When it comes to women’s participation in the workforce, India ranks the second lowest in the Group of 20 economies. Why the working opportunity is for women narrow to begin with, Vibha Singh enquires
At 29, Shraddha Patel had to quit her lucrative software engineer’s job with Cisco, because she was not able to handle the work-and-home pressure. The plight of several such Shraddhas was highlighted by Ivanka Trump, US President Donald Trump’s senior adviser, who pointed out that if India closes the labour force gender gap by half, the economy could grow by over $150 billion in the next three years.
The situation is grim; in the 2017 Global Gender Gap Report released by the World Economic Forum, India was ranked at 108 out of 144 countries on the gender equality scale—slipping from 87 of previous year. This begs for questions such as: Why aren’t there more women at the workplace in India? Why would a college-educated woman quit employment?
The missing women
One of the biggest barriers that prevents women from engaging in India’s workforce is societal. Even though parents in India are increasingly investing more in educating their daughters, the idea of women ‘working outside of home’ is still a long way from acceptance. Media student Seema Maheshwari’s father wants her to “work from home,” she says.
The number of women working in Indian manufacturing industry is a meagre 10 per cent, while the number of women working in other sectors has been stagnant at approximately 19 per cent. This will certain affect the growing power of our economy and what it is capable of. In the absence of higher women participation in labour force, the rate of growth isn’t as fast as it could be. We compete with China in terms of growth but are left behind because of this crucial point.
For the women who can overcome such societal barriers, structural constraints make it difficult for them to cut their teeth at better paying and more stable jobs. Jalpa Mehta, Assistant Professor at Shah & Anchor Kutchhi Engineering College, says, “A lot of them will work eight to nine hours a day and then go home to take care of a family. They have very little support at work, and even if they do, they rarely use it.” Even today, women are expected to run their households and the idea of leaving home to work is considered more of a choice than a necessity.
This makes women feel more burdened with expectation and increased scrutiny. PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi summarised this beautifully during an interview, “A woman’s career clock and biological clock are in total conflict.”
That mother of doubt
Even if a woman is able to get back to work after giving birth, the innate guilt of “not being a good mother” also plays into career full stops. Also, as families become more nuclear and become more scattered, there is very little support from relatives in this age of progressive societies. Thus, there is an increased dependence on outside, paid help to take care of the child(ren). This puts stress on mothers, especially new ones; in case the spouse is not supportive, it becomes worse.
This is most prevalent where people are educated but don’t stay in metros; are economically strong but culturally feel that women shouldn’t work. Shweta Powar, founder and CEO of Aria Communication, recounts an incident, “At a venue of one of the events I was attending, there were about four or five ‘kitty parties’ organised at different floors on a busy weekday during working hours. And I know most women in the area are highly educated; so what I understood then was that though education is given importance now, women are still not encouraged to make professional choices.”
The logistical issues
With all these mounting expectations and demands, women prefer jobs that are near their homes, especially in urban areas. Jobs that give women flexibility to work either part-time or from home are few and far between. Jobs that are more appropriate for the more qualified women workforce has not grown with the rise in female education; and the unjustified gender-biased working environment hasn’t changed either, which when coupled with lack of working hygiene discourages women from going back to work.
The inequality begins at home and way before women/girls get to school. The ratio of boys to girls in India is skewed. For every 100 boys born, only 89 girls are born. Women make up for 48.5 percent of Indian population. There is also this opposing number where CBSE Class X and XII toppers have been mostly girls, this however does not transform into ‘successful’ women employment.
Powar has an opinion on this, “This problem cannot be solved uniformly as India is a huge country. This is more a result of cultural and traditional issues that differ from region to region. Proper counselling, workshops and its benefits should be conveyed to people on a larger scale and women employment should be encouraged. We at Aria are an all-woman team looking to achieve our dreams.”
It’s time to fix this
“There is a direct impact of employment status of a woman on her bargaining power and well-being. Many studies suggest that employed women have greater bargaining power over their unemployed counterparts, both within and outside the family. Employment also has a positive bearing on her well-being and that of her family,” social scientist Dr Jaya Goyal explains.
And the government has kept this wellbeing in mind while promoting women’s empowerment vis a vis employment. There are various government measures already taken to boost women employment like Rajiv Gandhi National Crèche Scheme, Short Stay Home for Women and Girls, Support to Training and Employment Program for Women, Social Empowerment and Education, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act etc. Apart from this, the ‘Make in India’ initiative should promote women participation to ensure manufacturing growth coincide with women’s growth. Even Skill India Mission goal should also concentrate on women and their vocational training. Self-help groups and Mahila Gram Sabha should be made a part of the Digital India Mission, and providing e-literacy to women also. It is equally important for women to stand for themselves and fight for their rights.
Experts say although most corporates don’t discriminate on gender, and the remuneration for an individual based on experience, knowledge and skill, it is important to have pay parity between male and female colleagues, not just in government offices, but also in private companies.
According to Manju Yagnik, vice-chairperson of Nahar Group more and more firms are realising the value of having women on their company boards. “They generate value for companies by broadening market vision and enhancing board dynamics. Once real estate industry was largely male dominated, but today many developer groups, real-estate focused institutions, private equity firms now have women in senior roles,” she asserts.