The last few years have seen a huge resurgence in conversations about women returning to work. The concept is not new – generations have seen women drop out of the workforce for years to care for their children and their homes; some returned, some couldn’t quite make it back.
Like with everything else in the world, digital technology, and the Internet has opened new opportunities for millions of women – either as job opportunities or as online support systems and job boards.
One such leading online platform is JobsForHer, a connecting portal that is designed specifically to help women restart their careers after a break.
We chatted with Neha Bagaria, Founder and CEO of JobsForHer to find out how she channelled her personal experiences as a restarter to help other women.
Q: Your bio on your website makes it clear that JobsForHer is something that came from your personal experiences. Tell us a bit about why you started this venture and the motivation behind it.
Neha: I was the usual career woman, and when the children came along, I decided to take a break to raise them – the break ended up being more than 3 years long.
During this personal journey, I became aware of the various difficulties a woman faces in order to re-enter the workforce. There are innumerable accomplished and qualified women around me who just stopped working for personal reasons such as marriage, motherhood or elder care, and then never returned to the workforce.
I started delving into the reasons behind this female brain drain, and it became clear that there are many re-entry challenges that need to be addressed in India.
Something as basic as school pick-up becomes a huge issue – most schools get over at 2-3 pm; offices go on till 6 pm at the very least – unless you have someone to take care of your child during this time how can you hold down a full-time job?
This is just one situation – women returnees not only need flexibility but also need help to regain their confidence and retraining to enter the workforce properly.
On the other side of the spectrum, companies and employers need to overcome gender biases and change cultural mindsets.
My own experience made me determined to enable other women to restart their careers and connect them with whatever they require to do so. And this idea grew to become JobsForHer, I founded it on International Women’s Day, March 2015.
Q: How did you jump into entrepreneurship? What was the progression from idea to execution?
Neha: I’ve always been a social entrepreneur at heart; during my last semester at college, I founded my first company Paragon to introduce the Advanced Placement Program in India, and I also became the College Board Representative of India.
When marriage brought me to Bangalore, I started working with Kemwell, a pharmaceutical services company, in the fields of HR, Finance and Marketing strategy.
The growth and development that I experienced at Kemwell were immense, but social entrepreneurship was my first love and after I took a few years out for the kids; it all just fell into place. I knew this was exactly what I wanted to do. But apart from my gut feeling, I had enough experience to understand the gap that existed in the market and how I could fill it.
Q: It’s not easy setting up a new business, and I am sure it must have been challenging for you as well. Tell us a bit about some the hurdles you faced.
Neha: Well yes, when I decided to start JobsForHer, there were a lot of challenges – to put it mildly.
Firstly, I had started working after a long career break and untangling motherhood responsibilities from work demands was difficult. It was a challenge to figure out how to divide my time between my kids and my new business.
I hadn’t yet started working full-time, and I felt that not picking up my children from school was a deal-breaker. I was fighting against the traditional stereotyping where women are made to believe they are the sole caretakers.
The last time I had founded and run a company was 12 years ago, and I didn’t have kids then so the challenges of balancing work-life was different at that time.
Professionally, there was also the challenge that my past work experience was in education and pharma, which was diametrically opposite to the fast-paced rollercoaster world of tech start-ups.
However, slowly but surely, I started piecing it all together. I started with strong advisors to fill in the gaps in tech, HR and to build a scalable start-up. This gave me immense confidence in my idea, and I felt I could achieve the scalability I had envisioned.
Q: Did you face any special women-centric issues? Are there any struggles that are specific to women entrepreneurs?
Neha: I think we are our biggest hinderances. Through my entrepreneurial journey, I have realized how often women tend to hold themselves back because of fear.
It is so important to recognize our fears and to name them; only then can we find a path to overcome them. Whenever I am at a crossroads, 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.
Q: What are your learnings from your professional journey?
Neha: I strongly feel that for a woman entrepreneur to succeed in the competitive business landscape, it is imperative that we become comfortable giving equal importance to our careers as we do to our other obligations, roles, and responsibilities. And for that, we need to build a thick skin and a strong support system.
Because until we don’t, we won’t be able to create the ecosystem required to support this challenging journey to the top.
We will need to rally the troops and have our support structure firmly in place – parents, in-laws, extended family, friends, and yes, husband too. We will need to stop caring about people who don’t understand and help the people we care about to understand us. We will need to make sacrifices and compromises about being there for everyone all the time and having everything perfect. And we will need to stop feeling apologetic about it.
Q: Wow! Well said! What’s next?
Neha: More of the same! We have come a long way in the last 3 and half years. We have made huge progress in changing the mindsets of both the women and companies. Women, so that they feel confident about the gap in their resumes and portray it in the right light and companies, so that now they are not only taking back a huge number of women returnees but companies like Dell, Epsilon, Facebook, Diageo, Sapient, Credit Suisse, etc. are working with us closely to reach out to this candidate pool.
It gives me enormous satisfaction when I hear of women restarting their careers through JobsForHer. We’ve seen success stories of women who restarted their careers at companies ranging from large enterprises to SME’s. I see them happy and confident and excited about regaining their financial independence and a sense of self-worth. In fact, we have launched an e-book called “Way Back to the Way Forward” to chronicle some of their restarter journeys. Whenever I read this book and delve into their challenges and achievements, it makes everything feel worthwhile.
Q: How was your experience with SoaringEagles? Did you see a direct business benefit?
Neha: Working with SoaringEagles has been a great experience!
Since they offer a wide range of professional development courses and JobsForHer is India’s largest portal for women returning to work post-sabbatical, we found a perfect partnership.
Run by a fantastic and empathetic team, the courses they run are perfect for women returnees to reskill themselves before dipping their toes back into the professional world.
Q: And finally, is there something you had wished you had done differently?
Neha: Not let guilt and fear hold me back from dreaming big!
Neha and her team are doing a commendable job of helping women get back to work after a break. We wish them all the success because therein lies the success of many women returning to work.
If you would like to share your entrepreneurial journey, then drop us a quick note or a comment below. We would love to hear from you.