In an ideal world, workplaces would be meritocracies where every employee gets their fair share of responsibilities and rewards. However, our reality is rife with biases, whether they are unconscious or systemic. This is particularly true when noticing the gender gap in India. In the last three decades, women’s formal labour participation in India has fallen to 20% in 2019 from around 25% in 1990. According to the World Economic Forum, India ranks among the bottom worst performers after slipping 28 places in its 2021 Global Gender Gap report.
Gender inequality is widely acknowledged however inadequately addressed at most Indian workplaces. The tone is set the moment a woman walks into a job interview and is asked questions about her personal life, in a supposed attempt on the interviewer’s part to gauge how much time and engagement she can offer to the company. As soon as we assign this label of reduced capability or competency to a woman simply by virtue of her gender or her role as a wife or mother, the inequitable way of assessing her value as an employee starts her off at a lower pay rate or at a junior level.
Many Indian women have to tread a fine line between a traditional gender role and a professional role so creating a workplace that gives them a fair chance at being evaluated based on their capabilities is the first step.
Taking a bird’s-eye view, there are 3 primary ways in which India’s workplaces can advance women:
1. SAFETY – A safe work environment is the most rudimentary but crucial aspect of a positive employee experience. In order to ensure that women feel secure in the workplace and beyond, policies such as Prevention of Sexual Harassment (PoSH) need to be go beyond being on paper and be strictly enforced. Perhaps, even more importantly, the conversation around casual sexism needs to change. A zero-tolerance policy towards objectification, off-colour humour and violations of privacy at the workplace are critical to bringing about this change in the workplace. Additional simple measures such as providing office space in a safe location, easy access to transportation or well-lit parking spaces can go a long way in providing safe infrastructure for women in India.
2. SUPPORT – Women need work environments and employers to offer a certain degree of support in order to balance their personal and professional responsibilities, as well as aspirations. Certain necessities like adequate maternity and paternity leave, health insurance coverage, on-site childcare facilities, flexibility to work from home, can make the experience much more manageable and rewarding for women. The other aspect of support is providing women with the mentorship and encouragement they need in order to pursue their professional goals. In our experience, having more women in leadership roles in an organization is key to opening doors for many other women.
3. SKILLING – Training and skill development can benefit employees uniformly, irrespective of gender. However, certain categories of skill-building that emphasize how to address systemic or unconscious bias in the workplace, and workshops on communication styles and leadership development, can benefit women in particular, by equipping them with the tools and confidence they need to climb the corporate ladder. According to the LinkedIn Opportunity Index 2021, in India, more than 85% of working women claim to have missed out on a raise, promotion, or work offer because of their gender. Management training, periodic reskilling and having access to the right resources in order to stay on top of the latest industry developments can make all the difference for women aspiring to take up leadership roles.
Lastly, in case you are wondering why everyone should care about gender parity, then consider this – equal participation of women in the workforce will increase India’s GDP by as much as 27% and has the potential to add more than USD $700 billion to India’s economy!
Think about that in the context of job creation and impact on overall quality of life for everyone. Women workers at any level are more likely to spend most of their earnings on nutrition, health and educational needs of their families which leads to improvement of our communities.
We all stand to benefit by advocating for gender parity and becoming more vocal about addressing sexism and gender inequality in our workplaces and in our everyday lives.