I want my Independence

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I want my Independence

I want to be able to buy gifts for my dear ones on birthdays

I want my name to be recognized

I want a meaningful thing, which is only mine

Can you guess the life stage of the person saying these?

  1. Fresh graduate, anticipating his first job
  2. Homemaker wanting to earn in her spare time
  3. Experienced woman professional re-entering the workforce after a break

While these aspirations can equally apply to any of the above, there is deeper irony in hearing them from women who once had them all, and had to later forego them.

Globally, millions of women end up taking a career break every year around key life events such as maternity, marriage, relocation, and caregiving responsibilities and struggle to make it back. Largely due to institutional factors. Deep societal (and internalized) conditioning about roles that women “ought to play”, inadequate or unaffordable childcare, and the general scarcity of work options that respect life stage as well as the professional achievement put these women at a crossroads.

For many, there are only Hobson’s choices practically, and inevitably this results in a career break.

Having faced biases when trying to return to work after a break myself, and having witnessed the journeys of several more whom we regularly place at flexible roles at FlexiBees, I can vouch that it is not easy; however it can be done.

As we celebrate the Idea of Independence this month (in many countries such as India, Pakistan, Singapore, Malaysia and Ukraine to name a few), if I meet a woman who wants to return to work, here are the 5 most important things I would tell her:

  • You have already taken the most courageous step

It is natural to feel apprehension when faced with change or opportunity.  It often helps to take the first step and “allow” for our fear-inducing thoughts to be proven wrong, especially if the end goal is something our heart truly desires.

Getting mentally ready to get back to work and taking stock of where you want to go is the important first step. Kudos for taking it!

  • Explore the new, while being rooted in the old

If you were aligned to a specific function like Marketing or Finance, there is no need to attempt a change just because you think your work has moved on with the times. Look for the timeless principles in your field, distill your further learnings from your research and build adjacent and new work skills that will give you the additional edge.

  • Embrace change

The World has changed more in the last 4 months than in the last 4 years. And some of this change is for the good. There is more acceptability to remote and flexible work today than ever before. There is increasing realization that employees are parents, spouses, sons or daughters, with a household to run. Organizations are learning to adapt and include the flexible way of working, and seeing their employees as whole individuals.

There is more opportunity TODAY for you to network online, attend talks by experts, meet peers beyond boundaries of geography, privileged networks and function. There are more chances to learn, skill yourself and grow, right from where you are.

  • Show some numbers their rightful place

The number of years, either of your break or life, are just that - numbers.

Don’t define yourself by your gap, or your career as neither can define you fully. Do everything you can to prepare, in terms of establishing connections, updating yourself about your industry, and function, doing projects to be in the thick of things. Remember, the skills you bring, prepare yourself for, and things you do during the gap matter more.

If you insist on counting, count the number of times you have gotten up - after failure, after being dealt with blows, and the number of times you listened to the voice inside that asked you to keep going.

  • Find your anchors

Do you have a buddy, an ex-boss, family member with whom you can speak about your progress? Invest equally in activities that will anchor you, and help you navigate the transition with resilience. For some it can be creative pursuits, for others - meditation or friendships.

Even if you stray from your goals of preparation for some days or weeks, gently forgive yourself and come back again.

Returnship is an iterative journey which will occasionally feel like going a few steps sideways or backwards. Remember every learning is progress and no preparation is wasted.

Deepa N Swamy - Starting out as a CA,and later on pursuing MBA from IIM Bangalore, Deepa N Swamy moved on to be a management consultant. She has donned various corporate roles across companies such as PwC, ITC, KPMG and Aptech. Today Deepa is one of the co-founders of FlexiBees (www.flexibees.com), together with her batchmates from IIM Bangalore - Shreya and Rashmi. Their vision is to ‘Make Work Flexible’ i.e. normalise flexi-time, part-time and remote-working. Over the years, FlexiBees has placed several women professionals in flexible, yet meaningful roles across Sales, Marketing, Finance, Technology, HR, Learning & Assessments. etc. At FlexiBees, Deepa regularly interacts with Women audiences in various forums and communities on how Women can find and thrive in alternate and flexible careers.

The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the article belong solely to the author.

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