Women who opt to pursue a career often have to put it on the back-burner when personal duties, like motherhood, come calling.
“According to a Genpact report, about 1.5 million professionally qualified women take a break from work in India every year,” say Anisha Parikh and Ashni Dwarkadas, Founders of Koffeeplace, a community for professionals that focusses on supporting women on a career break to get back to work.
Most women opt for less stressful and flexible jobs even after their career break, as it helps to manage both work and home.
According to Ashni and Anisha the primary problems women face in India when they want to come back to work include –the feeling of guilt, odd working hours and inflexibility and lack of support system. The duo say, “Women feel guilty leaving their children with caregivers when they work. There is also a social stigma attached to it as Indian society is not very accepting of women who leave young children to work. Most companies do not give flexible work arrangements or an adequate work-life balance and many working women don’t find a good support system in terms of either family support, daycare facilities or qualified care givers. Not only is this challenging but sometimes can be overwhelming too.”
The aim of Koffeeplace is to equip women with access to three essential ingredients to a successful transition back to work – inspiration through stories of role models and interaction with them at events, career advice through career resources on the website, and, most importantly, new career opportunities.
One of the challenges facing the duo is creating awareness among companies about the need to tap into this talent pool, creating flexible jobs, and to encourage women to get back to work and help regain their confidence to take up a new opportunity.
Both the women have been friends since early school days, and when they met over coffee a few years ago, the conversation inevitably meandered towards future plans, career and opportunities available to women.
“The conversation brought up many questions, but very few answers. I was looking for inspiration, guidance and direction for the next step in my career,” says Anisha. With two young kids at home, Ashni felt an itch to return to work but she wanted something which was not only fulfilling but also utilises her skills and experience.
“We talked about how great it would be to have someone to guide us through the transition back to work from a career break; not just to connect us to opportunities available, but also to help identify the right opportunities, and get us career-ready. That’s when the seed for Koffeeplace was sown,” they say.
The duo started working on the idea in early 2015, launched their Beta version in July 2015 and went live six months later. Started in January 2016, they are a part of the Zone Startups– the accelerator programme at Bombay Stock Exchange in Mumbai.
“The response had been eye opening! We had over 50 companies and 5,000 users in the first few months after our launch,” the duo add.
Some of the jobs and industries where women have been successfully placed through Koffeeplace include research projects in Consulting and Finance, Product Management roles, Marketing roles, Executive assistants, Interior Design roles, Teachers, at companies including NGOs, Startups, Consulting firms. The jobs include project assignments of 2-3 months, full time roles, and part time and flexible roles.
Born and brought up in Mumbai, Ashni and Anisha went to Bombay International School. Ashni, 32 got her undergraduate degree from Carnegie Mellon in 2003 and completed her MBA from the Tepper School of business at Carnegie Mellon in 2005. She returned to India in May 2005, and began working with ENAM Securities as an investment-banking analyst a month later.
Ashni decided to take a break when she was pregnant with her first child. Three years and two babies later she has had some amazing learnings from her ongoing role as a mother. Though very happy with her decision to take a break from her career, after three children she began to feel the itch and wanted to get back to work but not to the grueling hours investment banking had to offer.
“After conversations with so many other women who were in the same position as me – a qualified, experienced and talented set of women that would be an asset to any workplace – we decided to launch a platform to cater to this need,” she says.
Anisha, 33, completed her graduation in Commerce in 2004 and post-graduation from Sydenham College. Her first job was with a jewellery company, where she learnt the fundamentals of jewellery making, its manufacture and sales. She used this foundation to start working in her family jewellery business in 2004.
Anisha was, therefore, not new to entrepreneurship and the challenges it throws. “I believe in the power of perseverance, grit, and belief in one’s self. Entrepreneurs must be passionate about their ideas, have the ability to deal with set backs, learn from mistakes, to think long term and have respect for the customer/end user,” she says.
Koffeeplace provides a channel for companies to showcase full-time, part-time, work-from-home and project-based opportunities for women. Anisha and Ashni work with women offline as well through one-on-one counseling sessions, group workshops, mentoring and networking events, and career fairs to equip them with the skills they need in their careers.
Along their journey they have also found out that a high number of women have chosen the entrepreneurship route, post a career break. To ensure that they support women entrepreneurs too they have taken a few important measures too.
“Entrepreneurs are an important segment and we have also built a community for these entrepreneurs to network, interact, grow their businesses organically, and give them access to mentoring and expert advice through events and workshops,” Ashni says.
As the network grows Ashni and Anisha hope more and more new avenues will open up for women and more and more women will find opportunities that match their requirements and get back to the workforce.