Monday, February 16, 2009

Comeback Women

Various academic studies conducted across the world suggest that notwithstanding conventional dogmas such as discrimination and economic inequity at workplace; women do choose to take career breaks to take up parenting, or for pursuing their dreams. Empirical evidence suggests that such women who take career breaks face both penalties and costs, particularly if they have taken a career break in order to care for their young.

However, this general labor market failure that penalizes women for taking career breaks could be plausibly addressed by relevant measures from government and corporates on one side, and by judicious planning from women on the other. The key success factor will be to ensure the right mix of human needs including income, working hours and the type and status of employment on their reentry into employment.

Academicians and researchers have found three major trends. First, women who take career breaks interrupt their accumulation of human capital and pay a penalty in terms of lower earnings, unless the career break is for work-related reasons, such as gaining an advanced degree. Second, women who take child-related career breaks could pay a further penalty because, within the class of women who interrupt their careers, employers might discriminate against those who interrupt careers for family and/or personal-related reasons. Third, women who take child-related career breaks might not be able to return to the same type of job, and this could generate an income penalty.

At a macro level, this failure could be corrected by designing suitable labor market structures, policies by government and employers, work practices and culture. However, at an individual level, the subject must act wisely and plan meticulously to overcome patriarchal attitudes and gender bias in employment practices. According to Suzanne Venker, author of ‘7 Myths of Working Mothers‘, one way of doing it, is by planning their careers around their motherhood, rather than planning motherhood around their careers.

While this may sound simple, in an Indian context, most data points suggest this may be improbable. Research shows the proportion of women employees in Indian industry drop sharply as we move up the corporate ladder - from the entry level (50%) to the middle (30%) and senior management (8%), possibly indicating at a non-conducive workplace environment for women to balance career and life. Another issue is lack of representation of women at senior level. A Confederation of Indian Industry study in 2005 found that although women make up about half of the population in India, they only comprise 6% of the workforce, and at the senior management level at domestic Indian companies, women only constitute about 4% of the total workforce.

According to Carol Fishman Cohen, author of bestseller, ‘Back on the Career Track’, some of the workable strategies for women planning to reenter the workforce after a break may include going back to school to jump start a career relaunch the way Jill Biden did is an excellent back-to-work strategy that can be calibrated to a person's schedule and professional goals. One can also enrol into continuing and supplementary education such as a part-time MBA. Women on break from careers in scientific or technical fields could take up post-baccalaureate certificate programs

While there isn’t a panacea for women looking to restart their career after a break, there are plenty of examples, internationally and in India, on how some women have succeeded in their endeavor. Below I list some famous examples, which clearly prove that a woman can indeed carve out a successful corporate career after a break from work.

Dr. Jill Biden, born on June 5, 1951- is an Academician, Educator, and the Second Lady of US as wife of Vice President, Joe Biden. Jill was born in Hammonton, New Jersey and grew up in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania. She graduated with a bachelor's degree from the University of Delaware. She married Joe Biden in 1977. They had a daughter together in. She taught English and reading in high schools for 13 years, and earned master's degrees from West Chester University and Villanova University. Jill stopped working for two years while raising her three children. She then returned to work, teaching English, acting as a reading specialist, and teaching history to emotionally disturbed students. Biden is the president of the Biden Breast Health Initiative, a non-profit organization begun in 1993 that provides educational breast health awareness programs free of charge to schools and other groups in the state of Delaware. She runs five miles, five times a week, and has run in the Marine Corps Marathon. In January 2007, at age 55, she received a Doctor of Education in educational leadership from the University of Delaware.

Kiran Carrie Chetry, born on August 26, 1974 in Kathmandu, Nepal is a Famous News Anchor at CNN. Kiran was born in Shanta Bhawan Hospital in Kathmandu, Nepal. Her father is Nepalese and her mother is 1/2 Ukrainian and a combination of Dutch and German. Her parents, Homa Chetry and Nancy (who met while serving in the Peace Corps in Nepal) moved their new family of three to America. Kiran grew up in Gaithersburg, Maryland, USA. Kiran is married to Chris Knowles, and the couple has two children – three-year old daughter, Maya; and two-year old son, Chris. Despite having an ethnic background, and a family, Kiran has successfully navigated the high-pressure world of television broadcasting, and has managed to carve a niche for herself. She has received numerous awards including ‘Best Enterprise Reporting Award’ from the Pennsylvania Associated Press Broadcasters Association. In 2006 Kiran made Maxim Magazine's top ten list of TV's Sexiest News Anchors, placing third on the list: Kiran was ranked as America's sexiest female anchor and the world's second sexiest female anchor.

Hema Malini, born on October 16, 1948 is an Actress and Bharatanatyam dancer-choreographer. Hema Malini R. Chakravarty was born in Ammankudi, Tiruchirapalli district, Tamil Nadu to, V.S.R. Chakravarty and Jaya, a film producer. Hema first tried to enter films in 1964, but was rejected; Tamil director Sridhar said she had no star appeal. She persisted and found her niche in Bollywood. After taking a back seat from films for a number of years in the 1990s and early 2000s, Hema has made a successful comeback with hit movies. Despite family and kids, she has successfully pursued her dreams – Dance, Politics and Movies.