Kerala women
According to a study, 96.5 per cent of women who took a career break expressed a desire to return to work. Image: iStock

Kerala survey: Most women on career breaks want to get back, wish for govt support

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Shyja TK, a 45-year-old Urdu teacher with a postgraduate qualification, took a hiatus from her career after having a child in 2007. Unfortunately, she was unable to resume her professional journey spanning over 15 years.

In 2007, Shyja secured a position on the ranked list for government teachers. However, she couldn’t join the service for obvious reasons. Due to her journalist husband’s frequent relocations, she had to shift base from time to time. Alongside this, she had the responsibility of taking care of her son’s schooling and attending to the needs of her ageing parents.

Shyja shares that women face obstacles in getting back on track after a career break. “If I had received some form of assistance, my professional life would have significantly improved by now. The government should prioritise lifting the age limit for job openings. When a woman settles down in her life, she might be well past 40, but her potential will still be at its prime,” she says. 

Need for counselling mechanism

Diya Silvester, 37, was a senior software engineer with a multinational technology company in Kochi Info Park, when she had a severe bout of stress-related health disorder. It prompted her to take a career break for 30 months. When she came back, she struggled to find a placement and finally had to settle down for a junior position under the supervision of one of the trainees she had mentored.

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“It’s a part and parcel of the game. But when I came back, I could not even cope with the daily schedule initially. I was getting depressed and was compelled to resign from various quarters. It was after getting therapeutic help that I had some semblance of normalcy,” says Diya.

What she wanted was a system to help professionals like her, who had dropped out from their careers due to various issues. “At least a counselling mechanism, run preferably by the government, is what I expect. All the women I know,  who took some time off from their profession, want to come back, but many are not able to pull it off. This should change,” she tells The Federal.

On hiatus between ages 25-40

According to a study conducted by the Kerala Knowledge Economy Mission (KKEM), 96.5 per cent of women who took a career break expressed a desire to return to work.

Source: KKEM

Only a very small minority chose not to pursue their careers further. Out of the former, 79.1% expressed the need for some form of support to help them re-enter the workforce, either in searching for a new job or in reintegrating into their previous positions.

Kerala women
Source: KKEM

Among the respondents, 65% expressed a desire for training or refresher courses to facilitate their return to the job market. Out of these, 50% specifically preferred skill training. Additionally, 15% sought soft skill training, and 10% indicated a need for counselling. However, a portion of the respondents remained uncertain about the specific type of support required to reestablish their professional careers.

Source: KKEM

An interesting finding of the survey is that the majority of women who experienced a career break fell within the age range of 25 to 40, with the highest number belonging to the 30-34 age group, which suggests that marriage and childbirth are the primary factors contributing to career breaks for women. The second factor is the obligation of caring for the elderly parents or in-laws. Some employed women had to give up their jobs to accompany their husbands to their work destinations.

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“The unwritten obligations of the family and society at large reaffirm women’s second-class citizenship. Our study reveals that the impact of inequality directly affects women and alienates them from the constitutional rights of equality,” says PS Sreekala, the director of KKEM.  “We have come across more than five lakh women who had gotten jobs, but could not grab it owing to various pressures,” she adds.

Unemployed educated women vs men

According to KKEM data, approximately 52.3% of girls in Kerala enrol in higher educational institutions, while the figure for boys is 34.5%. However, when it comes to job participation, the ratio of male aspirants increases to 55.6%, while for women, it decreases significantly to 20.4%. The unemployment rate among educated women is 17%, whereas for men, it stands at 4.9%. The percentage of unemployed postgraduate men is only 6.6%, but shockingly, among women, it rises to a staggering 34%.

According to research conducted by Sebastian Irudayarajan of the International Institute of Migration Studies and Development, the proportion of senior citizens in the state is projected to increase from the current 13% to 23% over the next 13 years. This implies that one-fifth of the state’s population will consist of senior citizens.

As women are often entrusted with the responsibility of caring for the elderly due to various reasons, it is crucial to address the issues of unemployment and career breaks among women seriously.

The sample survey was conducted among the job-seekers from all districts in Kerala. A total of 4,458 people participated in the survey, carried out online between April 17 and May 17, 2023. These were job-seekers registered on the Digital Workforce Management System (DWMS) of KKEM. DWMS is a platform “that connects all stakeholders in creating a knowledge-based ecosystem”.

The job aspirants can finetune their career preferences and enrich their profiles to enhance their chances of getting a dream career by taking an AI-based Career Inclination Survey and Robotic Interview, says the KKEM website. The platform has 12.4 lakh registered talents as of now, of which 66.48% are experienced workers and 33.52% freshers.

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