It’s official. Diversity is not just about giving equal opportunities to women any more. Here are two compelling insights from studies conducted by McKinsey.
So, embracing diversity is a positive step towards achieving better financial performance while ensuring gender parity. But to have more women executives at higher levels, they must continue and advance in their careers.
Sadly, the current scenario is not encouraging enough. There are quite a few barriers to overcome. Let's look at a few industry trends that indicate the need to bring in urgent initiatives to change the women's workforce scenario.
So, what’s stopping women returnees from getting back to the workforce?
Women who drop out of their careers do so due to multiple life events, maternity being just one of them. Women who want to return have many barriers to overcome.
For starters, they must convince themselves to move out of the ‘non-working’ zone they have gotten into. And at times, they will also have to convince the people around them. Once they clear this barrier, they need to identify suitable opportunities matching their skills or figure out if they have missed the bus.
Their fields may have changed due to technological advances. They may have to upskill to be eligible for current opportunities. Also, there may be limitations, like a preference for remote or hybrid work to manage their responsibilities. More importantly, having been away from the industry, they may be unaware of the trends, opportunities, etc.
In summary, women returnees may need help to overcome multiple barriers, such as:
Many organisations are trying to make an impact in this area through women's returnship programmes. These returnship programmes help women build confidence, bring them up to speed on industry trends and provide them with resources to upskill and find suitable opportunities. In many ways, the returnship programmes provide women with the much-needed mentoring they need to restart.
But we need to do much more than that. The Zinnov report quoted above says that over a lakh qualified women have left the workforce in the last five years. However, only 2% of them have been able to reintegrate into the workforce, even with the returnship programmes. These programmes need better strategies to improve outreach and impact.
Exclusive career fairs are another option women returnees and employers can leverage. While for employers it is a chance to meet their gender diversity goals, for women it becomes an exclusive platform where they feel comfortable participating. For women returnees, the ability to own and explain their career gaps without being judged is a big plus at such career fairs. Careernet’s diversity and inclusion offerings help organisations plan such events and even help with other diversity strategies.
However, we need to recognise that women need something much more substantial than all these to restart if we hope to actively close the gender gap. And that something happens to be sponsorship and mentorship programs. They are the best bet for women returnees to reintegrate into the workforce.
These options help not just to reintegrate the women returnees but also to retain and advance their careers. The findings of the McKinsey Women Matter study affirm this. It says that coaching, network building and mentoring programmes can be highly effective in enabling women. Even the McKinsey Women in Workplace study says mentoring and sponsorship are the best ways to fix the broken rung. Sponsorship and mentorship should become a key part of the HR process to ensure more women are eligible for promotion at every rung. Ultimately, it will lead to more women on the board and in management roles.
Let’s understand better what these two terms—mentoring and sponsorship—entail.
Professional mentorship refers to a relationship wherein a qualified person provides women returnees with the necessary support. The support could be guidance on developing new skills, relevant industry insights and trends to make informed decisions, or making the right connections. Mentorship can also include emotional support to address workplace issues faced by returnees.
Ideally, people need mentorship at every stage of their careers. Some believe mentorship helps only at the start or restart of a career. However, in reality, it is a continuous process, and women can progress to becoming mentors for others even if they are mentees with someone.
While mentorship benefits every professional, it is more so for women returnees.
Many organisations have put in place mechanisms to have formal mentorship programmes. Also, women can opt to have more than one mentor to take guidance on different topics they need help with.
While mentoring is guidance in various forms, sponsorship is a more formal and active form of support. A sponsor is someone who believes in the capabilities of the person they sponsor and is vocal about it. Such vocal support helps women returnees get the required visibility to advance their careers in the right direction. The sponsors are people in influential positions and will have access to multiple resources that can help women returnees. This access and active support can make a big difference to rebooting and advancing the careers of women. Sponsorship also ensures that the contributions of women always get noticed and do not get overlooked for promotions.
When influential people advocate for and promote women returnees, it can help the women overcome many barriers.
Some benefits are listed here:
In many organisations, sponsorship is a formal career development programme, which is closely monitored to ensure success. It is devised based on career goals, strengths and interests of individuals.
Organisations keen to bridge the gender gap can leverage the experienced talent pool of women returnees by implementing mentorship and sponsorship programs.
The key steps include:
When one looks at the big picture of gender diversity and bridging the gap, there is a need for all stakeholders to contribute and work towards identified goals. Mentorship and sponsorship can be the two key differentiators that can help make an impact. Every drop in the ocean counts.
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