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March 18, 2022

Four ways to make work better for women

Here are some meaningful actions businesses can take to support the professional growth of women in the workforce.

As the mom of three children, I’ll be honest: I struggled with being a working mother for the first 10 years of my career. I never felt “good enough” at work or at home. I tried multiple tactics — working part-time, taking a demotion, working more hours. At times, I felt lost in my direction and considered side-lining my professional ambitions completely.

If I’d started out as a working mom in today’s work environment, I might have found balance more quickly. Many companies now offer more advanced programs to support and develop women’s careers, as well as new flexible work options helpful to any woman in a caretaker role. It took a lot of lonely trial and error, self-reflection and mentorship before I found my groove.

We’ve come a long way, but at the same time, the pandemic has disproportionately affected working women. Companies need to reflect on how they support the professional growth of women in the workforce, especially as we return to a more business-as-usual environment. 

A women-welcome workplace

Here are a few principles businesses need to keep in mind in when designing their people programs to be supportive of working women:

  • Reach women where they are. The traditional constructs of work can be limiting for women, especially those in caretaking roles. Companies need to think through the life stages and experiences of working women and be innovative in offering programs to support them.

    One of the ways we've done this at Cognizant is through our Cognizant Returnship Program, which recruits individuals who’ve taken a multi-year career break (often to raise a child or care for family) back into the workforce. The decision to return to the working world can be daunting. As one of our participants put it, “My mind was full of self doubts. Will I be able to do justice to my work and to my duties at home? There has been a paradigm shift in the tech sector. Will I be relevant?”

    The 12-week immersive experience gives returners a real business role without throwing them into the deep end. As part of a cohort, they get detailed training and upskilling, mentorship and other support. The aim is a full-time offer of employment at the conclusion of their returnship, and I’m proud that a significant percentage of our participants have achieved that.

    Not only does this program help women return to the workforce, but it also encourages them to take a pause when they need it. A professional break doesn’t have to be an end to a woman’s career — we believe it can help someone emerge stronger, with a new perspective and greater sense of purpose.

  • Teach balance as a core skill. Balancing work and personal life doesn’t come naturally to many of us. It’s a skill that must be continuously learned, applied and refined. And just when you have it figured out, a change in one element of your routine can throw off the equilibrium.

    Coming back to my own experience as a working mother, I applied unrealistic standards to myself. I expected perfection at work, at home and in my social life — and my own well-being became collateral damage. Finally, a mentor gave me some breakthrough advice: “Decide in the moment that matters what type of mother, wife, sister, daughter, friend or professional you need to be and be totally focused on that moment.” I shifted my focus to being present vs. being perfect, so that those I am with get the best version of me.

    Good mentors, managers and learning programs can help women navigate competing work-life priorities. Not only will they enable greater balance, but those resources will also drive stronger performance and career growth, reduce burnout and prevent women from leaving the workforce.
  • Offer many types of flexibility. While the pandemic has accelerated our progress toward more flexible work models, much of the conversation focuses on remote vs. in-office work.

    Companies should push beyond the location question and consider other aspects of flexibility and personalization that could further empower women — for example, flexible hours, enhanced leave policies, and more.

    Like most companies, Cognizant has revamped our work programs to adjust to the realities of the pandemic. In addition to a new hybrid work schedule, associates in some countries can complete their hours outside of a typical Monday-through-Friday schedule to accommodate family or other responsibilities.

  • Keep your ‘say:do’ ratio equal. Most companies have inclusion goals when it comes to women in the workplace. Most offer a women’s employee resource group and a leadership development program. While these are valuable, they are now table stakes to enhance the representation and inclusion of women.

    At Cognizant, we have taken accountability a step further by setting hiring and retention goals for all women directors and above. These goals are embedded into annual performance planning and are a factor in year-end reviews. We systematically assess our performance and other people processes to root out bias and ensure women aren’t penalized for taking maternity leave. We offer targeted development programs for women, and we give back to organizations that inspire young women to pursue careers in technology.

Women at Cognizant are core to delivering our mission. In fact, we employ a small city of women — more than 100,000 — in countries around the world.

Especially in industries like technology where women are significantly underrepresented, it’s going to take constant work to ensure gender diversity remains a strategic imperative and not just an HR exercise. By taking meaningful action, businesses can ensure no woman ever has to abandon her career because the workplace doesn’t recognize and respond to her needs. 

Cognizant Insights Team

We’re here to offer you practical and unique solutions to today’s most pressing technology challenges. Across industries and markets, get inspired today for success tomorrow.

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