buddy’ in Italian).

Women who have themselves experienced career breaks for personal reasons are chosen to play the role of a buddy, who stays in touch with the absent employees, updates them on new developments at the workplace and addresses their concerns.

“Through this, we hope to convert the fence-sitters who may be in two minds about returning to work after their maternity leave,” Suchitra says.

When re-entry is difficult

Some women, however, struggle to get it right the second time. Moving to Hyderabad from New Delhi after her marriage, Heemaal Koul had to leave her year-old job at ICICI Bank.

“In spite of a rigorous job-hunt I failed to get a job of my choice. As time passed, the gap was only growing, which made it even more difficult for me,” she recalls. It was then that her husband, a former employee at IT major Mahindra Satyam, drew her attention to the company’s Start Over programme, which reaches out to women who have taken a career break.

She found a position there and recently completed a six-day induction programme.

“We strongly believe that second-career women add a new dimension to the organisation,” says Sundararajan Narayanan, Vice-President and Global HR Head of Virtusa Corporation. The IT services company is opening up opportunities in software development, project management and pre-sales activities for the “huge pool of talented women out there who, due to personal constraints, are unable to pursue their career goals”.

Leadership calls

Technology and consulting company IBM says it aims to build a pipeline of women leaders. “Women constitute one-third of senior leadership and 26 per cent of the workforce in India and 29 per cent globally,” Kalpana Veeraraghavan, Workforce Diversity Manager, IBM India, says.

The company’s ‘Bring her Back’ initiative is meant to attract back women who have taken a mid-career sabbatical. “Any woman professional with the requisite skill-set can apply, and anyone with, at maximum, three years of personal sabbatical qualifies for the programme. As a new IBMer, she will be inducted into a special orientation and up-skilling programme. She will be mentored by senior business leaders to succeed at IBM,” says Kalpana.

Offering flexi-hour assignments with its various group companies for 5-6 months, the Tata Second Career Internship Program reaches out to women professionals who have taken a sabbatical for 1-8 years and are ready to return to the professional sphere.

Started in 2008, this career transition management programme doesn’t guarantee a placement, but offers an attractive compensation of Rs 4 lakh. Those with at least four years of work experience in a pre-defined domain can join the programme.

Women in demand

“Women are being hired back in critical positions in sales and profit centre leadership after maternity breaks and sabbaticals, which was unheard of a decade ago. Most staffing companies have witnessed a spike in demand for women candidates for various temporary as well as permanent business roles, which is an exciting trend of inclusiveness in our workforce,” says Rituparna Chakraborty, Vice-President of Indian Staffing Federation.

Concurring with this, Saundarya Rajesh, founder of AVTAR I-WIN (see box), says the number of women seeking a second-line career is on the raise. The network has helped about 3,500 women find their second job,” she says.

Second Avtar

AVTAR Interim Women Managers (I-WIN), a 26,000-strong network, has conducted an interesting study on the attrition of women employees. It found that 18 per cent of the 98 lakh women in the workforce quit every year for reasons ranging from lack of work-life balance to an unsustainable career track, says Saundarya Rajesh, founder-President of AVTAR Career Creators and FLEXI Careers India.

They include graduates, postgraduates and professionally qualified women with work experience ranging from two to 20 years. “Many of these women never return to the workplace but, over the years, the number of women trying to make a re-entry has grown. As per our estimate, over 15 lakh Indian women are ready for second careers,” she says.

Started in 2005 with 200 women, the AVTAR I-WIN network is now present across the country. “Women who seek an integration between their home and work spheres are members. This includes women with interrupted careers looking for a second opportunity, or those who wish to move into flexible jobs via part-time, flexi-time and project-based working,” she says.

The network helps them find career opportunities with ‘family friendly’ working hours, and access and share information with peer groups on career opportunities, work-life integration, career enablers and support systems.

It organises Se-gue (or smooth transition) sessions in Mumbai, Bengaluru and Chennai for second career women in industries spanning IT, BPO, FMCG, retail, banking, financial services and insurance sectors.

kurmanath.kanchi@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on October 11, 2012)
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