On Breaking Even After a Career Break!


Article By Ms. Anju Rakesh, Lead – Research & Analytics, AVTAR Group

Women career patterns have sometimes been likened to the alphabet ‘M’. I would say this analogy is optimistic and requires ‘extrapolation’ from the woman’s end! Before getting into the specifics of the curve, let us explore the commonalities in the career cycles of the vast majority of Indian women professionals. Preliminary observation reveals that these cycles are very often influenced and impacted by 3 critical ‘Ms’ again- Marriage, Maternity and Motherhood. And due to one, two or sometimes three of these ‘M’s the dip in the ‘M career curve’ happens – the career break happens; and so it does to almost 48% of Indian women. For some it might be planned, for others unplanned, some make the choice, some are circumstantially led into it. Let me not enter into the reasons territory; ‘to each one her own’, and these decisions need to be respected. But basis my critical observations in the space of women career sustainability over the last few years, what I want to talk about is the journey to the ‘second peak’ of the M curve, the ‘extrapolation’ – how a woman on a career break intent on making her comeback can scale this peak (break-even after her break!) with greater ease and confidence.

I have always personally felt that real-life stories dispel the most wisdom of all kinds of words written. On that note, I share with you Laya’s (name changed) story. She had been a winner all her life, was on a growth streak at her job when cupid decided to strike. After three years of courtship and an year of family-negotiations, she was happily married to her sweetheart. A lucrative opportunity beckoned her husband to the U.S. When Laya realized that her decision to stay back in India for the job she loved was taking a toll on her relationship, she took the plunge -called it quits and followed her husband to the land of opportunities. Seven years, two kids and no less than a life-time of experiences in the west, they took a joint decision of returning to India. It took them over three months to integrate themselves back into the newer systems – enroll the kids in the school they perceived best, find an apartment to their mutual liking and in general – warm up to the ways of this part of the world. Once that was done Laya felt that there was a lot more she wanted to do. With the kids in full-time school she now had the luxury of time to invest in her aspirations.

Let me intervene and tell you what happened when Laya was on her break – Back in her early years in the U.S she worked on a few project-based, freelance assignments that exposed her to newer technologies and platforms while giving her all the flexibility she wanted. And then post her first maternity break she realized that though being a mother was really demanding she was also slowly mastering the art of multitasking. When her son turned 2, she and her husband decided to put him in day care for a few hours every day. There were days when Laya was fatigued attending to the demands of the household and would spend these few ‘free’ hours sleeping, relishing the much needed me-time. But more were the days when the tech-freak in her would nudge her to surf the web to catch up on the hottest happenings in her field, to listen to podcasts and TED talks and soak herself in the recency of it all. She ended up doing a few online certification courses – some technical, the others on life skills. All this while, there was something Laya was adept in – in keeping in touch with her gurus back in India, her ex-colleagues and her college-mates, her ex-neighbours and extended family. True that being a very social person, networking came naturally to her, but she was terrifically intent on keeping alive these channels of communication. She would also make it a point to lend a patient ear to her husband’s humor tinted narratives of work and also of the not-so-rosy ones on challenges at his workplace.

As the kala-chakra turned, along came the second baby and Laya was in for a roll. A couple of years passed by and her second son too was settled into a daycare routine when her mother, who had recently retired as the Sales Tax Commissioner -Udaipur, rang her up one day and expressed her desire to come to the U.S. Laya was thrilled – sponsorship letters, visa interview, ticketing – everything happened in a jiffy. With her mother around and the eminent aura of the latter’s four decade long experience of juggling family and career, she found herself dreaming more often of her career comeback. Not one to ever waste time, she literally burnt the midnight oil – refurbishing her CV sticking to the facts (the dents!), uploading them on popular job portals and sharing it with all on her networks, whom she felt could make a difference. The decision to come back to India was made soon after. Back in Bangalore, she registered herself with an agency that specialized in diversity recruitment, which bettered her prospects. Fast forwarding to today, she is the Technical Lead with a Pharma major in the city and continues to be in the quest for greater challenges.

This story did conclude well- but how so? What are some of the cues a woman on break can take from Laya’s experience? A closer inspection tells us that behind her successful second inning, was Laya’s undeterred perseverance to nurture her ’employability’ even while she was away and her intentional effort in this direction. Let me number them –

  • First and foremost, find methods to stay in touch with the hot skills in your area of expertise so that when the time is ripe you are not far behind.
  • Secondly, network with intent – keep yourself connected with those who were part of your professional ecosystems, informing yourself about the changes in the corporate landscape even when you are not physically part of it.
  • Thirdly, invest time and effort in finding your way back – update your CV (acknowledging your break) and let recruiters know that you are talent waiting to be hired!

They say, ‘Ambition is the first step to success. The second step is action!’ Apply the two in proportions that suit you and your break, the best; chances are the break will leave you revitalized and energized, ready to make a long lasting second impression!