Equal opportunity has become more than a buzzword in the new world order. Organizations recognize the importance of equal opportunity and its positive effect on society and the health of the organization itself. Equal opportunity can be found in the charter of many, if not most companies today.
Equal Opportunity,as much as is associated with business organizations and is seen as a responsibility of businesses, in the context of India, it is intertwined with societal changes.Societal changes are consistent with the changes in EOHS.
Past: In the past,societal behavior was reflected in businesses. The hesitancy in society to educate girls was the result of persistent unwillingness to accept women as equal to men. This played a big role in denying women an equal education which in turn affected the percentage of women choosing or even being available to work.If businesses attempted to hire women, the limited availability of a skilled women workforce was a big challenge.
It will be interesting to draw a parallel here with the country’s infrastructure. The lack of adequate educational infrastructure and transport infrastructure directly contributed to the small percentage of women choosing to study and work.Educational infrastructure—the number and capacity of teaching institutions—were systemic impediments that underscored the inadequacies of education—at all levels.
With society’s orthodox view of female employment coupled with limited access to education, businesses in the past did not make equal opportunity hiring part of their business strategy or goals.Towards the end of the 1990s, India witnessed a significant strengthing of educational infrastructure and economic liberalization effects began to pay off. With increased private participation, access to education at the grassroots level started to emerge.
Phase-1: Picking up from the sporadic early successes, by the year 2000, the education sector took off with many private players entering the fray which in turn helped to strengthen the overall educational infrastructure. Female students’ percentage steadily rose in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics)including specific engineering studies.
The hesitancy in society to educate girls was the result of persistent unwillingness to accept women as equal to men. This played a big role in denying women an equal education which in turn affected the percentage of women choosing or even being available to work.If businesses attempted to hire women, the limited availability of a skilled women workforce was a big challenge.
We must talk about the influence of economic reforms and the effects of globalization on India in this specific context. Economic reforms of the previous decade opened doors to many multinational companies who seized upon the opportunity to establish operations in India, further increasing employment opportunities.
Because access for women to both education and employment opportunities tracked in tandem, India re-examined their precepts of female participation at work. The IT/ITES industry’s rapid growth helped women secure well-paid jobs. With businesses explicitly focusing on women’s safety at work, societal acceptance has become much broader and more accommodative.
Phase-2:Enter phase-2.Due to the scarcity of talent,businesses are now fighting for the best employees. Almost all global giants—either technology or services or research or manufacturing—have established their presence in India for a host of competitive reasons. The growth of businesses is multi-fold, and with that comes the difficulty of finding and onboarding the right talent. Plus, the start-up ecosystem has matured and is challenging the well-established businesses for their hold on top personnel. In this context, businesses started to adapt to the changing scenario, and EOHS has become part of business strategy.Discussions of Diversity, Equality and Inclusion have arrived in board rooms.
It is interesting to note here that by mid of 2021 World Bank data show that women will make up nearly 43 percent of the total graduates in STEM in India—one of the highest in the world. While there is still a gap between the number of women graduating and the number of women taking up employment, these base numbers provide good reasons for businesses to be hopeful. They can and should apply greater effort to attract women as a means to tackle the talent crunch.
By 2021, with government measures such as nine months of maternity leave and increased incentives to specifically hire women, we can safely say that the landscape of EOHS has completely changed.
India took giant strides as a nation to recognize women and treat them on par with their male counterparts.As I am writing this, BCCI—the apex body for cricket in India—announced that there will be a women’s IPL comprising six teams in the year 2023. These developments are a direct and positive reflection of how things have evolved over the decades.
It is also heartening to note that businesses are no longer seeing women’s career gaps caused by maternity as a hindrance to hiring women.Businesses are now running special campaigns to attract women talent who took career breaks for various reasons. It is now EOHS 2.0.
COVID changed the way we work, and from the EOHS perspective, it has been a blessing in disguise. Work from home or remote work has become more prevalent, and the hybrid work model is here to stay. This opened up avenues both for the businesses and women employees.Hybrid work allows people to manage their lives between personal priorities and work priorities. “Talent sans boundaries” is now the norm and has contributed significantly toward EOHS.
Despite the progress in EOHS, one aspect that remains to be addressed is women’s representation in leadership positions including women’s service in the C-suite. Fortunately, we are beginning to see businesses focussing on these aspects.Women are now encouraged to reach for leadership positions and are being provided with the necessary support system to get there.The future looks bright and exciting for EOHS, and the future of EOHS which is EOHS 3.0 will be heavily focused on leadership.