Bridging women’s career path

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To help women rejoin the workforce after a sabbatical, Neha Bagaria founded JobsForHer. She speaks to NT NETWORK about her online portal, hurdles women face when they have to rejoin the workforce, the various programmes offered by JFH and more

MARIA FERNANDES | NT

Her own experience with motherhood, inspired Neha Bagaria, an entrepreneur, a Wharton graduate, wife, mother-of-two and a woman who restarted her career after a three-and-a-half year break, to launch JobsForHer —an online portal that helps women to restart their careers post marriage, motherhood, elderly care, etc. Through this portal, women can connect with all they need to re-enter the workforce and companies can recruit experienced female talent.

Excerpts from an interview:

Q. Paragon was your first venture into business. What initiated the move in that field?

My entrepreneurial spirit was present right from the time I graduated from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. I founded my first company Paragon, an educational startup which prepared students seeking admission to US colleges through the Advanced Placement Programme where I was the College Board Representative of India. Two years later, when marriage brought me to Bengaluru from Mumbai in 2005, I started working with Kemwell, a biopharmaceutical manufacturing company. I worked for five years in the fields of HR, Finance and Marketing strategy in the company.

Q. JFH today is a well-known company that gives hope and offers job openings to many women who want to rejoin the workforce after a break. How did JobsForHer come into being?

In 2009, after working till the ninth month of my first pregnancy, I told my colleagues at Kemwell Biopharma that I would see them again after my 40-day maternity leave. I never imagined then that I’d end up not working for the next three-and-a-half- years. During my personal journey, I became aware of the various difficulties women face in order to re-enter the workforce. I then became committed to the cause of enabling women to accelerate their careers and launched JobsForHer.com on International Women’s Day in 2015.

Q. The journey of a startup can be tumultuous, and perhaps doubly so for a woman entrepreneur. How did you go about putting together JobsForHer?

It all started as a meeting at Church Street Social, a coffee house in Bengaluru; with five women, all restarters coming together to find a solution to a common problem that women face – that of getting back to work after a break. After months of painstakingly communicating with companies and getting them on board to hire women returnees to help reverse female brain drain in the Indian workforce, the only way ahead was up!

Q. When you first started off with JFH, it was a six-member team and today the company comprises 60-members, about 30 of whom are women returning from a break. What has the journey been like?

As a woman entrepreneur, the biggest challenge is to understand and address unique problems faced by women and curate specific solutions to address them. To ensure that as a platform, JobsForHer leverages technology to offer solutions to each and every woman no matter what her struggle, and to make sure that we’re offering them the best in career opportunities, mentorship and reskilling, we’ve scaled up the venture significantly since its inception in 2015.

Q. Under the umbrella of JobsForHer you have also started re-skilling and mentoring programmes. What was the idea behind it?

With 7,500+ companies on board, the platform also offers mentorship for women looking to start/restart their careers. It has over 1500+ mentors and 500+ reskilling partners to assist women in reskilling/upskilling themselves before they join/re-join the workforce and organises a host of events to further its mission of accelerating women’s careers. Reskilling and upskilling are game changers in today’s tech-driven world. If you don’t keep up, you get left behind. So, while job opportunities are key to giving women the financial independence they deserve, it was also important to address their growth opportunities.

Over the years, our clients have grown by thousands and today, include companies across diverse industries such as Accenture, Capgemini, Oracle, Nike, Amazon, PepsiCo, Aditya Birla, Biocon just to name a few big players. We also have worked closely with several SMEs and startups such as PayU, Numberz, Digit88, Cuemath as well as educational institutions such as SPJIMR, Simplilearn, and Manipal University.

We also connect women with one another and make them realise that theirs is not a solo journey. This will also let them know that there are thousands of other women like them, who are also struggling but are figuring out a way to overcome the challenge.

Q. Why do you think the female brain drain happens in the Indian workforce?

For several reasons including family commitments, lack of opportunities to get back to work after a break, lack of upskilling and reskilling and perhaps even mentorship opportunities to get the right guidance for a career comeback. There is also societal pressure and the stereotypical notion that women on a career break do not have the confidence to step back into the workforce.

Q. Do you believe that the longer the break a woman takes from work, the harder it is to get back?

In a way, yes. Simply because of the lack of exposure to the professional world during the time that she has been away. The key is to therefore have your pulse on the trends, stay in the know, network and discuss career opportunities with like-minded people and regain that lost confidence.

Q. You have said that attrition is about the same between men and women. What according to you are the differences in reasons for this attrition?

It is more common to find women leaving a company or the workforce altogether for the 4Ms – marriage, mobility, motherhood and medical care to the elderly.

Q. Is there a gap between skills and jobs for men and women alike?

As people climb up the career ladder, you often find men spending more time in career development activities such as networking, upskilling and branding. However, women find it difficult to juggle between their multiple priorities and don’t invest enough time in these softer aspects of their leadership journey.

Q. You had to face the challenge of changing the mindset of companies and women alike. How did this pan out?

We have witnessed tremendous change in the last few years after JobsForHer was founded. In the beginning, we had to convince companies to just list their jobs for free on the portal and hire women returnees, versus now when companies pay us to reach out to the women candidates and hire the best ones. To the extent that a huge number of these companies work closely with us to launch returnee programmes which are exclusively to train and rehire women who are on a career break.

The five-year-old platform has seen candidates being hired in various profiles across tech, writing, sales, tele-calling, and other jobs that support work from home facility.

Q. JobsForHer is not only very visible but also extremely active in the digital arena. Can you tell us about your social media reach and the role it has played?

JobsForHer has a monthly social media reach of over 15 million women across India. We have used social media very effectively to carry out large-scale campaigns to change people’s mindsets around women at the workplace.

Q. How does your ambassador programme work?

JobsForHer’s ambassadors are like our extended family. They work closely with their local communities to inspire and guide women returnees to ease their journeys back.

Q. How does motherhood affect a woman’s career path according to you?

Motherhood can be the most positive aspect of a woman’s career path. There are some invaluable life lessons that motherhood teaches, that women should use to their advantage in the workplace. However, currently society, companies and women themselves perceive motherhood as an obstacle in a woman’s career path – a thinking that must change.

Q. A general opinion is that a mother’s top priority should be their children and they will fail at it by opting to work. What do you have to say about it?

These are the biases that we need to and must change in our society and families so that women can free themselves from stereotypical shackles and forge ahead in their careers. A career can in fact greatly augment the motherhood journey by women having financial independence to raise their children, being role models in hard work and commitment, showcasing gender equality to their sons and daughters, and continuing their path of learning and development which will help them be far more enriched, fulfilled and happy mothers.

Q. You are an inspiration to many women. What would you like to say to women who are thinking of rejoining the workforce?

It’s never too late to restart your career. Your life lessons have only added to your repertoire of skills and will serve you well when you return to work.

Q. As a woman, there is a lot of juggling to do, to maintain a balance between work and home. How do you manage the balancing act in all your roles as a mother, wife, entrepreneur, mentor, etc?

Each role has a symbiotic relationship with the other with lessons from being a mother helping my entrepreneurial journey, and vice versa.

Q. How do you see the future in terms of the women’s workforce?

A future where women will be equal participants not just in the workplace but also at leadership levels.