Like millions of Indian women, Dr Saundarya Rajesh took a career break to pursue maternity and motherhood. At the time, she was doing very well in her career and was considered a fast-track performer. But all that changed when her break began reflecting on her resume. When I decided to re-enter the workforce, recruiters in the late 90s rejected my CV because of the presence of the ubiquitous break. Amidst the heartburn and angst, it occurred to me that I cant be the lone woman suffering from the problem of having gaps in my bio-data, she says. After one particularly thought-provoking (also anger-provoking!) interview, I decided that becoming a channel to provide career opportunities for this marginalised woman professional was my calling.Dr Rajesh started Avtar in 2000 as a talent strategy consulting firm, providing recruitment services. At the time, it was Indias first diversity advocate and workplace inclusion expert. Each interaction with a talent manager to whom I would pitch the idea of hiring women post their career breaks taught me that corporates are not really equipped to recruit or retain women talent. When we spoke of Diversity and Inclusion Equity was not at stake then companies were unwilling to hear us out, and many shut their doors on us. DI were esoteric concepts then. We began research to present evidenced data on the three compelling cases for gender diversity Talent, Business, and Culture cases.Since its inception, Avtar has influenced over 100,000 women to make successful career re-entries! Companies such as Standard Chartered Bank, Accenture, and Mondelez that began their DEI journey with Avtar, soon began to see better productivity results not only by hiring women talent but also retaining them through changes in the managers orientation. Dr Rajesh is among the earliest and most impactful voices on gender inclusion, a speaker, author, and sought-after DEI strategist. Today, over 400 organizations collectively employ several lakhs of women, thanks to Avtars advisory. It remains the countrys largest provider of second career opportunities for women and other marginalised communities through its portal myavtar.com. It also spearheads original research that has provided cutting-edge insights to organisations.The seed for any social entrepreneurship venture is to correct an anomaly, level up an inequity. It is about providing a certain set of enablers that the beneficiaries utilise to reach equality with other members of society. A social enterprise is a result of a deep personal experience, she explains. In my case, I saw second-career women struggle with managing the home and work, especially after returning from a break. What could be the enablers that these women require? Confidence, opportunities, a sensitive workplace, mentors who empower et al.As Avtar worked with more and more women, they realised that it is not just women who require such enablement it is everyone who is disadvantaged and underrepresented. They soon began working with first-generation graduates, persons with disability, and members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Working with them alone is not sufficient; it is important to get organisations to build welcoming workplaces. Avtar is a promise to create positive change by increasing womens workforce participation, a commitment to sustainability and delivering long-term impact on the countrys GDP.Avtar also undertakes the re-skilling, up-skilling, and counselling of women to pursue sustainable career paths and builds career intentionality amongst underprivileged girl children. This she influences through Project Puthri. Women in general are less intentional about their careers, less strategic. A break does two things on the one hand, it builds up a terrific aspiration in them to return and succeed. On the other hand, it has blunted some of their domain skills. They bring a lot of passion and dedication to the table, but that alone is not sufficient hard technical skills are needed. Plus, it is super crucial for organisations and workplaces that seek diversity to be understanding of women folk, she adds.Dr Rajesh refers to biases against these communities as non-conscious biases. When you are unconscious, you are unaware of your surroundings. These are biases that exist in your mindset and become the key drivers in your decision-making non-consciously. They permeate into workplaces at different stages. They show up at multiple levels - from recruitment to performance appraisal. The only antidote to biases is awareness. The repertoire of biases is growing. What was a simple list earlier, is today a full encyclopedia! And several of these biases are directed against women. Whatever stage of life you are in, there is some bias working against you. Tactfully calling out a bias and starting from a place of shared experience would be a good beginning!Avtar believes that Equity is about creating a level playing field for all groups in the organisation and inclusion is about creating a sense of belonging for diverse groups. These two components are essential pieces that ensure that the organisation benefits from the diversity of the workforce. Work-life integration is a new-age term that discusses bringing together professional and personal lives rather than demarcating them. It is important for women because it makes pursuing a career more meaningful for them. Women predominantly quit because of the three Msmarriage, maternity, and mobility. And work-life integration is the best way to retain them. Adopt technological tools to enable collaboration and work virtually. Offer wellness programs for women to lead more holistic lives. Offer volunteer opportunities to help them contribute to society. Using gender-neutral and inclusive language is important as it indicates that you are walking the talk. Representing diversity in every possible way from how you project the company in branding exercises to ensure there is supplier diversity, shows that you respect DEI, and not just lip service.Avtar is a Stanford Seed-certified company, with access to world-class training and resources from Stanford to maintain and attain the next level of momentum. They have also been recently listed in the prestigious Steward Leadership 25 Listing by Strait Times and INSEAD at Singapore in 2022. They have been featured in the Steward Leadership 25 (SL25) towards Transforming Workplaces for Gender Inclusion as the only Indian MSME among other corporate giants including BNP Paribas Asset Management, DBS Bank Limited, Faber-Castell AG, Marico Limited and Tata Consultancy Services and UBS AG. Their goal is to transform 10,000 companies into equitable workspaces and increase Womens Workforce Participation in Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3 cities by ensuring that 5,00,000 women enter the workforce by 2027.To women looking for second careers, she says, When you decide to re-embark, ensure that you are networking. Find out the kind of roles available to you and the skills they are looking for. Have open conversations with your colleagues or former leaders. Focus on skilling. Skilling ensures that you land the job sooner than you expect. Equip yourself with the relevant skills to make yourself market ready. Be honest about the gap. When you meet prospective employers, explain the reason to your gap without any hesitation or any apology. Today, organisations are recognising the need for a second career program for women. Be confident. Speak about how your skills and earlier experience can help the organisations. More importantly, speak with conviction and confidence about your capability and skills.