Women in India represent only 24% of the paid labor force, as against the global average of 40%, according to a recent McKinsey Global Institute report. According to an Indian Development Report of the World Bank, India had one of the lowest female participation-ranking 120th among 131 countries for which data was collected. While the job industry has been on a slowdown, most of the new ones have been grabbed by men given the social norms, the report said.
This is a huge lost opportunity - if we can increase women’s labor force participation by 10 percentage points by 2025, India could increase its GDP by 16 percent. Also, research has shown that teams with gender balance tend to be more creative, more productive and more willing to share knowledge. A survey of Fortune 500 companies indicates that companies with higher female boardroom representation outperformed on various financial parameters like return on sales (ROS) and return on investment (ROI). Closer home, a recent study of the top 100 Indian companies (BSE 100) by Randstad shows that companies with women on their boards performed better.
Carving a successful career path has many hurdles for women. Marriage is the first hurdle for women aspiring to build a career. In a much-publicized interview, Indira Nooyi, the CEO of PepsiCo, shared that when she came home to share the news that she was to be the president of PepsiCo, her mother immediately shot her down, telling her to leave her "crown in the garage" and go fetch the milk. The interview started a debate on whether women "can have it all", but the problem runs deeper. Women are often not empowered to make a free choice without being judged by a predetermined yardstick. A career tends to be seen as a negative indulgence until one "settles down" in marriage, despite women having excellent educational qualifications and talent that is at-par with men.
Having children is the biggest contributor to putting major brakes in the professional lives of women. A recent TimesJobs survey indicates that 80 percent women considered giving up their jobs due to childcare issues. Women feel disconnected with the industry post return from maternity leave, with most employers not being empathetic or out rightly rejecting requests for maternity benefits. At the same time, most working women, when denied maternity benefits, just find quitting their jobs easier than approaching the court.
And a No-Rewards World
It is widely known that women’s professional earnings have remained considerably below men’s for decades. According to Korn Ferry Hay Group, women in India earn 18.8 percent less than men, which is more than one percent higher than the global average of 17.6 percent.
The situation is not very different for independent consultants and freelancers. According to a report “India’s top tier freelancers – What they earn” published by Flexing It, men and women command similar compensation levels till the Performer phase (less than 10 years of experience), women consultants in the Leader phase (10-20 years of experience) earn 30% less as compared to men in the same experience range. Moreover, representation of women professionals falls drastically in the Master phase (greater than 20 years of experience) to a meager 10% of all consultants. However, they command 40% higher professional fees as compared to men.
Gig economy to the rescue
For professional women, the evolving on-demand, open talent economy is becoming a godsend. Lawyers, business executives, bankers, doctors, and many other professional women can continue to advance in their professions or at least stay in the game while being the kind of spouses or parents they want to be. The Indian Staffing Federation (ISF) says many women who took a break to spend more time at home are back searching for jobs as the current slowdown and high inflation pinch family budgets. This is especially true of the metros, where about 41% of women are getting back with flexible working options compared to 16-22% in smaller cities.
A few large private sector firms already offer long leaves to new mothers. Such policies have a positive effect on the mindset of working women, boosting up their performance while inspiring many others to re-enter the job space. In 2008-09, the Tata Group started the Tata Second Career Internship Programme (SCIP), calling upon women to take on a Phase 2 career. Several other large companies have launched similar programs too, cases in point being Intel’s ‘Home to Office’ initiative, IBM’s ‘Bring Her Back’ program, SAP’s ‘Stay in Touch’ program, Philips’ ‘Back in the Game (BIG)’ program and GE’s RESTART program.
However, studies have revealed that while many such programmes do exist, most haven’t been implemented properly. According to a study done by Catalyst (commissioned by IBM), most of India Inc. (75 percent) reported having flexible work programs, but many failed to track utilization of these programs. Market making platforms such as Flexing It are helping to bridge this gap by allowing companies to discover women candidates for such initiatives and helping women looking to come back into the professional world finding such opportunities, across both large and small organizations.
As the freelancing economy in India matures and more and more women start realizing the potential and benefits of restarting their careers, the trend will only shoot up. The new professional engagement models will also lead to improvement in the gender gap in pay and enable women freelancers with freedom in personal and professional commitments. Here’s to more women power!
**This article was first published by Flexing It, on Network18**