Many women choose to take a break from their professional careers thinking it is a pause and not a full stop, but once you have been away from the workforce it is not easy to regain the lost confidence and write the next chapter. Marriage, maternity, taking care of children while they are growing up, looking after the elderly, gender-based wage gap, lack of family support or a supportive work environment are some of the reasons why women decide to take to take a break.

Key takeaways

  • There still is a cultural expectation that married women should prioritise housework and not their careers.
  • Even if a mother has a full-time job, she has to continue taking the entire responsibility of her household.
  • Mother’s have to pay a price when they try to make inroads into the workforce after having a child, however, parenthood doesn’t have the same effect on men’s earnings.

There are social stigmas too. In large parts of the country, there still is a cultural expectation that married women should prioritise their families and not their careers. Many still believe that married women should not work if the husband earns reasonably well. So, if a woman tries to go back to work after an extended period of leave, say maternity, the challenges, she faces are multi-layered. Moreover, the nature of the reasons for her to take a sabbatical in the first place is such that it is impossible to put an end date to this period.

The nature of the reasons for her to take a sabbatical in the first place is such that it is impossible to put an end date to this period.

In an article, the Livemint quoted an online survey, titled Second Careers of Women Professionals–The India Story, conducted among 783 second-career women from various sectors across India with an average work experience of nine and a half years and an average career break of four and a half years. A total of 45 percent of respondents indicated motherhood challenges and 35 percent said maternity as the most common reasons for women to take a break from their careers followed by eldercare responsibility (16 percent).

Making a transition to something which was once familiar is not always easy. There is a lot of anxiety and fear to brave a change, especially after motherhood. You have to make certain trade-offs, such as not being able to give your kid as much time, which does not come easy. In case of a maternity break, it is also true that the “skills” for which you were once employed have not been honed during the absence. So, there is also the fear of lacking as you believe your coworkers have progressed while you haven’t.

Mother’s have to pay a price when they try to make inroads into the workforce after having a child, however, parenthood doesn’t have the same effect on men’s earnings. The same survey further goes on to say that a whopping 69 percent people taking the survey agreed that they anticipate a pay cut on re-joining the workforce due to the prevalence of motherhood wage penalty. Another survey by World Bank policy paper, The Motherhood Penalty and Female Employment in Urban India, written by Maitreyi Bordia Das and Ieva Zumbyte (March 2017) also found that, “Having a young child in the home depresses mothers’ employment, an inverse relationship that has intensified over time.”

Mother’s have to pay a price when they try to make inroads into the workforce after having a child, however, parenthood doesn’t have the same effect on men’s earnings.

Women who decide to go back to work do it for reasons like financial independence or need for money to support family earnings, personal satisfaction of putting their education to good use and sanity of mind. One of the main factors which hold women back from going back to full-time jobs is the motherhood guilt. The childcare responsibilities invariably have a lopsided distribution in most Indian households because of our social construct.

So even if a mother has a full-time job, she has to continue taking the entire responsibility of her household. Even if she somehow manages to get back to work, working mothers do face a lot of stigmas. They are considered to be less committed, less dependable, and less authoritative as compared to women who are not mothers and this has a direct effect on their appraisals and in turn influences their daily job experience over time. This constant feeling of being inadequate at everything you are trying to achieve is difficult to live with. So, if satisfaction and sanity were your reasons to go back to work, you end up achieving neither.

According to a study by LeanIn.org and McKinsey & Company(2017), “Women with a partner and children are 5.5 times more likely than their male counterparts to do all or most of the household work,” interestingly it is an American data, can you imagine the how much the pressure is on an Indian mother even with the most well-intentioned partner?

One of the main factors which hold women back from going back to full-time jobs is the motherhood guilt.

Yes, there have been some changes. Women today are able to find more and more work from home options, corporates have started returnship programmes. The 2017 Maternity Benefit Amendment Act, increased paid maternity leave to 26 weeks. But what is needed is a shift in the mindset which will be more welcoming to returning mothers and let them have a work-life balance in reality. Employers need to stop questioning their ability to perform as before and instead provide with opportunities to make the transition easy.

The views expressed are the author’s own.

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