Career gap and how it affects the female professional paradigm
It is indeed refreshing to witness that now, more than ever, we see a large number of students who have been enrolled in colleges and universities, successfully graduating and quickly moving into the professional sphere. Especially during the year when convocations are taking place, one recounts various kinds of celebrations circulating on social media. While varsities might vary, convocation attires may be different, and disciplines numerous, one thing is constant among all: the equally ambitious faces of the men and women.
Amid the cheerful graduation stories, gratitude notes, and mortarboard-tossing photographs, the one thing that drives your optimistic vision for the coming days is the equal number of female graduates in the group photos. We feel accomplished that finally, we, as a nation, have surpassed the mind set of prioritising male education over female education. A significant proportion of urban society is convinced now that equipping girls with higher education is now a necessity. However, what remains an unresolved dilemma is that even though there are as many female graduates as their counterparts, if not more, why is the professional sphere yet to witness equal inclusion of females in the prime workforce of Pakistan?
According to the World Bank report of 2021, females constitute only 20 per cent of the total workforce in Pakistan. Why do we still see highly educated women lost in vanity or employed in typical jobs in academia? There are many factors contributing to this phenomenon but one major reason amounting to this is a career gap, which not only undermines one’s resume but also one’s self-confidence. It is still normal practice for women in our culture to take a career break for a few years while they raise kids and get back on the job hunt once the kids have at least reached their school-going age.
Unfortunately, we are part of a culture which sees graduation as the best time for a female to “settle down” and get married. The perception that a woman is officially ready for marriage as soon as she’s earned her degree is still very common. However, what still remains as an underrated conviction is that marriage comes with its own challenges, commitments, tests, and multiple responsibilities. This includes fulfilling various expectations of a husband as a wife, adapting to new roles as a daughter-in-law, and ultimately, a complete transformation as a human being, especially on an emotional level when a woman becomes a mother. All of these changes put together turn out to be an arduous deal for a young woman, yet none of this is spoken about.
Not every woman is resilient enough to come out of this trilogy as a committed, composed, and robust woman. Not everyone is blessed enough to have smooth pregnancies which allow them to continue working towards other goals simultaneously. Everyone has their own scenarios, physical conditions, family support systems, psychological strength, financial backgrounds, and journeys that determine their direction in the future.
It can’t be denied that many women around us pursued their careers during the foundation years of their family life. They took their babies to their workplaces or academic institutes where they were enrolled in their postgraduate programs. We always hear that those who are determined just pave their way no matter what the circumstances are:
“Look at that self-driven woman in the magazine; she became director while her youngest baby was just four-months-old…”
But the women we see every day on social media, television programs, and even in our daily life hardly constitutes a small amount of female graduating every year and getting lost in the cultural stream of our country.
This doesn’t necessarily imply that the girls who couldn’t settle well into their career timely were incompetent in any way but there's a sheer possibility that they were just not resilient enough to handle the physical and psychological pressure they saw exerted on working women around them. There is no doubt about the fact that our culture does not have the most professional eco-system in which career-driven women are welcome. Sometimes, it’s also just how the flow of circumstances pan out, particularly in the pursuit of becoming a mother and juggling married life, that often trudges a woman to a state of feeling lost.
Eventually, things settle, kids grow up and a woman gets some time to address things she overlooked previously. She can manage to spare time for workouts and home remedies to get back the self-esteem pertaining to her physical appearance. The kids start school and she is good to kick start her career, but it's only then she realises that the corporate world possess a very disloyal nature. The market is no longer seeking old graduates like her. They have a queue of fresh graduates ready to join them on a single call. They won’t wait for a woman to return after years of completing her last degree. Disappointedly, she moves to the public sector to face another rough course of actions over her age.
Given the present economic depression we are facing as a country, it is high time to mobilise literate women towards stabilising their careers after graduation. Taking career breaks is not an option anymore for our female fraternity if they want to refrain from getting into a lifelong tug-of-war between their professional and personal lives. On a practical level, it doesn’t matter whether you got married at the age of 22 or 28, but what will define you as a woman of substance is where you stand in your life professionally and personally at that particular point in time. We should normalise the idea of allowing women time after graduation, at least to those who actually want to utilise their degrees and become self-reliant, to secure desired jobs and settle well into their respective career paths before pressuring them into another crucial phase of life by getting them married as a result of societal pressure.
The professional eco-system also needs drastic changes in order to facilitate and welcome new mothers back into the workforce. We can’t mobilise the literate female population of our country without facilitating them as mothers. In-house day care setups, maternity leaves and shifting to a hybrid working system until the baby is at least six-months-old are a few of the primary steps needed to make things easier for working woman so that they don’t have to make the complex decision of giving up their careers for rendering their maternal responsibilities. Simply educating our women will not bring the desired change on a grand and productive level unless they are not included as direct propellers of the dipping economy of Pakistan.
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