Women in India are struggling to re-enter the workforce and ask for greater flexibility owing to poor employer sentiment towards flexible working and career breaks, according to a research by LinkedIn.

The Microsoft-owned professional networking platform on Tuesday launched its latest consumer research based on 2,266 respondents in India to highlight the challenges faced by women at work, and spotlight opportunities for employers to help break biases that are holding women back.

“India’s working women are quitting or considering quitting their jobs in 2022 as pay cuts, bias, and exclusion become their penalties for working flexibly,” it said.

Following the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, eight in ten (83 per cent) working women have realised they want to work more flexibly. Further, 72 per cent of them are rejecting job roles that don’t allow them to work flexibly, while 70 per cent have already quit or considered quitting their jobs because they weren’t offered the right flexible policies. 

The report also highlighted strong employer bias that has led to penalties for working flexibly for women. Nine in ten (88 per cent) had to take a pay cut to work flexibly, two in five (37 per cent) had their flexible working request denied while one in four (27 per cent) struggled to convince their bosses to accept their request. 

“This has made women reluctant towards asking for greater flexibility because they fear exclusion, being held back from promotions, working overtime, taking pay cuts, and being treated unfavourably by their superiors,” it said.

When asked about the benefits of flexible working, around two in five women said it improves their work-life balance (43 per cent) and helps them progress their careers (43 per cent), while one in three said it improves their mental health (34 per cent) and increases their likelihood of staying in their current jobs (33 per cent).

However, given the impending guilt and stigma around flexible policies, one in every three working women in India shies away from telling their clients (34 per cent), colleagues (35 per cent), and friends (33 per cent) that they work flexibly.

Career breaks, a challenge

Women also struggle with the stigma around career breaks.

As per the report, four in every five (78 per cent) working women in India are taking career breaks “to improve their well-being, plan career changes, and boost their confidence at work.”

Additionally, nine in ten working women use their time off to learn new hard and soft skills.

“Career breaks are helping women to upskill and boost their employability in today’s tight job market,” it said.

However, about four in every five (77 per cent) working women in India who took a break said that it had actually set them back in their careers. 

As per the report, this was due to the prevalent stigma associated with career breaks among recruiters and employers, which has made it difficult for every second (50 per cent) working woman in India to explain their career break to recruiters. 

Many choose to exclude career breaks from their CVs (42 per cent) or lie about their breaks to potential recruiters when being interviewed (35 per cent) because of this.

Further, 80 per cent of India’s working women wish for ways that would help them represent their career breaks more positively to hiring managers.

“Flexible working is the number one priority today for all professionals, especially for working women. In fact, our research finds that India is at the brink of a ‘flexidus’ with seven out of ten working women quitting or considering quitting their jobs due to lack of flexibility. This is a warning sign for companies and recruiters to remove the stigma surrounding the need for flexibility and career breaks, and introduce stronger flexibility policies if they don’t want to lose top talent,” said Ruchee Anand, Senior Director, India Talent & Learning Solutions, LinkedIn.

Career Breaks feature

The platform also launched a new ‘Career Breaks’ feature to normalise taking career breaks and help women re-enter the workforce

“This feature will de-stigmatise resume gaps as part of our professional journeys, and empower women to better communicate their unique experiences to their connections and recruiters,” said Anand.

The feature allows members to add a career break to their LinkedIn Profile and share the life experiences they’ve built during their time away and demonstrate how they can apply these learnings to roles they’re interested in.

To add a Career Break, users can go to the top of their Profile and select ‘Career Break’ in the drop down menu under “Add Section”. They will also have the option of adding ‘Add Career Break’ as part of the ‘Experience’ section of their LinkedIn Profile. 

They can choose from 13 different Title options under Career Break such as Full-Time Parenting, Health and Well-being, Caregiving, Layoff, Career Transition, Professional Development, etc.