While the number of women enrolling themselves for higher education in India has risen sharply in the last few years, the workforce numbers are abysmally low.
India’s labour force will soon become the largest in the world. By 2027, the working-age population in India will reach 18.6% of the entire global labour force, according to a Bloomberg News analysis of United Nation’s population-projection data. Despite these numbers, India’s Female Labour Force Participation Rate (LFPR)— the share of working-age women who report either being employed or being available for work—has fallen to a historic low of 23.3% in 2017-18. This was pointed out by the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS), India’s official employment survey data published by the NSSO.
While the number of women enrolling themselves for higher education in India has risen sharply in the last few years, the workforce numbers are abysmally low. Women remain significantly underrepresented in the corporate pipeline. This is unfortunate for India considering that research by top business advisory firms has revealed that having women at the forefront can bring in more innovation, scale-up productivity, and improve financial performance for the company.
Being a working woman in India is not easy. The most common hurdles faced are dealing with family responsibilities, not being able to travel too far for work, not staying out late, and not picking up coveted postings in other cities. For many, it’s a tight ropewalk after marriage, having to handle their new homes and extended families. Even with the new generation of young mothers, there are expectations of them to assume a greater part of childcare along with household management. Lower salary brackets are also another concern. Male salaried employees earn 1.2 to 1.3 times a female salaried employee in urban areas, as per data from the PLFS.
It is about time that companies in India took a stand on empowering India’s women workforce by helping them overcome these challenges. Positioning gender diversity as a business imperative is essential for improving bottom- and top-line growth. In fact, as per a McKinsey report, increasing women’s labour force participation by 10 percentage points could add $770 billion to India’s GDP by 2025.
What can companies do to foster a better working environment for women
Organisations need to work on creating a strong system for female employees which involves enhancing and modifying policies, infrastructure, flexibility, and employee benefits such as ‘work-from-home/part-time work, bring your kids to work days’ will encourage and help women achieve a work-life balance. Bringing in more mentoring and buddy programmes can help make the workplace woman-friendly.
Business leaders should take the initiative to build gender parity while building the capability of their women workforce. There also needs to be more in terms of sensitizing both genders to the other so that there can be an increased awareness of the many benefits of gender diversity.
Indian companies need to pay attention to the needs of mothers by offering support in terms of childcare facilities (including lactation rooms for nursing mothers) where required. In many developed countries, organised day-care centres and creches are ubiquitous – some subsidised by governments or employers. Such facilities offers young mothers a safe place to leave their children.
In India, these services are not easily available. While the best is exorbitantly expensive, the remaining suffer from quality issues making them unfit for young working couples. While some companies are starting day-care centres gradually, these are still limited, and only available by those larger organisations and across some metros.
There is a need for more flexible policies and maternity benefits to help ease the strain on women employees. This way, it may be possible to help women employees balance home and family life while tackling the pressures of the workplace. Additionally, companies need to introduce more programmes to bring back women who have taken a break in their careers either due to maternity or other family-related reasons. Senior leaders can bring in a culture of empathy and understanding so that such women feel comfortable and confident about coming back to the organisation.
Work hours too can be limited so that women can balance personal and professional lives better. The average working Indian woman works a longer week than her developing country counterparts. As per ILO estimates, the average employed Indian woman worked 44.4 hours per week (in the April-June 2018 period) as against the developing country average of 35-36 hours.
All in all, it’s time for companies to pay more attention and address the issue of creating a comfortable working environment for women. Companies need to join hands to ensure a better environment for women in workplaces.
(By Hemant Sethi, Country Head India, British Safety Council India)