For centuries, women have faced challenges and hurdles to prove themselves at par with their male counterparts. India is a developing country achieving success in many fields but is still far behind when it comes to gender equality. In our country, the number of women going out to work is depressingly less.
Dr Michael Debabrata Patra, Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) recently stated that the female workforce participation in India is among the lowest in the world and continues to fall. India stands lower than its neighboring countries like Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. The situation has even worsened due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to a report by Statista, the participation at work for men in India stood at 67 per cent in 2022, an increase from the previous year's participation rate. Meanwhile, the participation at work for women in the country dipped from around 36 per cent in 2021 to a little over 33 per cent in 2022. This highlights the need for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives that focus on empowering women in the workforce.
How did the pandemic worsen the situation?
The Covid-19 pandemic worsened the situation as more urban women quit or lose their jobs during that time. It was a record low of 15.5% in April-June, the first quarter of the lockdown. According to a Deloitte India study, over 65% of women wanted to leave work during the pandemic and a year later.
The aftershocks of the pandemic crisis are felt in the informal labour market. The plethora of unpaid tasks limits a woman’s time and thereby, her ability to make choices. This further keeps them from pursuing higher education and skill development, inhibiting their entrepreneurial growth. Here, companies can step up their CSR initiatives by providing women with opportunities to learn new skills and work from home, enabling them to balance their work and family responsibilities.
The root cause of the problem
For years, businesses have not made active efforts to achieve gender balance in their workplace. Instead, they have often leaned towards hiring men for positions, citing that they are more committed to the role. This lack of female participation can be attributed to the inherent bias that exists in the business world.
Apart from marriage, childbirth and other societal expectations, whenever it comes to taking care of domestic responsibilities between husband and wife, the majority of the time only women give up or leave their jobs. Here, CSR initiatives can help companies provide better maternity and child-care benefits, allowing women to balance their work and family responsibilities.
On average, an Indian woman makes 20% of an Indian man. This is compared to the average American woman, who makes about 65% of what an American man does, and the average Chinese woman, who makes 60% of what the average Chinese man does. Also, according to OECD data, the average Indian woman performs five hours of housework per day. The average Indian man? Only one hour.
This burden of unpaid work negatively impacts women’s economic gains and traps them at the bottom of the economy.
Among India’s senior officials and managers, women account for only 14% of leadership roles — putting India at 136th in WEF’s Global Gender Gap Index — and just 30% of professional and technical workers. The government of India has reported that only 10% of startup founders are women.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in a recent press conference shared that only three-fourths of the listed firms on the NSE have appointed one woman as an independent director. Making it merely 19 per cent of the total posts.
Social barriers against women
Gender inequality, a lack of education, social pressures and a rising crime against women are all cited as reasons for women opting out of the workforce.
Limited financial inclusion, with women getting less than 10 per cent of all loans granted, along with a preference for a male child in Indian families and rules such as the ones that mean a woman needs to get her husband/father’s signature for even a car loan, have all contributed to women being left behind in the Indian economy.
Gender parity can boost India's GDP by 27%, says IMF
Speaking at the launch of W20, a grouping of women leaders from the world’s 20 largest economies including India, IMF’s chief Ms Christine Lagarde said that it is an absolute economic no-brainer that empowering women will boost economic growth.“We have estimated that, if the number of female workers was to increase to the same level as the number of men, GDP in the United States would expand by 5 per cent and by 27 per cent in India,” Ms Lagarde added in her keynote speech.
Moreover, The World Bank also reports that India’s GDP growth rate would climb above 9% if women had an equitable share of jobs and that India could boost its growth by 1.5 percentage points per year if just 50% of women could join the workforce. When more women participate in the labour force, men also benefit.As Indian-origin Nobel laureate Amartya Sen says, "Women are increasingly seen, by men as well as women, as active agents of change -- the dynamic promoters of social transformations that can alter the lives of both women and men."
If we focus on key areas, women's empowerment can make a large impact at both the micro and macro levels.
Mindset change: A lot of corporates are trying to bring women back into the mainstream workforce by implementing skilling programs. For example, as per the Companies Act 2013, at least one board member should be a woman from the company.
Ms Anindita Mookerjee Sinha, Senior Communication Professional & Head Corporate Communication, L&T Metro Rail (Hyderabad) Ltd asks; Why only one woman? Why don’t we aim for 50-50? Discrimination on the basis of gender should stop if we want to bring inclusivity. So mindset change is an extremely salient feature of creating a skilling program for women. Unless we develop that human approach and become more thoughtful and prudent in our mindset, the culture of the organization will not get better.
Top management professionals: If we want to set the tone for gender equality in the workplace and show that you support women leaders, start from the top.
Top management's behaviour sets the example for everyone else in the company, so it's important to model behaviours that signify support for women leaders and zero tolerance for biases. This way, there will be no more questioning of the authority of women managers and no more double standards in justifying decisions made by women in leadership roles.
Policies and norms: We can't simply ignore or erase the long history of policies, practices and norms that have kept women from being equal to men. We have to actively work to reverse the damage that's been done and create a more inclusive future for everyone. Men have to make serious efforts to contribute equally at home and take responsibility.
Mentorship: A mentorship is an important tool for success, especially for women who are moving up in their careers. When we reach out to mentors, coaches, and sponsors, we create opportunities for other women to follow in our footsteps.A female professional once shared “women do not lack mentors, they lack sponsors at the workplace”. In other words, men are always happy to offer advice, but a woman needs a senior woman to guide her through the corporate ladder. Women should come out in support of other women colleagues and have an open space for discussion. Companies such as Accenture have women employee mentorship programmes, a women’s network and training and leadership development for its women employees. “Women tend to drop out of the workplace because of a lack of flexibility," says Sairee Chahal, founder of Sheroes.in, a career platform for women. Giving menstrual leaves, maternity leaves, same pay, and flexible working hours are other small yet effective measures to bring more women into the workforce.
Similarly, increasing access to the Internet, mobile phones and financial services has moderate correlations to gender equality indicators at work. For instance, greater access by women to the Internet which is an essential tool for job searches, networking, conducting businesses and receiving microcredit would boost labour force participation among women.
Women's empowerment and gender equality are key to fundamental human rights and pivotal in our journey towards a more peaceful and progressive country. Evolving and closing the gender divide is inevitable and can be made possible through equal opportunities and equal representation for women.