As we engage with women considering a return to work, we hear a lot of doubts and what-ifs. Why should women on a career break return to work? – if the family income is sufficient, isn’t it better for a woman to focus on family, especially children and the home? If both partners are career-focused, wouldn’t the family suffer? What is the point in having children and paying someone else to care for them? How do we care for older people if both of us are consumed by work? Is there any point to slicing our life and time so thin, that we’re constantly juggling?
There are no right answers to these questions and every woman has to figure out what’s right for her. There are many women who have built long, successful careers and enjoyed the journey and there are more and more women who feel the benefits of being a career woman outweigh the challenges.
We have had long conversations with women who have built successful careers – with and without a break. We asked them what motivated them to stay at work or return to work. Here are some reasons they shared:
- “I want to contribute financially, and I want my husband to contribute to managing our home and to raising our children – that to me is showing respect for each other”
- “My mother worked outside the home and all of us – my father, my siblings and I had responsibilities – it made us more self-sufficient and appreciate the effort it takes to build a warm and loving home – I want my children to experience that.”
- “I want my children to learn that they must be self-confident and self-dependent – having a job goes a long way towards both.”
- “I enjoy the challenge of solving problems and believe that I’m good at it. I want that to be a part of my life”
- “The respect and recognition from peers makes me happy. That’s something that keeps me energised.”
- “At work, I’m ME – not only someone’s wife, mother, daughter – that identity is essential to me.”
- “I feel that my family – immediate and extended, are proud of my work achievements – they may moan and groan when I’m not available, but they understand and accept that I have other commitments.”
- “When I was on a career break for 5 years, I felt reluctant to spend my husband’s hard-earned money on small luxuries – gifts for family and friends or even to take a taxi. I want the freedom in my mind to do that, without a lot of thought”
- “I want to contribute financially. It could help with serious stuff like education or medical care or philanthropy; or it could be just for that dream vacation.”
- “A few years ago, there were layoffs in my husband’s company. I was on a career break then and we were terrified that he would be laid-off. I’m happy that my return to work has reduced the stress for both of us.”
Who doesn’t like stories? While we’ve given the short version above, we thought it would be wonderful to hear the whole story. These are about values – what is important to the individual, self-worth, self-esteem, financial contribution and so much more.
This series explores the reasons to work – with or without a career-break.
Starting the series with Ananya’s experience.
Ananya is a software engineer with over 15 years of experience. Her only ‘break’ (or ‘career pause’ as she prefers to call it) were 2 maternity breaks. At the time, maternity leave was 90-days and each time, she extended it to 5 months by using ‘saved up’ privilege leave of 60 days.
Super competent and having grown steadily in the organisation, she is very clear that her work is an integral part of her, and a long career break is not an option.
I asked her, what made her so sure that she would rather not consider a break. She looked thoughtful and asked, “how much time do I have? I’ll have to go back to my childhood to explain.” I told her to take as long as she wanted. Here is her story in her own words.
My mother has always worked. She and my father shared the chores and responsibilities to a very large extent. I never heard the words, ‘that’s woman’s work (or conversely, ‘that should be done by a man’)’. My brother and I alternated each week with chores. One week I set the table and my brother cleared the table. The following week, he set the table and I cleared. All our chores were distributed the same way. My father chopped vegetables while my mother made rotis. My dad supervised English and Social Sciences homework and my mother had the challenge of tackling maths and science.
Parent-Teacher’s meetings? My mother attended once and my father the next. It was always like a smooth dance between them. But we never felt like the baton in a relay race – the hand off was so smooth! Sometimes it was mum, sometimes it was dad – we had no set expectations of who could do what – I remember my dad doing my hair a few times when I was six or seven years old!
We didn’t see mom as the disciplinarian or dad as a distant figure. Both were disciplinarians! And my dad didn’t miss out on the milestones in his children’s lives. He has always been present. Even as a child, I knew that this was unusual. My friends’ fathers were a lot less involved.
Looking back, the overarching feeling that we had was one of mutual respect between them. And though they have never said it out aloud, I believe that they had explicitly agreed to a set of shared values – respect, equal parental involvement, a fair distribution of responsibilities –financial and caring for extended family, and so on.
I want my children to experience that too – the sharing that says, “I respect you”.
So, to answer your question, I want to work, to earn money to contribute to the family kitty and to pass on the values my parents taught us by example, to my children. Could I do it if I had to take a break? Maybe, but I would rather do both together!
What do you think of Ananya’s story? Do let us know in the comments below.
If you’re a reader of our posts, you already know that indePenn brings women on a career break back to work. If you’re wondering whether you can return to work, reach out to us by signing up at www.indePenn.com – we’ll handhold you through the journey of getting back to work.
indePenn coaches and prepares women on a career break to return to work, to be and present themselves as confident professionals.
Tags – women returning to work, best jobs to restart career, restarting career after break, rejoining after maternity leave, career gap reasons, women career break, women back to work, 5 years gap after graduation, gap careers