CAREER

SONU RATRA ON “RETURNSHIPS” AND THE VALUE OF WOMEN

By Sarah Lynch

Welcome to the second installment of Work 2.0: a series rooted in action and inspired by the #WomenHeard initiative. In each article, guests from across the communications field tackle an essential question: How can we reengineer the workplace to better serve women?

This series aims to empower readers at any stage of their careers with the tools to shape and create Work 2.0.

Margaret walked into Sonu Ratra’s office with a 19-year work gap. She had twins with a rare disease, requiring her complete attention at home for many years. Finally, she wanted to make her foray back to the workforce, and she needed someone to take a chance. 

It’s a case that may seem daunting, even impossible—but not for Women Back to Work, the trailblazing organization with Ratra at the helm. 

Ratra knows the challenges of re-entering the workforce all too well. After the birth of her daughter, Ratra’s 18-month resume gap became a formidable obstacle in her job search. Despite her impressive resume—a master’s degree plus years of experience in the talent and staffing industry—she faced rejection again and again. 

When she finally found a job, she made it her mission to support women making this difficult transition. She co-founded Akraya, a global staffing and managed services company, with this ethos at its heart, and in 2015, she founded Women Back to Work (WBW). The organization has spearheaded formal “returnship” programs with companies like Cisco, Danone Light+Fit, Palo Alto Networks, Aurora and Freshworks to connect diverse, qualified “returners” to careers. 

Returners like Margaret who, even with her 19-year gap, landed a job through Cisco’s returnship program as a result of her first interview. The hiring teams didn’t have a doubt in their mind about her qualifications and the value she brought to the teams.

Ratra’s mission became even more crucial as the pandemic’s impact decimated years of progress. In one year, more than 2.5 million women left the workforce. Now, as some women start to navigate the road back to work, Ratra’s goal remains steadfast: reducing the obstacles standing in the way of returners and championing their successful re-entry.

“Companies have to start thinking about why these women left and that we need to hire them back,” Ratra said. “We ask women to know their value, but companies need to clearly demonstrate that they recognize their value too. The ones that do will get ahead in impact.”

Sonu Ratra spoke with New York Women in Communications (NYWICI) on how companies can recognize and uphold the value of women and returners in the workplace.

Understanding Happiness-Retention Correlation

“There’s this article from BCG.com about the correlation between motivation, happiness and long term retention. They are all connected, and the more an employee’s most important needs are met, especially emotional ones, the more likely they will be happy, the more likely they will be motivated and the more likely they’ll be able to stay at the job. Analysis shows that along with functional needs, women need to feel valued, supported and respected.

Hiring with Compassion

“Women tend to believe hiring managers are not supportive, so train your hiring managers. Sometimes, it’s great because leaders are talking about it, but the hiring managers have to have that compassion to thoroughly coach and mentor hiring teams to be compassionate and show empathy to the team members. That is going to be extremely important.” 

Providing Flexibility

“Women are multitaskers, right? They are very hardworking. Every time I talk to a woman, they say, ‘Eight hours’ worth of work—I can fit it in four hours, and I will do quality work.’ Companies have to realize that and be able to provide that environment to let them make that decision on how they’re going to finish their work and not dictate the time.” 

Cultivating a Caring Culture

“Cultivate a culture where it is normal for people to take the time to care for their loved ones. This is applicable to women, men, parents and caregivers. No one should be judged for taking the time off they need.”

Empowering Women to Speak, and Listening

“Over the years, women have had to muster great courage to speak and be heard. We can empower them to speak, but are we listening to them? Are we making them feel heard? Are we designing benefits and workplaces tailored to women in the workforce? If we aren’t doing that, then women will continue to leave and we will never be able to achieve equity.”

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Sarah Lynch

Sarah Lynch is a production assistant at NBC New York and a freelance writer based in New York. Outside of the newsroom, she’s a proud NYWICI volunteer, editorial team member and two-time scholarship recipient. Her reporting on news, culture and COVID-19 can be found in The Asbury Park Press, USA Today, NJ Monthly and more. 

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