Are “Double Shifts” for Working Women a Reason for High Attrition?

Women tend to “lean back” in their careers after becoming mothers, with 43 per cent of highly qualified mothers either taking a break from work or not pursuing promotions after having kids.


The Work from Home (WFH) situation, now the ‘new normal', has had a range of implications on how we view and consider talent. According to LinkedIn’s report on Future of Talent, experts are seen predicting that the lack of geographic boundaries would allow companies to fill in roles in line with the diversity and inclusion agenda. They reported that 36 per cent of companies they surveyed, planned to increase women’s representation. 

On the contrary, a report published by cybersecurity firm Kaspersky on women in technological roles revealed that 76 per cent of Indian women in tech believe that the effects of COVID-19 have delayed their career advancement.  

Additionally, Women professionals in the Medical, Banking, Civil services, Police, Education and Hospitality sectors have not had it easy as they are required to be present at their workspaces, where they need to cope with safety and health protocols as well.

Although Work-From-Home is touted to increase gender equality, some women have struggled to balance the home needs with the work needs not due to capability issues but due to the societal expectations on catering to domestic needs and rearing children in some cases. Hence, the attrition rate has been seen higher among ‘working mothers’. While no gender is better when it comes to performing multi-tasking roles, this new normal seems to have burdened the latter.

As we brave through the spike in Covid-19 numbers and extensive lockdown, the attrition needs to be shown a path to decline soon.

What’s The Scenario?

Research shows women’s earnings fall off sharply after having kids while men’s increase. So why do women’s earnings fall off after becoming mothers while men earn more after becoming fathers? Likely the same reasons women academics submit fewer papers after having kids and men submit more.

“Women professionals have multiple accountabilities, both at the professional front and family front. On the family front, it is to multiple stakeholders and often as primary caregivers. It becomes a difficult cocktail if someone becomes ill due to the pandemic of domestic violence. We men can take umbrage of official work but for the woman, there seems to be a no excuse for some domestic tasks,” believes Emmanuel David, Director HR, Tata Management Training Centre.

Women tend to “lean back” in their careers after becoming mothers, with 43 per cent of highly qualified mothers either taking a break from work or not pursuing promotions after having kids.

One reason mothers work less outside the home after having kids is that they’re having to do more work inside the home. Gender issues at work have already been prevalent, leaving women as victims mostly; beginning with sexual harassment to unequal pay which contributes to a higher number in attrition.

Having spoken to a few working mothers, David further explains that what conflicts them is the personal and professional space, for instance, Mehjabeen - Delivery Manager at Group IT, Volvo India, said “I finish my housework so that I can attend to the basic needs, however, emotional needs take a beating and they are limited to a smile or a hi.”

There is a side to the story where organizations are stepping up with intentionality and commitment to increasing female participation.  

“We are proud to have been working in a direction where we are welcoming women returning to the work post breaks in their career & have seen great commitment & drive in such hires,” states Ruhie Pande, CHRO, Godrej Housing Finance & Godrej Fund Management.

She further adds that the lockdown presented many challenges to families – the critical support that daycares, house helps provided was abruptly taken away. In such a time, I think acknowledging their concerns, understanding that sometimes women need to take breaks for household responsibilities and giving them the comfort that the organization understands this complexity helps.

Different segments of women professionals have had it differently. It is important we are sensitive to these nuances for example New mothers, single mothers, women with aged/ ailing parents, women in delivery roles, women in leadership roles. Each of these, have special situations for which companies have not conceptualised policies or responses. Even understanding that there could be segments such as these would bring about sensitivity to them.

The Battle Continues

Flexible scheduling has become a common practice at most companies as the pandemic drags on, keeping physical schools and daycare centres closed in many parts of the country. But it just isn’t cutting it anymore for many of the working moms who are trying to do their jobs while raising children. 

Carmistha Mitra, Group Head - SVP HR, CLO, Axis Bank adds, “having the right support system for any working woman or mother is very important as already she has been adorning innumerable hats when it comes to taking and fulfilling responsibilities. Basically working women work off time their duty charts along with their husbands to shelter her kids with roti-kapda-makaan.”

