Equal gender employment in India Inc still a distant dream due to lack of proper infrastructure

India Inc is gradually waking up to the need of including more women in their workforce. The corporate sector currently employs about 25% women in the entry level, 10% in managerial level, and just about 1% in CXO level.

However, a World Bank report in April 2017 showed that labour force participation rate of women in India has slipped dramatically in the last 20 years to less than 25%. The buzz of creating gender diversity has drowned out the real issues of lack of infrastructure, feels Neha Bagaria, founder of JobsForHer, a platform that helps women get back to work after a break.

“We still think that earning livelihood is only an option for women, and creating infrastructure around them too much effort! In fact, India has more women graduates than men, but still men dominate the corporate world,” said Purba Kalita, Co-founder of online marketplace Salebhai.

The World Bank research showed that while nearly half the rural women aged 15 years and above were “in the labour force” in 1993-94, the number dropped to less than 36% in 2011-12. Labour force participation rate of urban women also dropped slightly in the same period. The National Sample Survey backs the point. In 1999-2000, 25.9% of all women worked and by 2011-12 this proportion had dropped to 21.9%.

No doubt that women’s contribution to our country’s GDP stands at a meagre 17%, well below the global average of 37%.

A recent report by the Indian Labour Organisation also stated that India along with Pakistan have the lowest rates of women’s labour force participation in Asia. This is in stark contrast with global trends as well as countries like Nepal, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in Asia that have the highest women labour force participation. Even countries like Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia are placed behind them.

Even the Economic Survey 2016-17 expressed concern that the demographic dividend is already receding, reducing the opportunity for the Indian economy to catch up with its East Asian counterparts.

“While some companies are aware and willing to create infrastructure such as child care room, menstrual care room and so on, many other companies are wary of investing in it. Most of these companies who have facilities in place such as Godrej and ICICI Bank, are in minority,” Bagaria said.

Several startup founders Moneycontrol spoke to, who did not want to be named, contend that although they want to make their women employees comfortable, it is a huge stretch on their cash flow.

Bagaria, however, insists that “where there is a will there is a way.” “We, as a bootstrapped startup, managed to carve out a child care room in our tiny office with little expenditure,” she added.

The need is to have family oriented policies that will benefit both men and women. “Flexible working hours, work from home option works wonders here. Child care is not just a woman’s responsibility. Such facilities must be a part of a company even if there are no women employees,” Kalita says.

“Running a business, earning profits alone cannot be a business goal. Policies promoting inclusion of society is required. Creating such facilities should be a default, not an option,” she said.

Shiivani Aggarwal, COO of Formula Group, said that the simplest way to be inclusive, in the absence of any other resource, is to choose an apt location to set up an office. Formula Group, which offers corporate relocation services, immigration services, global mobility services in India helping families from all over the world relocate from and to India, has assisted several companies in scouting for the right location.

“Earlier the focus was mostly on the cost of rental, ROI and so on. Off late, companies have started considering the convenience of employees in choosing a location,” Aggarwal says. However, the clients are primarily from Japan, America and Europe. “Indian companies have a limited mindset. But the next generation of entrepreneurs in these large companies are starting to amend things,” she adds.

The fear that most HR managers harbour in employing a woman is that they will leave soon. More so for women who are married or have children.

“A large placement agency told us they understand the need for gender diversity but they cannot accommodate them for the above reason. But if we look at statistics, the attrition rate among men and women is at par,” Bagaria says.

The contrary is also true, feel these women entrepreneurs. Women too, often view their career as an option. Most of the attrition amongst women occurs in the entry and mid-senior level, due to various personal factors such as marriage, child birth, and so on. While only a small percentage of women, about 10%, invest in skilling and re skilling.

Japan’s ‘Womenomics’ can play an important role here, where investing in creating infrastructure around women employees, and encouraging more female participation in workforce and in positions of leadership through flexible policies has been made a national mission.

The change has begun to happen little by little with a passage to a landmark Maternity Benefits Bill which will benefit women returning to the workforce with availability of quality childcare centres at workplace. But basic infrastructure such as child care center, flexibility of working hours, skilling remains a distant second in the agenda.

“The responsibility of increasing gender diversity at workplace doesn’t end at just hiring a woman. The workplace has to be conducive enough for them to sustain. A simple example is networking. Networking opportunities are often conducted in the evening. If companies can just rework the timings to accommodate their women counterparts, there is level playing field created right there,” Bagaria said.