Why do women keep giving up their careers?

Updated: May 26, 2021

I was talking to a senior leader from a mature IT company recently who said that they hire 42% women at entry level. Sadly though, a bulk of that talent leaves the organisation in the next 5-7 years. The stated reason: 3Ms. Marriage. Movement. Maternity.

Is it really so simplistic? Women get married, quit their jobs, have babies and move around with their husbands? Not necessarily in the same order though....

30 years back, in 1990 actually, we had 30% women in the workforce. They also got married and had babies. Babies aren't actually a 21st century phenomenon, you know? And it was so common for husbands to work in different cities from their families. In some parts of the country, it was pretty much the norm.

Fast Forward to 2018. 30 years of liberalisation, technological development and economic progress later, the number is down to 20%. Then what changed? It doesn't make logical sense. It should only have increased. Yet the data suggests that it decreased.

It is possible that this data, if sliced and diced for certain industries/ geographics might tell a different story. But we cannot ignore the big data.

The simplistic observation is that women participation in the workforce has decreased with increase in per capita income within a generation. But we do not have a real diagnosis.

This is my humble attempt at hypothesis 1.

Our culture brings up our girls to become mothers and housewives, and shames anyone who doesn't fulfil these roles in a socially acceptable way. In addition, through hundreds of practises, it makes women feel like second rate citizens, less capable, less worthy, less in every way. Career is clearly seen as a man's prerogative. And the only time a woman is permitted to work outside the house is when her husband needs help in generating the necessary income. This is true in both rural and urban India. So in such families, when a woman works, there is a modicum of support from the families and community. The situation changes completely when the man is bringing in sufficient income and there is no 'real need' for a woman to bring in additional income. All support, physical and psychological for working women in such families is often withdrawn. Hiring of help to assist with house work, childcare is frowned upon. The woman is seen as selfish and is considered a threat to the male in the family. Hence, the few progressive ones with spouse support or those who fight back stay in their careers. Those who who fail to give up and resign to their assigned duty.

Companies who hire women might say 'What can we do? This is out of our hands!' Yes and No. I believe there is an added factor that we/ organisations can influence. Here comes hypothesis 2.

Many women who graduate/ post graduate dreams of a career. The working woman in the community is seen as superior to the housewife. ALWAYS!

Then why do women give up a more aspirational life for a less than fulfilling one? Because they stop enjoying work, and don't know how to succeed and grow in a male dominated world!

This means, that we can help women find happiness and success at work as easily as men do, then we have a hope in stemming the leak!

Read more about how we can build capability with women.

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