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Here’s how women can resume career after a break


When Vinutha Menon decided to take a break from work to have her baby, she vowed to be back soon. But she didn’t realise how overwhelming motherhood could be. Although she had every intention to get back to work, before she could do so, she got pregnant with her second child. “Before I knew it, I had fallen off the grid and lost all hope of getting back to work.

I was now a full blown stay-at-home mom,” she says. Menon is not alone. In India, as well as across the world, millions of women take extended breaks from work for various reasons. According to a study by the World Bank in collaboration with the National Sample Survey Organisation, 20 million Indian women quit jobs between 2004-12. Around 65-70% of women who quit never return to work at all. Menon is a happy exception to this statistic. Although her unplanned sabbatical lasted 11 years, she managed to get back to working full time and is now a PR and communications strategist.

A major setback
Taking a break from work can be as liberating as it is daunting, depending on your reasons and situation. But getting back can have its own set of challenges. “The main hurdle I faced was my own lack of self-confidence and the professional challenges weren’t too far behind,” says Menon. Niveditha Navin, a Content Strategist based in Bangalore, concedes, “I took a three-year break, which was difficult to account for on my resume.

Questions about what I would tell recruiters and whether my skills would be outdated in the fast-changing job market plagued me when I decided to start applying for jobs.” Navin started her career as a software tester in a multinational company. She quit her job when she and her husband decided to start a family.


Vinutha Menon PR & Communications Strategist, Bengaluru
Took an unplanned break spanning 11 years. Had to struggle to regain the confidence to get back to work. Started with volunteering and then eased herself into a full-time role.

 But the couple felt the financial pinch. “We had to take a beating of nearly 30-40% reduction in income. We got by with some wise budgeting and constrained spending,” she says. An extended break can also affect the earning potential of a woman. Not only does it slow down increments and promotions, it can also impact their development as a professional. Even if she finds a way to explain away the ‘gap’, a woman returning to work after a break is likely to lag behind her male counterpart in terms of wages, especially over time.

If, for instance, a man and a woman both start working at 25, earning Rs 25,000 per month, and the salaries increase at a steady 10% each year, a oneyear gap for marriage and relocation three years into her career can set the woman back by close to Rs 3,000 per month. Another break for childbirth five years later can cause her to return to work earning over Rs 10,000 less than her male colleague.

Extended breaks can cost woman 43% of earning potential
There is a big disparity in the earning trajectories of a man and a woman who took career breaks.


Annual salary increment of 10% has been assumed.

Planning ahead
“The four most common reasons for women quitting their jobs are marriage, relocation, childbirth and caring for the elderly, and the breaks range from 6 months to 15 years,” says Neha Bagaria, Founder and CEO, JobsFOrHer. An unplanned career break can spell disaster for most professionals. Unfortunately, many women who interrupt their careers for personal reasons, do so without a plan in mind. Without an end date, a break can stretch much longer than desirable. Not only is such a gap hard to explain to future employers, it can also set your skills back by years.


Niveditha Navin Content Strategist Bengaluru
Quit her job and became a homemaker 5 years into her career. Realised she needed to get back to work after 3 years, but with something that would allow her to make the most of her strengths and skills.

As Menon experienced firsthand, it’s extremely easy for a short break to turn into a career-ending gap. “I found it almost impossible to convince companies I applied to that the ‘gap’ in my career did not necessarily mean a decline in my skills.

Most companies I interviewed with were unsure of whether I could adapt to the work scenario after such a long break,” she recalls. Sapna Tiwari, a Financial Trainer based in Delhi had a strategy to deal with this pitfall. “I kept taking on freelance projects throughout my sabbatical,” she says. Tiwari had relocated to Bengaluru when her husband moved to the city for a new job. After the initial break, she took more time off to have her daughter. While she had trouble finding work initially, she persisted, even taking on unpaid projects. “It’s important to have something to show for the time you take off,” she adds.

