It’s not much of a struggle for most to restart their career. But when it comes to a woman, returning from an extended period away from work, rebooting their job journey becomes insuperable.
If you look at the scenario in India, women take a break from career for different reasons and one of the major ones is for the family. While we all say we support #RespectWomen #GenderEquality, Indian women have still not received what they deserve — they are still paying motherhood penalty when they return to work.
According to a report, about 70% of Working Women in India struggle to restart their career after family leave. And about 69% expect a pay cut for getting their careers restarted.
Despite their significant gains in education and experience, why are women still being treated differently? Why are they not given the same type of career opportunities as others? How can we end this global stereotype?
To discuss this and more, we got in touch with Neha Bagaria, Founder & CEO of JobsForHer.
The Onset Of Neha’s Entrepreneurship
Born and brought up in Mumbai, Neha graduated from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
She has always been a social entrepreneur at heart. During her last semester at college, she founded her first company Paragon to introduce the Advanced Placement Program in India, becoming the College Board Representative of India, which is the body that governs the SAT and AP examinations worldwide.
But soon after her marriage, Neha moved to Bangalore. She started working with Kemwell, a pharmaceutical services company.
“The growth and development that I experienced at Kemwell was immense, but my passion for social entrepreneurship continued to stay ignited within me,” said Neha.
Later, there came a time when Neha had to take a 3.6-year break in her career. And during this personal journey, she became aware of the various difficulties a woman faces in order to re-enter the workforce.
“I noticed that most of my female friends — all well-educated, qualified and experienced lawyers, architects, engineers, MBAs, etc. were stepping out of their careers and not returning to the workforce,” Neha explained.
When she started delving into the reasons behind this female brain drain, it became clear to her that women face many re-entry challenges that need to be addressed in India.
And to enable women to restart their careers, in 2015 on International Women’s Day, Neha founded JobsForHer, an online portal that enables women to restart and accelerate their careers by connecting them to jobs, community, mentoring, reskilling and networking opportunities.
Today, the platform has over 1.8 million women professionals who are ready to start, restart, and rise in their careers, 7000+ companies, 1000+ mentors and 400+ partners.
“We have come a long way,” said Neha.
In this candid conversation, Neha also talked about the other aspects of her journey — both as an entrepreneur and as an individual.
Let’s hear it in her own words
Sapne (S): Tell us about the challenges you faced.
Neha Bagaria (NB): We started with a small band of 6 women returnees working out of a resto-bar. At that time in March 2015, I was told by a lot of women that they were being advised to hide the ‘gap’ in their resumes because most companies would perceive the gap negatively.
The same was corroborated when we started speaking to companies to recruit women returnees and they brashly proclaimed that they don’t want to hire women or women on a break or mothers! Changing mindsets of companies, society, families and most importantly, women, was the biggest challenge.
S: And despite that mindset challenge, how did you scale JobsForHer?
NB: Over the last 5 years, we have made huge effort and progress in changing the mindsets of both the women and companies.
Today, women feel confident about the gap in their resumes and portray it in the right light. And talking about the companies, they are not only taking back a huge number of women returnees but are working with us closely to reach out to this candidate pool.
We started with a team of 6 and today we are over 60 strong and there is no slowing down. This has been an amazing journey so far!
S: As a women entrepreneur, what stereotypes existed in the industry and how did you challenge them?
NB: Through my entrepreneurial journey, I have challenged some of the stereotypes that exist, for .e.g being a female entrepreneur in tech, challenging the gender biases that exist for mothers in the workplace, judging someone’s competency-based on their femininity, being judged for taking career breaks, and then being judged for working full-time despite having little children.
To succeed in the competitive business landscape, I needed to give equal weightage to my career and my other obligations, roles and responsibilities. And for that, I had to build a thick skin and a strong support system, without which I wouldn’t have been able to create the ecosystem required to support this challenging journey to the top. I rallied my troops and got my backbone structure in place – parents, in-laws, extended family, friends, and yes, husband too and have been able to stand tall against all odds.
S: Do you have a role model? If yes, who is s/he and why?
NB: My biggest source of inspiration is Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook and the author of Lean In. In her book, she explains why the world has such few female leaders and candidly shares her challenges in managing her personal and professional lives. She also provides a clear case of how and why women need to start “sitting at the table” and “leaning in”.
Her words have deeply resonated with me. Moreover, it has made me realize that I’m not alone in my work-life dilemmas; they are being faced by women the world over. Problems like self-imposed fears and inhibitions, time-management and more importantly, guilt-management. It has made me realize how important it is that women support one another to succeed professionally, thus inspiring me to found JobsForHer.com to enable women to re-enter the workforce.
S: Where do you see yourself and JobsForHer a couple of years down the line?
NB: At JobsForHer, we have found our product-market fit and raison d’etre – to enable women to achieve their full potential. We are in the process of launching an app which will have the deep technical functionalities to scale rapidly to reach out to women and companies globally, impacting millions of lives. The future we envision and are working hard towards is one in which women will be able to find both personal fulfilment and professional success.
A Word Of Advice For All The Aspiring Entrepreneurs
Through this entrepreneurial journey, I have realized how often women tend to hold themselves back because of fear. I have thus realized how important it is to recognize our fears and to name them; only then can we find a path to overcome them.
Whenever I am at a crossroad, I ask myself this question “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” It is critical that we don’t let our fears hold ourselves back and stride on, confident of figuring things out. Eventually.
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