Manu Wadhwa, CHRO, Sony Pictures Network talks about how in times of crisis the cultural spirit of the organization comes in handy and should not add the trouble of bureaucracy with work policies. She adds, “It becomes important to be respectful of another’s personal life, be flexible and cognizant of each other’s individual needs if it is a young mother or a parent that needs to teach their kids…we need to accommodate how they want to work and at what capacity.”

She adds “Contribution is defined by capability and will power” and how organizations should be more inviting of “different types of female talent be it returning mother, or someone who is back from a break and welcome all patterns of work”

While there are companies experiencing the loss of great women employees from their organisations, at Godrej Housing Finance, the team tries to ensure that they see at least 50 per cent of women in the total candidate pool for a role while on their hiring drive. “We have been warmly welcoming women returning to the work post breaks in their career and have seen great commitment and drive in such hires. This further has been helping us see a rise in our diversity numbers – for example, we started the last financial year with a 17 per cent women diversity ratio in our Technology team. And this year we geared it up to 36 per cent,” explains Pande.

Plan Of Action

Unfortunately, this situation is hitting working mothers, an already underrepresented group in leadership positions, harder than most. To help working mothers succeed it’s important to look for ways to combat existing inequalities, help ensure women are represented in leadership positions and find out where women are experiencing sexism right now.

David believes that there is an opportunity to frame a Work from Home Policy to address both stated and unstated needs of women working professionals. “We are in a dynamic scenario. Create learning activities which would engage children and aged in the home as they are part of the larger ecosystem of the workspace by being privy to a lot of what is happening.”

Hence, Unmesh Pawar, Advisor, KPMG India provides us with a few tips to combat this issue so that organisations do not lose out upon their female talent.

1. Listening: "I think organizations need to amp up their listening ability, and listening needs to be cut in different demographic sizes, in terms of what a mother saying, what a single woman saying, what are men saying, what are parents saying. So sharpening on targeting from a listening standpoint is important. Some of that listening has now propelled corporate India to do what they're doing right, which is giving long weekend off, no meeting Fridays, etc.

2. Employee-Wellbeing: I think is employee well-being should be beyond just the employee. Enlist the family also. See how you can engage the larger family in some way. Be it painting or Zumba or any activity so that at least for some time, the parents can absolve themselves of the responsibility of taking care of the children  

3. Educating managers: Educating Managers to have that compassion and sensitivity towards their employees is of utmost priority. And they must also understand the fact that houses are somebody's private space and therefore (there are certain norms) what you can ask, what you cannot ask what you genuinely need to know, etc there are some boundaries to that which they must keep and respect. Leaders also have to become a bit more sensitive to the fact that they are responsible for the larger team and therefore they need to build inclusive teams. They should deliberately engage people who are working from home onto projects and make an effort to ask them their opinion in meetings.

4. Performance Management: Rather than focusing on hours, people should be putting the focus on the process of it. (Focusing on the process) will give people the flexibility to work when they want to work and still allow them to give you results and deliver impact.”

The pandemic showed that women across the world, not just in India, were the primary caregivers, meal makers etc. Providing support to women in terms of even acknowledging the dual role they play goes a long way in ensuring that women don’t exit employment. Empathy clearly wins the day. Aspects like Flexi-work timing, part-time work models, offering sabbaticals, providing learning opportunities to women, mentoring women for leadership and higher-order roles are some of the tactical measures to support them in the various demands that life presents them with. 

Pande is of a very crystal clear and honest viewpoint that ”industries need to see the clear benefits of the diversity of thought, sensitivity and creativity that women can bring to the business. Organizations which see these benefits will clearly emerge victorious on the other side of this pandemic.”

A single mother in her advice to her friends said: In this last one year whoever I spoke to, my friends who were thinking of quitting job due to high pressure or any other reason, I have always suggested them not to do so as the condition is not favourable outside. There are layoffs, pay cuts and in such a situation it's really best to continue with the job we have. “while for them it seems to be a Hobson’s choice, we have a choice to make it easier and enjoyable for the women professionals and move towards a Happy Mother’s Day in reality."


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