01 Aug 2017 20:08 IST

A platform for women to relaunch their careers

SPJIMR has started an MBA programme for women returning to the workforce after a break

Did you know corporate India loses almost 50 per cent of the women in its workforce by the time they reach a mid-management level? According to a recent online survey, India is supposedly home to the highest number of over-educated and overqualified housewives in the world.

So, where exactly is this leak and what’s causing it? How can we solve the problem and get more women back to their careers?

SP Jain Institute of Management and Research (SPJIMR), in the hope of plugging this leak, has started a unique MBA programme for women who want to return to their careers called PG-MPW (Management Programme for Returning Women).

Role as care-givers

Most often, women take a break from their career to be care-givers — either for children or the elderly. But not many find their way back even if they want to. According to Sumita Datta, Associate Professor and Head of the PG Women Leadership Programme at SPJIMR, most recruiters want to place these returning women in positions they are over-qualified for or pay them less than they deserve.

“Women shouldn’t have to justify the gap they take, it’s crucial. It doesn’t take away from the fact that they are good workers. What happens often is that these women don’t get the position or salary they deserve; so, eventually, after a few rejections, their confidence drops,” she said. After that, it’s only a matter of time before they stop trying altogether because they feel like they are stagnating or regressing in their career.

After conducting surveys and doing qualitative research, Sumita realised that when women choose to put their careers on the back-burner, there is a psychological shift and change in priorities. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have aspirations. “This shift either results in the plateauing of the career or a break. When women want to get back, there aren’t many suitable jobs available to them. Even head-hunters aren’t optimistic that they’ll be able to place these women. They go for interviews but only a few materialise into offers. And the longer they wait the sharper is the dip in confidence. Also, they feel rusty and outdated in terms of the knowledge and skills they possess,” she says.

Based on this research, the management institute has designed a customised MBA programme for returning women. The PG-MPW is a full-time, 11-month management programme for graduates with minimum five years experience. Applicants should also have taken a gap of at least two years to qualify. The first batch, which started in January, got enquires from 460 women, of whom 60 applied. After an admissions process to evaluate the aspirations, tenacity and resilience of the student, 20 were selected.

Imparting contemporary knowledge

The programme hopes to train women with work experience to be leaders in their respective fields. As Sumita explains, almost 95 per cent of most MBAs focus on functional training but here, only 60 per cent of the focus is on functional training, while 40 per cent goes into creating leaders. “Half the students in the first batch are post-graduates; 40 per cent are engineers and three have MBAs.” And all of them come with experience including working in other countries.

What makes the PG-MPW different from any other MBA? As Sumita passionately puts it: “It’s another chance for these women to reclaim their careers. Most of them were engaged in some kind of work even before so it’s not just about giving them a career but developing future women leaders. We need to strengthen women at the mid-levels if we want more in senior positions; you can’t just have ready leaders.” This course also helps women regain their confidence and refresh skills.

Beetha Jimmy, who’s specialising in human resources, says she took a break of five years after she had her twins but when she wanted to get back to work, there was a lot of resistance. “I went through the different stages of the hiring process but at the final stage it would fizzle out because companies want me to start from the beginning as I took a break. I have faced a lot of rejections. This programme is an excellent launch pad for women like me since I’m learning contemporary skills as well,” she explains.

Reclaiming careers

Sumita says the programme architecture has four pillars: “The course is divided into four specialisations: finance, HR, marketing and information management, and students can specialise in any one. And whatever contemporary skills — design-thinking, analytics, critical thinking or artificial intelligence — are involved, we teach that. We also help them learn leadership skills, which is the second pillar. Women are often said to not be apt for leadership positions, so we have dedicated leadership labs. As the third pillar, we encourage them to tap into their own authentic leadership styles. Each student is given coaching and a mentor from industry. The fourth pillar is where they go back into industry through internships, which convert into jobs.”

Companies help out on many levels, such as mentoring, providing internships and jobs, guest lectures and more. Big names like the Mahindra group, Axis Bank, Siemens, L&T, RBS, Citibank, Deloitte, Accenture and Cognizant are taking part in the programme.

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