More firms wooing mums back to work
More companies open to rehiring stay-at-home mothers, with some hosting or taking part in career fairs to attract them
When she decided to return to work last year, it took Madam Khong Kam Mui, 38, six months to get a job.
"I felt despair and started to have self-doubt," said Madam Khong, who took a two-year break to look after her twins.
"I wondered if it was difficult to find a job because I have been out of the workforce for too long and that my skills and experiences are no longer relevant."
A two-day event changed Madam Khong's fortunes.
In September last year, Standard Chartered Singapore launched its Moms Matter initiative in the hope of getting mothers to return to the workforce and explore job opportunities with them.
A hundred mothers attended panel discussions and networking sessions with the bank heads and working mums to find out about open positions and how the company helps its employees with work-life balance.
Madam Khong took part in the event and has been a business development manager for StanChart's client acquisition team since late last year.
More mothers are being wooed back to the workforce by companies in need of experienced professionals.
72% of women in Singapore have taken a break sometime in their careers
Main reasons women in Asia return to work
35% Financial reasons
28% Learn new skills
18% Due to a lack of fulfilment by staying at home
49% of hiring managers in Singapore have not employed any returning women in the past year
68% of hiring managers polled in Singapore say they are currently facing challenges in attracting and recruiting talent
92% of employers in Asia don’t have a recruitment policy in place targeted at returning women
Note: Figures are from a survey of employers and women across nine countries in Asia
SOURCE: ROBERT WALTERS
This Wednesday, big names such as Google, Apple, Amazon, JP Morgan and Credit Suisse will be at Return 2 Work, a half-day conference and career mingling session to coax stay-at-home mums back to work.
The event is organised by Mums@Work, an online career portal for mothers.
The team previously partnered with StanChart for Moms Matter, as well as Mastercard for its Springboard - relaunching your career programme.
According to a recent survey by recruitment consultancy Robert Walters, women in Asia mostly return to work for financial reasons (35 per cent), to learn new skills (28 per cent) and due to a lack of fulfilment by staying at home (18 per cent).
Madam Khong left her job at local e-boutique Honeybay to look after her seven-year-old twins.
"It gave me great satisfaction to be a mum, but I also missed some aspects of working life such as interacting with new people and learning new things," said Madam Khong.
Mums@Work founder Sher-Li Torrey said she sees more companies being open to re-hiring stay-at-home mums and retirees, possibly due to restrictions on the hiring of foreign talent.
Criteria for approval of an employment pass (EP) were tightened last year, with the Government saying it would look at factors such as whether a company tried to recruit Singaporeans for its open positions and the proportion of foreigners already in a company.
A survey by recruitment consultancy Robert Walters - which focused on employer attitudes towards women returning to work - saw 68 per cent of hiring managers polled in Singapore facing challenges in attracting and recruiting talent, with the company suggesting that returning female professionals with the relevant experience could be part of the solution.
Mrs Torrey, 40, told The New Paper that following restrictions on the EP, more employers have reached out to work with her group on events like career fairs and networking sessions targeting women.
The upcoming Return 2 Work programme will be Mums@Work's first dedicated to full-time positions.
It previously ran a career fair that highlighted both flexi-work and full-time jobs.
"This year's event has seen even greater interest - there are 23 firms, mostly all multi-national corporations, which said they are willing to look at back-to-work mums," she said.
Companies TNP spoke to said women returning to the workforce have valuable skills.
"Returning mums often bring with them a different perspective when it comes to driving new ideas and challenging norms," said StanChart human resource head Charlotte Thng.
"As mothers, they are usually good problem-solvers with the ability to multi-task."
Returning women have "strong educational backgrounds and valuable work expertise and experiences", said Mr Luis Campedelli, executive vice-president of human resources at Mastercard Asia Pacific.
A "culture of inclusion and diversity" is also key to Mastercard sustaining its competitive advantage, he added.
But returning to work is no walk in the park for mums.
Headhunters tend to pursue "current and relevant" job seekers and ignore people with career gaps, said Mrs Torrey, so even companies who are looking for back-to-work mums face difficulties reaching out to this pool via the usual recruitment channels.
Madam Y. M. Leong, 48, also took six months to secure a job.
When she did, it was through Mastercard's Springboard programme and she has been a regional finance manager for two months.
Madam Leong, who used to be a finance manager in the automobile industry, told TNP she took a year's break to take care of her ill mother-in-law and spend more time with her youngest son, who is in Primary 5.
There is also the issue of integration.
Mums have "talent, potential and experience but need adjustment time", said Mrs Torrey.
"Hiring managers don't always know how to help to integrate them back," she said.
"The person is also older, so the generational diversity challenge with a younger team is always a concern."
Madam Leong, who kept up with technology during her break by using spreadsheets and e-mails occasionally, is still learning at her new job.
She said: "I am still trying to adapt to my current company's culture and workload as it is a lot more fast-moving compared to my previous one."
For Madam Khong, who worried about adjusting to a larger organisation with more processes, the provision of a mentor by StanChart has helped.
"My boss and colleagues are all very supportive and helped to check in and provide guidance in my first few weeks of work," she said.
Reintegration is important as more staff members exit and re-enter the workplace for "life" reasons, such as looking after sick parents or caring for children, said Mrs Torrey.
The good news is that 95 per cent of hiring managers here surveyed by Robert Walters think induction is crucial in ensuring returning women are equipped to re-join the workforce.
Mrs Torrey agreed, and said she is encouraging more firms to embrace structured training.
She added: "You cannot just plug and play."
Madam Khong enjoys going back to work.
"It has made me a better mum as I treasure the time with my family even more now."
Apply for Returners Programme from Sept 1
Since June, the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) has been piloting a Returners Programme to help professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) return to the workforce.
First suggested in January - ahead of this year's Budget - as an initiative to encourage women to return to work, it has since evolved into a programme for all PMETs.
"With the changing roles that modern day fathers play in caregiving today, the scheme needs to be inclusive and supportive of both working mothers and fathers," explained Mr Desmond Choo, who is the NTUC champion for women and family.
U Family, run by NTUC, launched a Returner Work Trial scheme last month which focuses on helping job-seekers who have been out of the workforce for at least two years.
The scheme is targeted at those who have "voluntarily left the workforce to care for their loved ones, focus on a personal health issue or other reasons, and now wish to return to the workforce", said Mr Choo.
The scheme allows workers and employers to try out a work arrangement for six months.
Employers must train the worker and pay them a monthly training allowance of at least $2,500, of which $1,500 will be subsidised by a grant from Workforce Singapore.
Employers are also encouraged to retain the workers, and they will receive a one-off retention bonus of $3,000 if staff under the programme are retained for at least three continuous months after the trial.
With the changing roles that modern day fathers play in caregiving today, the scheme needs to be inclusive and supportive of both working mothers and fathers.NTUC champion for women and family, Mr Desmond Choo
NTUC will start accepting applications on Sept 1.
An online poll conducted by U Family earlier this year showed that 73 per cent of 529 surveyed stay-at-home individuals were holding at least a diploma or degree.
"It is evident that there is much talent to be tapped from this latent pool of experienced and skilled PMETs," said Mr Choo.
One of the partners for the scheme is the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts.
The academy's head of human resources Sim Choo Lee said they see it as a win-win programme.
"If it is a fit with a returner with the right attitude, we hope to offer the person an opportunity to try it out at our organisation... there is also a financial incentive provided to help the employer," she said.- ELAINE LEE