By now, we are all familiar with the symptoms of the dwindling women in India’s workforce as reported in the press: India has the lowest ever number of working women in a decade (19% in 2020) and an alarming employment gap when compared to men. The low contribution of women to the GDP, at 17%, is lower than the global average (37%), or even South Asia (24%).
There is also the wide gender pay gap and the phenomenon of the ‘extra shift’: the domestic duties or child care that takes a toll on women’s professional life.
This edition of ‘Impact at Scale’ addresses what I think is a chief problem: the overwhelmingly masculine culture of work and employment in our country, and how we can change it.
- How do we increase the participation of women in the workforce at scale?
- Legislation matters. A year after the Companies Act, 2013 directed organisations to have at least one woman director, the number of women board directors was a mere 7.7%. By 2021, that number increased to 17.1%.
But legislation has its limits. While the number of women directors increased, it is also true that more of the same women held the seats in the boards of multiple companies.
- Career perceptions. A survey conducted by Aparajita Dasgupta and Anisha Sharma, two economics professors at one of India’s top private universities found that only 39% of women there had STEM degrees, compared to 68% men. What’s more, twice as many men believed they would enjoy the coursework in a STEM subject compared to women.
In short, even in an elite private university, women prefer the humanities or social sciences because of the perception around STEM courses.
How do we make it easier for women to reenter the workforce?
- Flexible work arrangements. A recent survey by LinkedIn found that nearly 70% of women were considering quitting jobs that did not allow flexible work. When IT companies moved to formalise Work From Home in the aftermath of Covid-19, it opened the gates for women from Tier-II and Tier-III cities to take up employment.
In the Indian context, providing flexible work from home arrangement is crucial to allowing women to enter the workforce.
- Relooking maternity leave. India has some of the most generous maternity leave policies in the world. But because it is only applicable to the formal sector, it excludes 90% of women in the country. Even then, India is unique in placing the financial burden of maternity leave solely on the organisation. Some form of government support could expand the number of women accessing maternity benefits.
In addition, providing paternity leave or general parental leave also moves us away from the tacit endorsement of childcare as primarily a women’s responsibility.
- Encouraging women in STEM. Role models matter. The best way to change women’s negative perception of STEM is to train more women in the core sciences or technical fields. For instance, training women in vocational education courses, many of which are dominated by men, is important to ensure equal representation of women in the workplace of the future.
Getting more women into the workforce isn’t an easy task. But things will only change if we make a start today. Do you have any other suggestions that could increase the participation of women in work?
Do let me know in the comments!
P.S: I am also proud to introduce you to ‘Buniyaad – Foundations for a strong future’. This is a collection of our experiences and impact in the field over the years.
Do give it a read! Sign up here: https://sambhavfoundation.org/buniyaad-report-for-sambhav/
Until next time,
Dr. Gayathri Vasudevan