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Are layoffs affecting women returning to the workforce?

Have women been disproportionately affected by layoffs this year? What challenges do they face while negotiating for jobs. Do they have to compromise when it comes to salaries? HerStory speaks to women who lost their jobs while experts weigh in.

Are layoffs affecting women returning to the workforce?

Thursday December 21, 2023 , 8 min Read

Six months ago, Srishti* was laid off from her global function role in a multi-national company after being put on a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) for a month. She claims the termination was unjust with the review conversation lasting for just a few minutes.

Since then, she has applied to several jobs, but to no avail.

women layoffs

According to HerKey (formerly JobsForHer), a leading career engagement platform for women, at the end of this year, out of the 82% women who aim to re-enter the workforce, 57% women either left or lost their jobs, and 45% are actively seeking full-time employment.

Just last week, Ritika* was terminated from her job in content strategy in an IT services organisation. She received a call that she was off-boarded with immediate effect, and before she completed reading the termination email, her access to the company network had been revoked.

She is very skeptical of finding a new job soon as callbacks to applications have been scarce.

Radhika* was hired as a public relations manager in an edtech startup earlier this year, and was terminated within a few months, with the reason given as “restructuring and the role not being needed anymore”. Like Shristi* and Ritika* she too claims the termination was unjust because a replacement joined the very next day after her leaving.

For the past few months, she has not been able to get a full-time role, and disillusioned, has quit the PR and communications industry.

According to HerKey (formerly JobsForHer), a leading career engagement platform for women, at the end of this year, out of the 82% women who aim to re-enter the workforce, 57% women either left or lost their jobs, and 45% are actively seeking full-time employment.

The survey had a sample size of 2,500 women from all sectors, across India.

This number points to the fact that a large number of women have been among those laid off this year, and the numbers point out to an alarming and disturbing trend.

Neha Bagaria, Founder, HerKey, attributes it to the technology sector witnessing a persistent wave of layoffs. The axe continued to slash employee headcounts at Indian startups, primarily impacting the downfall of edtech companies.

Most companies attributed organisational restructuring and cost-cutting to their decisions. The influx of AI technologies may have also impacted organisations, rendering several jobs futile.

“This worrying trend is concerning because it means there are fewer jobs, directly affecting India’s economy. The unequal layoffs of women not only highlight gender inequality but also add to broader economic problems. It’s crucial to tackle and change this trend to maintain a strong job market and promote economic growth in India,” she explains.

According to Nirupama VG, Managing Director, AdAstra Consultants, the trend of increasing layoffs of women, especially in sectors like IT services and consulting, is concerning.

She quotes a Statista report that points out that despite women constituting a larger share of India’s employable talent, they seem to be disproportionately affected by job cuts.

“This trend is concerning as it not only impacts the immediate livelihood of these women but also sets back the progress made towards gender equality in the workplace. With my experience in HR, I believe it's crucial to address these disparities and work towards more equitable employment practices,” she says.

Returning to workforce becoming difficult for women

More women than men are often forced to take a career break due to personal reasons, including but not limited to pregnancy, childbirth, taking care of children or the elderly. Another reason is the lack of expected career growth or development.

In a scenario where women find it difficult to rejoin the workforce after a break, layoffs are turning to be brutal.

Sharda*, who has been a journalist for the past 30 years, was laid off from her job this year.

“I think the problem is worse when you are working in the media industry and come with a lot of experience. There are very few jobs for experienced people, and when you apply to junior positions, you are not considered,” she says. She believes even freelancing is not a viable option as very few companies pay on time, or what you deserve.

Shristi too has not found any suitable openings so far.

“And if I did find one, I was asked to compromise on salary and position. I was earning around over Rs 50 lakh pa, and I am now being asked to consider a CTC of around Rs 40 lakh. I am the only breadwinner in the family, and the job hunt has been frustrating,” she says.

Ritika says, on the few lucky occasions when companies get back to her, it gets humiliating to explain her “unjust” termination.

Even though she finds enough job openings on LinkedIn, Ritika says the recruiting methods have to change.

“I feel AI algorithms scan the CVs—and often, the right candidate with the right skill set and experience get missed. If your resume is missing the right keywords, the AI algorithm will not shortlist you—my resume says senior content strategist, but I am eligible for any writing jobs, but the algorithm may not recommend me—which makes it difficult to find a job in an already brutal market,” she says.

Radhika says that despite a great portfolio of work, every HR executive tries to low ball her when it comes to salary and expects me to work overtime without compensation.

“Now my goal is to be paid fairly as I have 5 years of experience, so I should not be paid only Rs 50-60K per month as people are getting paid up to 12 LPA in the industry. It is humiliating to be demoted from 8.1 to 6 lakh per annum because this is the salary of someone with only 1-2 years of experience as per market rate,” she says.

Sachin Alug, CEO, NLB Services, a talent solutions company, believes irrespective of gender, job seekers grapple with a number of challenges throughout their job search process.

“The under-representation of women in various leadership roles makes it challenging for them to advance their careers. Another significant challenge is confronting biases and stereotypes during the hiring process, especially when it comes to negotiating compensation. Unconscious biases amid the hiring process can play a big role in demotivating women in their job-seeking journey,” he says.

Rajashree*, who was laid off from her tech job two months ago as part of a series of layoffs at her company, says she was not taken by surprise at the decision.

“I was part of several people laid off at my company. But having worked there for more than eight years, and at 44, I am worried about starting off in a new job. My search is on and I am using the break to learn new skills and keep up with the ask in the job market.”

Nirupama says the IT and ecommerce sectors, where layoffs have been notably higher, are changing due to global economic conditions.

“These sectors traditionally have a diverse workforce, but the current trend of layoffs, possibly impacting more women, underscores the need for more resilient and inclusive workforce strategies. It’s a wake-up call for organisations to reevaluate their layoff criteria and ensure they don’t inadvertently perpetuate gender imbalances,” she adds.

Helping women navigate challenges

Bagaria details a recent HerKey survey that revealed that 47% women are seeking to enhance their skills, aiming to improve their job prospects.

“Learning is a significant aspect of HerKey, and we’ve collaborated with over 800 partners offering courses tailored for women to advance in their careers. HerKey has recently introduced HerKey Communities, a networking platform, where women can connect to learn, engage, network, and highlight their journeys,” she says.

She feels upskilling and mentorship can enable women to reenter the workforce. Similarly, Nirupama says prioritising upskilling and networking are important factors in navigating the job market.

“To the women navigating difficult times, my advice is to focus on resilience and continuous learning. Upskilling and adapting to the changing job market is key. Seek networks and platforms that offer support and guidance. Remember, challenges often present opportunities--this could be a chance to explore new careers or develop new skills. Stay confident in your abilities, and don't hesitate to seek out mentors or professional networks that can provide support and open doors.”

Sylvia*, who works in the communications sector, recollects a conversation with her former employer that brings into focus the bias towards women returning to the workforce after losing their jobs.

“He asked me to recommend women who had been laid off or are on sabbatical and looking to get back to work. When I asked him why such people specifically, he replied, “They can be hired for lesser pay as they are desperate for a job.” 

This shows the mentality of big companies feeding on the vulnerability of such women who were on maternity leave, laid off, or on a sabbatical, she says. 

To this end, Nirupama urges employers to focus on transparent communication, fair evaluation processes, and providing opportunities for growth and development.

“Supporting work-life balance, offering flexibility, and ensuring a discrimination-free workplace are critical steps towards this. As leaders, we need to set examples by implementing policies that support and advance women in our workforce,” she adds.

(*All names have been changed to protect their identities.)

Edited by Megha Reddy