09 Jul 2018 09:46:53 AM

Making a career comeback – TalentCorp’s programme participant shares her story

Despite flourishing careers, many highly-skilled women leave their jobs or put their professional lives on hold to attend to personal and family commitments. While some of these women eventually return to the workforce, a large number decide to put their careers behind them. This is because numerous factors – balancing personal and professional responsibilities, managing employers’ perception, keeping up-to-date with the latest industry developments and the seemingly tedious process of reapplying for jobs – may discourage these women from coming back to work. 
While some women decide to not go back to their jobs after a break, there are many who strongly believe that they can continue to contribute their professional skills and experience and make a smooth return to the workforce.  

One of TalentCorp’s Career Comeback Programme participants, Sheila Kanavala, a Business Development Manager at Charlton Martin Consultants, made a successful return to the workforce last November after a four-and-a-half-year break.
Kanavala joined the mid-sized consulting firm in 2007 and left in July 2013 to start a family. “I have always enjoyed working and performed my tasks well,” Kanavala said. “I got along with my colleagues and my employers entrusted me with various responsibilities, including the initial setup of the company.”

“But when I was expecting my firstborn in 2013, I was thinking about how to balance between managing my responsibilities at work and also as a mother to my baby,” she explained. “I did not have a support network in Kuala Lumpur and I was not willing to leave my child with a maid while I was at work.” So, after much thought, Kanavala decided to take a career break to focus on her family. She informed her superior of her plans and ensured a proper training and handover process to the other staff prior to her departure.
Kanavala made the most out of her time away from the workforce. She threw herself whole-heartedly into her new role as a mother. “I was a full-time, hands-on mom and not a tai-tai,” she laughed. “People think that dealing with kids is simpler but in actual fact, dealing with office work is much easier.”

Although Kanavala relished her time with her children (after her daughter was born in 2013, her family welcomed a son in 2016), she knew that she wanted to return to work eventually. “I have personal goals to achieve,” she said. “I am an ambitious person and I want to be financially independent.”
Most importantly, I want to show my children that women can do everything – be successful on the home front and have a promising career as well. On a broader level, I hope to inspire other women who have also battled with the decision to pursue their careers or otherwise.”
Despite leaving the company in 2013, Kanavala still kept in close contact with her former employer. During a visit to her former office, she was told of the company’s development plans and saw an opportunity to return to work. “Naturally, I was intrigued since I knew I could manage the team and the bigger portfolio appealed to me,” Kanavala said.
When Kanavala returned to Charlton Martin Consultants last November, she found the transition to be smooth. “Returning to work after my career break was not a challenge because I was returning to my former company and I am already familiar with the company culture,” she said. “It was not difficult to get back into the groove because the company operates on the same system which I had helped to create earlier.”

To further facilitate her return to work, Kanavala also made several adjustments to her living arrangements. Her family moved to a new neighbourhood which was closer to their workplace and had a good school/daycare system for the children. “I am very fortunate to have my husband’s support and some external help,” she said. “And having a considerate boss and flexible work arrangements is definitely a plus.” 

While Kanavala was happy with her decision to make a career comeback, she understands why many women are reluctant to do so. The lack of quality and affordable childcare as well as prejudices against working mothers are some of the factors holding back women from re-entering the workforce after a career break.
“There needs to be a two-pronged effort to encourage women to return to work after a career break,” Kanavala enthused. “Organisations should look into providing good childcare facilities so that women can continue to be in the workforce. There should also be tax incentives for women to return to work.” 

“However, while these initiatives may work for the bigger organisations, mid-sized or boutique firms may face some constraints in providing these facilities for their employees,” Kanavala observed.  

Nonetheless, Kanavala feels that women should make full use of their knowledge and skills and continue to cultivate their careers even after taking some time off for personal commitments. “You should follow your instincts and fulfil your dreams,” she said.
Sure, there will be difficulties throughout your career journey but there will also be solutions to them. I, too, had my fair share of obstacles in trying to develop my career but, thankfully, I found ways to manage these challenges.”

Sheila Kanavala is a full-time working mother and a female returnee under TalentCorp's Career Comeback Programme. To find out how you can be a part of this programme, visit our website