Organisations are also wary of hiring women who opted for a sabbatical or a work hiatus as they pose a certain “risk” in the numbers of boxes they check.
While designing larger portfolios, organisations are unable to visualise how women who have ‘shifted lanes’ or are ‘returning to the workplace’ will be able to manage the new responsibilities or even the work pressure, given the lack of proven track record in that area.
There is something India Inc is missing out on here — and we’re talking not just of glass ceilings but of “false ceilings”. Organisations can do much to ensure that this demographic is not just championed but actively sought out for senior and leadership roles. Hiring ads that promote and seek out experienced women; bots who are programmed to ensure that these resumes are not falling into a black box; these are all minor tweaks that will help women who are changing lanes or returning to work, and will ensure that they are not eliminated by automated filters. That’s the first major hurdle.
Training hiring managers (of all genders) to be cognizant of unconscious bias and tweaking the hiring process to include report analysis and case studies and assignments will allow more women to showcase their capabilities and expertise and raise the conversion of interviews to offers.
A culture of hiring on potential (and not just on past experience) will bring about a balance between prioritizing people with skills and not with domain knowledge. Companies should run programmes designed to sensitize employees on age discrimination, thereby spreading awareness and breaking pre-conceived notions and stereotypes about age, and the associated ability to take on challenging assignments.
Newer modes of employment
The good news is that there are opportunities and newer modes of employment available today. The gig economy and the virtual workplace have added possibilities for people inhabiting the 40s and beyond to join the organized workplace. As a society and as leaders and decision-makers in organisations we need to break generalizations about age and career gaps — we need to advocate the importance of fungible and transferable skills and look for broad learnability in our recruitment process.
We need to invest in the stories of senior women who ‘returned’ after a conscious career break or those who changed paths so that these narratives normalize these “breaks” and “shifts”. We need to seek out this talent pool more proactively than we have ever done before.
In the seasons of life, 40s are the years signifying maturity and as Keats in his poem To Autumn expounded — the songs of autumn have their music too. Organisations need only to listen.