Insights into Editorial: Women in the workplace: Not yet a better balance
21 June 2016
The position of women has steadily improved in India over the last 25 years. Employment gender gap, especially, has improved over the last 25 years. Conducive environment for women to balance work along with household responsibilities is being created almost everywhere. Today, there is more ambition and confidence amongst women, perhaps also helped by greater participation of men in household responsibilities, as well as greater organizational focus.
- To the extent that education is an indicator of the increasing role of women in economic growth, we have seen improvement. The gross enrolment ratio (GER) of girls in elementary education has improved dramatically, from 66% in 1991 to 97% in 2014.
- The GER of girls in higher education has also increased from 7.5% in 2002–03 to close to 20% in 2012–13. Women account for 51% of all post-graduates in India today.
However, not everything is ok with the present state. There are few concerns which are yet to be addressed. India is still lagging behind in many areas compared to other developing and developed countries. Statistics reveal that improvement in education hasn’t completely chipped away at the gender disparity in employment.
- The World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2015 ranked India at 139 out of 145 countries on the economic participation and opportunity gap. India’s overall female labour force participation (FLFP) rate remains low and has, in fact, dropped from 35% in 1991 to 27% in 2014. As per World Bank data, the world average is around 50% and South Asia is at 31%.
- According to a 2015 International Monetary Fund (IMF) working paper, in urban India, the recent FLFP rate is even lower at less than 20%; within this, segments such as graduates are around 30%, which although higher than the national average, have seen a decline since the 1990s.
- Another study notes that women account for only 24% of senior management roles globally. In India, women held 19% of senior manager roles, but only 14% did so at the executive level. India is ranked among the worst of 48 countries in terms of female leadership.
- The right to safety and to choose the life they want is the biggest challenge even today.
- Women who get paid for their work earn less than their male colleagues, even when doing the same work, which economists call the gender wage gap.
- Female unemployment has been on the rise in some states of India.
- Lack of infrastructure, transportation, and child care facilities have also held women back.
What can be done to improve the participation of women?
- Diversity targets have to be set. They help elevate the issue, thereby pushing organizations to identify women with high potential and ensure that they are provided opportunities to accelerate.
- Another positive move is the increasing openness of organizations to extend paid maternity leave beyond the grossly insufficient three months mandated by law.
- In advanced economies, more women will work if they have access to parental leave and affordable child care.
- Flexible work arrangements help women to juggle their many responsibilities and to achieve a better work-life balance.
- It’s also important to allay negative perceptions associated with utilizing flex options, by making them more broad-based and encouraging their use for both men and women.
- Organizations need to proactively coach employees on biases that unconsciously play out through body language, day-to-day behaviour and word choices. These often go undetected and stand in the way of hiring and retaining the best talent in the organization.
- Affinity groups and their mission continue to be as relevant as ever. At the same time, the methods must evolve. They need to be a platform for proactive solutions, be more inclusive, and must bring male colleagues to the table, as peers, thought leaders and co-beneficiaries of the mission.
These measures are a much needed improvement over the past 25 years. However, to translate these to sustained improvement, there needs to be a deep organizational belief in the benefit of increasing women’s representation in the workplace, as well as supportive day-to-day actions and behaviours. Without these, the effect of all policy measures will remain superficial and even counter-productive. A widely covered IMF estimate points out that shrinking the gender differences in employment could expand India’s gross domestic product (GDP) by 27%. Unlocking this potential definitely requires an increase and shift in the composition of overall employment opportunities as well as questioning of societal strictures. As the country commends itself on world-leading economic growth and aspires towards a $20 trillion economy, organizations need to take women along to make this goal a reality. Societal change will be the largest needle mover, but a constant push through the government, organizations and individuals is critical to bend societal norms for the better.