Gender inequality has a deep economic impact, as supported by recent report from McKinsey that highlights how women’s equality can add $12 trillion to global growth.
India is one of the few countries in G-20, which has seen a decline in the rate of participation in the workforce by women, in contrast to other regions, particularly since 2004/05. India’s gender gap in participation (between males and females) is one of the widest among G-20 economies at 50 percent.
This could be one of the reasons why so few women reach executive levels. If we want to increase the percentage of women in top positions we need to eradicate the reasons of the steady decline in numbers at the bottom and bring in reforms that can increase the participation of women in the workforce. A few of these reasons which can be addressed:
- Security: The safety of women is a major concern especially in light of recent incidents. A uniform policy needs to be enacted and implemented across the country which requires that all companies put in safety measures such as guards in cabs (for late night shifts), pick up and drop from home (as required), adequate security inside premises, among others. 526 cases of sexual harassment of women at workplaces were reported during 2014; 57 cases were reported at office premises and 469 cases were registered at other places related to work. Currently, except for the bare minimum that is mandated, most companies do not offer effective measures. The passing of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace 2013 was a first step in this direction.
- Maternity/Childcare: 25% of first-time mothers in India, quit jobs to raise their children. Women find it extremely difficult, especially in nuclear families with no helpers, to balance work and family life. Corporates should provide facilities like work from home, day care, crèches, etc. to reduce this burden.
A few companies worth mentioning are, SAP Labs India, which provides its women employees cab transportation during and post pregnancy as well as crèche facilities; Google, Adobe & Flipkart that offer multiple benefits alongside extended leaves. Other companies like RMSI or Godrej Consumer Products, have also taken positive steps towards creating an open and inclusive environment for women. There is still a need for a comprehensive policy to be devised, which entitles women in workforce to these benefits across industry or designations. Maternity leave itself is not sufficient; a total support system for working mothers needs to be designed and implemented, which makes it simpler for them to continue working even after having families. Companies need to strive to increase support from just infant care to other areas (like primary education, etc.), since these are the oft-quoted reasons for why women cannot be as effective as men in the workplace.
- Eldercare: In a survey conducted among Indian working women almost 80% quoted eldercare as the reason for leaving their jobs. While many organizations have been able to improve policies related to maternity leave, none have even identified this as a problem area, for resolution.
- Gender Inequality at Work: Not only are women are getting unequal pay for equal or more work, but they are also offered low skill jobs for which lower wages are paid. This inevitably leads to the fact that women take more parental leave than men and consequently are the ones who have to sacrifice their careers (as they will never earn as much as their male counterparts). The World Economic Forum (WEF) report reveals a shocking disparity between the wage structure of men and women in corporate India. The average annual income of a woman in India is US$ 1,185, compared to US$ 3,698 for the men employed in the India’s corporate sector.
An effective strategy needs to be applied to eradicate this disparity. The Indian government has passed various Acts to ensure equal pay and equal treatment at workplace like Workmen’s Compensation Act of 1923 and the Equal Remuneration Act of 1976, but are these policies actually effective or sufficient?
- Career Breaks: Many women find it difficult to join the workplace after a break with the fear of facing discrimination, pay cuts, etc. As of now there are no formal policies governing how to handle such situations but surprisingly India fares better than Germany and US as almost 58% are able to rejoin full time work. IBM India’s ‘Bring Her Back Program’, Axis Bank India’s ‘Re-connect’, Goldman Sachs ‘Returnship’, etc are some policies which are worth mentioning. These companies and many more have opened doors to women employees to bring them back into the workforce seamlessly.
In India, the number of women at the entry level is 25%, in mid level management it comes down to 16% and it further reduces to only about 4% in the senior level. In a survey conducted by McKinsey among women corporate employees in Asia, 43% reported that their organization lacked effective initiatives for promoting and developing women employees.
Corporate India needs an overhaul to build a solid base for women who can with time reach the upper echelons of the corporate world through concentrated efforts of both the corporate and government policy. Grassroots policies are required to provide equal opportunity to women. Women reservation like the one ordered by SEBI can actually be detrimental to women leadership rather than advantageous, it could transform into the reservation as offered by the Indian law to backward communities (biggest enemy of meritocracy).
The above recommendations are an effective starting point for the revolution. In the long run women will prove themselves on their own mettle, change mindsets and perhaps with enough time change the overall structure of corporate India.
 Source: Women Workers in India: Why so few Among so Many? IMF Working Paper. March, 2015
 Survey by the Associated Chambers of Commerce
 Study by Center for Talent innovation (CTI)
 Source McKinsey & Company report