“Women’s economic empowerment needs the ‘phigital’ approach – in-person or physical engagements, followed by digital interventions”
The slow but steady progress that India had made over decades, towards getting more women into formal employment was dealt a severe blow during the pandemic – when 21 million women dropped out of the workforce in India. A thought-provoking interview between Joel Fernandez, Chief of Partnerships & Strategy, TeamLease Education Foundation and Pooja Nanda, Head of Women’s Economic Empowerment, Mahindra Group, explored the many ways CSR could reverse the setbacks of the pandemic, while tackling the entrenched social rules that hold back women from stepping out of their homes.
Pooja Nanda’s experience prior to her current role spearheading Mahindra Group’s Mission Even program involved decades of work with the Karnataka government’s Nali Kali education program, which has given her a deep understanding of the challenges girls face – first in accessing education, which then impacts their ability to access well-paying jobs.
Prior to discussing the many obstacles holding back women, she shared statistics that highlight the problems facing policymakers and the CSR community. For instance, 22% of girls across India, drop out of school before Class 2; and 44% before Std 10. Currently, about 23% of women are in the workforce, placing India at No 15 from the bottom in women’s participation in the workforce.
There are many factors that make it difficult for women to access good-paying jobs. With the low levels of education mentioned earlier, they’re not even qualified to apply for many roles in the formal sector. Societal norms seem to be the biggest hurdle for Indian women – since most responsibilities of household chores, parenting and elderly care, fall on the shoulders of women. This leaves minimal scope to seek employment outside the home.
For rural women, a segment that Mahindra’s Mission Even would like to empower, the challenges are even more. There are few well-paying formal-sector jobs close to where they live. So moving to urban centres where the jobs are, requires a salary that covers not only hostel accommodation but also a surplus to send home, justifying the family’s decision to allow the woman to work in the first place.
For details on what prohibits women from taking up formal employment, watch HERE
Considering the social milieu across India - particularly outside the Tier-1 cities, Pooja Nanda recommends the ‘phigital’ approach. She suggests that the first step is to engage with the entire community personally - by onboarding the family and sensitizing community members regarding what kind of work women can do, the salaries they can earn to supplement incomes, etc. Only when there is a collective buy-in, do women get society’s sanction to work.
Once this hurdle is crossed, only then can technology be used. Nanda recommends getting women digitally literate for many purposes – to be aware of and access the many government schemes available to them, to be able to upload ‘video CVs’ while applying for jobs, to access training modules that can prepare them for jobs, etc.
For more on leveraging technology for skill development programs for women, watch HERE
Mahindra’s Mission Even program aims to empower 1 million women by 2026. With over decades of deep, grassroots experience in empowering women, Nanda acknowledges that this ambitious plan is only possible with coalition partners that share their vision. She believes the network of long-term committed partnerships is required to plug all the shortcomings that hold back women – in schools, colleges, transportation networks, electricity connections, Wi-Fi access, etc.
So the Mission Even program to bring gender parity in the workforce involves building a first-of-its-kind gender-intentional job-matching platform.
Learn more about leveraging partnerships to enhance CSR initiatives & and about Mahindra’s Mission Even program HERE
In response to Joel Fernandez’s question on what motivated Ms. Nanda to keep going, she points to the positive impact the Mahindra Group has had on women’s empowerment in the farming sector. Through the company’s Prerna program, half a million women’s lives have improved as they received training and support in regenerative farming practices. Considering the success of such a massive scale – Mission Even’s target to empower 1 million more women by 2026, does seem achievable.