Forget The Glass Ceiling … Meet The Glass Walls

Break the mould! It’s time we have equal opportunities for women who wish to re-join their workplace says Heather Saville Gupta who believes that a little bit of coaching goes a long way in building confidence to return to the corporate life.

A couple of friends recently reached out to me asking for some help in finding a job. I get these kinds of requests for help all the time, as I’m pretty well connected and I’ve been working in HR for a while. Plus, I like helping people.

Both of these friends were women. Both of them had been out of the workplace for some time. Both of them were looking for a flexible working option, to enable them to look after their children for a few hours after school.

“Not a problem!” I told them, in my usual optimistic fashion.

However, it was only after trying to connect them with various different companies for jobs that I realized that actually it was a huge problem.

The issue, and the great big dirty unspoken secret in our workplaces, is that noone wants to hire anyone who has been out of work for a few months or longer, and especially not a woman who has taken a year off or more to raise a family. Add to that, the fact is, employers aren’t willing to offer flexible working solutions beyond the prescribed 9-5 or 10-6 options, and it’s no wonder that mothers find it almost impossible to return to the workplace after a break.

While things are changing in many countries, with the advancement of jobsharing, workplace creches, and a generally more progressive attitude to working mothers, India at large remains mired in the assumption that a break, particularly for child-raising, is a hindrance rather than a help.

The irony is, that those women are tougher and better at multi-tasking than anyone. Only a working mother can keep all those balls in the air, effortlessly. She manages the home, the kids, the home help, the extended family, the appointments, the homework, her colleagues, her team, her reportees, and her work projects without a whimper. Or at least she would, if only she were given the chance.

Of course, there are companies who are breaking the mould, and creating jobs and opportunities for women who want to return to the workplace, along with (and this is critical) training for re-entry. If you’ve ever taken a month-long vacation you’ll know how hard it is to return to work, let alone after a gap of months or even years. But these are few and far between.

In my new role as the HR Director for the Mullen Lowe Lintas Group, I plan to create opportunities for women returning to work, on a full time or flexible basis. I also offer pro bono coaching for women who feel they need a shot of confidence to return to the corporate life. Let’s hope that things change, and change fast, to shatter those glass walls and get women back to work, on their terms.

Author Profile

In a career spanning more than two decades, Heather has worked with some of the world’s top companies and has held senior client servicing roles in advertising in the UK and Asia, before switching to HR, heading the department in 3 companies in India. She recently launched her own business, as an ICF trained Executive Coach, HR Consultant and Trainer. She is particularly passionate about training young talent and supporting emerging leaders.

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