Does career girl trump homemaker?

WOMEN@WORK

Does career girl trump homemaker?

“When I look at a woman candidate for a job or a promotion, the question uppermost in my mind is: is she planning to get married/ pregnant soon – both implying a break from work? How many times will she not be able to deliver because there is a sick child at home? If there is a choice, I would prefer to hire a man.” That was a candid confession I got some time back from the head honcho of a multinational corporation which has offices and hires from all over the world. Naturally, it was off the record.

Now, it seems, Mr COO is being backed by head hunters. According to a recent survey conducted by InterExec, the confidential agent for top salaried executives in the UK, more than half of Britain’s top headhunters believe women should not take time out to look after children if they want to get to the top in their careers.

According to the survey, which will make the blood pressure rise for a lot of women, 53 per cent of those who are recruiting for positions with a salary of £150,000 and above think that women must forsake a career break if they want to reach the top executive jobs in British businesses.

“I agree completely,” says Shailesh Kumar, senior manager in the biotech industry, with hiring responsibilities. “Very recently, I was interviewing a very qualified lady for a senior managerial position and the first thing she told me was:  “I cannot travel. I’ve got kids and I want an office job”. I just closed her file. “Women, or rather their roles as mothers, come with a lot of excess baggage,” says Shailesh, “so if you’re really ambitious and female, don’t have kids,” he says, adding in the same breath, “but since it is politically incorrect to say that, please keep my identity guarded.”

Dental surgeon Anju Gangwal, single by choice, has faced her share of marriage-/family-related questions at interviews. But she says she understands the skepticism of employers. “If a firm employs you, they have a right to ask, because they are investing time and energy in you. They want to be sure you won’t walk off one fine day,” she says. Poorva AbhyankarPoorva Abhyankar, working wife of an army officer and mother to a baby girl, adds: “Being a woman, I have to juggle my family and work, and employers are well aware of this.  So I have to answer relevant questions to convince them that I can manage both and give my best to the organisation.”

Shailesh says that during hiring discussions they spend a lot of time with women candidates discussing how they will manage families: is there a good day care nearby; do they have in- laws staying with them; is the husband home on weekends when she might have to travel etc. “I interview ambitious young women and sometimes I can’t hire them because they are bogged down by constraints. I can empathise with them but can’t offer them positions at the cost of the company losing out,” says Shailesh.

Christopher Fernandes, engagement manager with Positive Moves, begs to differ. “More and more companies these days are instituting an aggressive diversity policy to ensure they take on the best talent. This allows companies to ensure diversity across gender, religion and ethnicity. From a search firm’s perspective, hiring a lady candidate has greater impact on the company’s hiring strategy,” he says. “Many organisations offer sabbaticals which enable women to stay at home and yet be connected with their jobs and careers,” adds Poorva.

“In this age, talent  is no longer a slave of whether you are a man or a woman,” Christopher says. 

Swapna Tilve-NegiBut newly married Swapna Tilve-Negi,  who works with an IT company, feels  that taking a career break is definitely not a good decision for ambitious women. “It  would lead to regrets,” she says. However, she feels not having a child is also not a solution. “In today’s world with so many facilities like day care, women can pursue their careers  without any breaks,” she says.

A good example of this is Shubhra Misra, director of AZ Research Partners. “When my kids were born, I worked till the last two hours or so, taking calls and interacting with both my clients and my  team. And, I was back on my computer within 12 hours of the delivery,” she says.

Mona Ranadive, an entrepreneur who has been working since she was 19 years old, says she was not able to do this in either of her two pregnancies.  “There are women who have gone back to work within 10 days of delivering their babies leaving them in a nanny’s care but for such women work was probably more important than having kids. In our society, women always put families before their own careers. It makes the going tougher for us and that is a reason why very few ladies make it to the top level,” she reasons, adding in the same breath that  she would not have it any other way.

“Pregnancy, labour and child birth are not diseases,” says Shubhra, “in many rural economies, like Uttaranchal, where I come from, women are a critical work force on the farm. They chop firewood, collect fodder for cattle, take care of households and families. Women have innate multi-tasking capabilities, they just need to activate these to take care of both careers and kids.”

So maybe, it is organisations – more than their female employees – which have to balance profits with earning greater employee faith and motivation.

(Shailesh Kumar’s identity has been changed on request.)

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