Despite contrarian statistics, women in Corporate India tell Preeja Aravind that they are doing their bit for bringing other women back into the work-fold
This past year was quite memorable for women across the globe: It was the year Saudi Arabia allowed women to drive; it was the year that women banded together against sexual harassment with the #MeToo movement; it was the year Wonder Woman had her big screen debut.
Despite all these milestones, the numbers are somewhat alarming still. An infographic on www.unwomen.org shows that, globally, women have abysmal representation in leadership roles. There are only 23 percent women in Parliament seats: A figure that hasn’t changed in two consecutive years, according to the 2016 and 2017 World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap (GGR) Report. There has been a moderate change in the number of women as CEOs in Fortune 500 companies: in June 2017, it was 21 women CEOs, and although in January 2018 it was 27, it will drop to 24 by April 2018.
The 2017 GGR also shows that we are 217 years away from gender parity. So, it makes sense that the theme for International Women’s Day this year is #PressForProgress.
But India is yet to receive the memo. From the rank of 87 on the Global Gender Gap Index in the 2016, India slipped to 108 in 2017. This, however, hasn’t discouraged corporate India, especially the women in the workforce, who believe that there are opportunities for other women, even for those returning to work.
The smaller picture
Unlike the global trend where STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) jobs are not where women are, in India it is the opposite. A 2017 NASSCOM survey shows that majority of Indian women (51 percent) are graduating with a degree in engineering and technology, and the entry-level hiring of these women is at an all-time high.
The retention of these women, however, is another story. IT companies have known to face attrition due to maternity or similar challenges. There is hope though. Several organisations have begun programmes to ‘bring women back to the workforce’ after a sabbatical. Deloitte and Thought Works are the two most prominent companies with these programmes running successfully.
Zainab Bawa, CEO and director of HasGeek, a Bangalore-based technology-related business, says, “In our case, we have been very clear from the start, that there will be flexibility. There are about five of us women working in our current office. There is this colleague who resumed working after her child turned six, that was in early 2015. She continues to work with us as for her this flexibility has really helped.”
And these small measures reflect in the sub-indices of the GGR 2017. For example, India is at 80, as opposed to 136 from 2016, in terms of wage equality for similar work. India also gained four ranks for enrolment in tertiary education; it was at 99 in 2016.
Times are a-changing
Even though world over women face similar challenges while trying to juggle their careers and family, there are companies, started by women of course, to empower the working mother/woman, such as Jobs For Her, Sheroes and Her Second Innings.
Not just these, the Indian government, too, has put its two-bit to enable women by increasing the mandatory 12-week maternity leave to 26 weeks, and providing maternity leave for women turning mothers through surrogacy or adoption.
Bawa insists that Has Geek requires a chief financial officer and she will only hire a woman for that role. Bawa’s partner and Has Geek’s CTO, Kiran Jonnalagadda, explains that, for him hiring a woman, for any role makes more sense. “As long there are companies that are unwilling to hire women, there is a talent pool whose career prospects are lesser than a man holding the same level of skill. I am willing to hire from that pool and someone else is not, because I have less competition for her as an employer.”
Sarita Panda, head of HR at ThyssenKrupp in Mumbai, who herself resumed full-time work after two separate sabbaticals, believes, “It all boils down to how badly you want to go back to work and make it work.”
Divya Singh, Senior Director at a Bangalore-based leading multinational, somewhat agrees with that, “You see the corporate India is increasingly becoming unisex. The management has equal expectations from any of its employees or those in leadership roles, irrespective of the gender. In my case, I never took a sabbatical because I am not that kind of a person who can sit at home and relax. So, I worked and there were times when I attended late-night calls at home while my son would sleep next to me.”
At 44, Singh is a working mother who has been working for two decades. Her ‘break’ was just after the birth of her son: Three-month maternity leave and an additional month or so to put in place a substitute support system for her child.
Uphill task, definitely
It has never been easy for women to strike that perfect balance between career and family. Unlike her first break from work, where a combination of reasons were at play—she was pregnant, and her husband got a lucrative offer abroad—Panda’s second sabbatical was more a choice than a necessity. “Of course, when a woman goes back to work, there is apprehension. Like I see this colleague of mine struggling to balance the work and home. I am not doing this job to get away from my household responsibilities and I have time at my hands. I learnt that the hard way: There will be days when your child falls ill, there will be days when you will miss PTA meets. The day a woman decides to step out of the house, she has to leave the problems of the house back home,” she says.
Nidhi Jain, too, took a year-long break from work in 2012 after spending 10 years at a desk. Jain, who is now an assistant VP with a top Mumbai financial firm, says it was challenging to resume working because your “equity in the market has been unmarked for the duration of your break”. “You will be taken in and compared at that point. Of course, when a woman returns to work there is apprehension and it took me about two months to get into the groove of working full time. And instead of feeling insecure, women should understand that there are employers who are looking at their skill set and willing to hire them,” Jain says.