A helping hand
Bagaria runs JobsForHer, an organization that helps women restart their careers after a break. The online portal provides women with all the resources they need to get back into the workforce. Not only does it list over 3,500 jobs, it also offers returning internships for women to try out jobs before they take them up. The portal also connects users with a network of veteran women professionals who coach them through webinars and mentoring sessions. Various similar organisations have opened shop to aid women across the country. These include Avtar I-Win, Sheroes and HerSecondInnings.

Another online training platform, Internshala, has launched the ‘Internships for Women’ campaign to help women restart their career. It proposes internships as a way for women to ease themselves back into the professional realm, as these are a short-term commitment and provide flexible working hours. Options like work-from-home and part-time jobs allow women to balance their professional and personal lives and ease their transition back to full-time jobs. Companies like Tata, IBM, Hindustan Unilever and Godrej also have ‘Back to Work’ programmes for women, which provide flexibility and support for returnees.

Be ready for change
No matter how well you prepare, taking a sabbatical means there will changes. When you return to work, be ready to take on a few challenges and retrain before you settle back in. Another factor that might have changed, especially if you return from a maternity break, is you schedule. You might want to spend fewer hours at the office, and more at home with your child. If your job allows it, flexi-hours and working from home can come in very handy in such a situation.

But since this is not an option available to everyone, you might have to look for alternatives. “In India we are fortunate to have extended families around so leverage that fully. It also helps to have a chat with your spouse to assess what’s practical and doable,” says Shelly Singh, Founder and CBO, PeopleStrong.


Sapna Tiwari Financial Trainer Delhi
Took a two career breaks, first to accompany her husband on a move and second to have her daughter. Kept freelancing but had trouble finding projects in Bengaluru. Moved back to Delhi after 3 years and resumed her career.

When Navin decided to return to work after a three-year break to start a family, she found herself left in the lurch by the demands of a stressful job and a toddler at home. “After five years of climbing the corporate ladder, I had decided to bid goodbye to my career and become a homemaker.

But a three-year break was enough for me to realize that I needed to get back to work,” she says.

Her solution was to find a middle path and start working as a Content Strategist, which allowed her to use her skills to the fullest, while offering a good deal of flexibility. Career breaks can be a tricky thing to negotiate, especially for women, who bear the brunt of familial responsibilities and societal expectations. But even the longest of sabbaticals cannot rule out a second career for a dedicated professional. “Don’t give up your work. Your kids will grow up and eventually move out but you need to have your own identity,” Menon concludes.

How to get back in the saddle
Here are a few ways you can make it easier for yourself to return to work after a sabbatical.

Plan ahead
An unplanned break can do much damage. It can go on for longer than you intend and can become hard to explain to future employers. Plan your break carefully by setting yourself an end date and having back up plans in place.

Keep in touch
Networking is one of the most important tools you can arm yourself with when taking a sabbatical. A strong support system of colleagues and professional contacts can smoothen your way back to the position you left behind.

Take on freelance work
One way to stay in the groove is to keep working through the break. If your profi le allows it, take up freelance projects, even if the pay does not seem worth it. You will have something to show for the time you ‘took off’, instead of a gap of a few years that needs to be explained.

Stay updated
When you are ‘between jobs’, it is crucial to do everything to stay up to date with what is happening in your line of work. Take online courses, join discussion forums, do your research and keep learning. It wouldn’t do to return to work with no idea about the newest technology or trend.

Be motivated
It’s easy to fall into a rut. Whether it is caring for your child or a parent, or running a household, everyday tasks can seem overwhelming, rendering you incapable of doing much else. Shake off the ennui and stay motivated and focused on getting back to work when the time comes.

Reevaluate situation
A sabbatical can cause a signifi cant shift in perspective. This is especially true for new mothers, who fi nd themselves torn between their job and taking care of a child. If your situation has altered enough to demand a different work schedule, think carefully before you return to work.


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