We live in an era when men and women are well-represented in all sectors. Well, at least notionally. The past two decades have seen a policy-level transformation of workplaces and industries with a remarkable surge in the number of women professionally engaging and succeeding in their career. And despite this euphoric painting on display pan-industry, things are not so rosy after all. So what's wrong; more correctly, what's lacking?
To answer this, we need to first acknowledge the current scenario of Indian workforce. Here are some contextual statistics :
- Only 23.6% of women aged 15 and above participated in the labor force in 2018, compared to 78.6% of men, in India.
- By 2027 the working-age population in India will be almost 20% (18.6%) of the entire global labor force. Yet, in 2018 only 26% of the companies surveyed by WEF had hired women in the top-five job roles.
- As per a WEF report, women earn only 65% of what their male colleagues earn for performing the same work.
- Of India's 158 largest companies, women hold only 15% board seats (much below the global average of 20.6%) and an alarming 6% on the board chair.
Policy vs. Practice
While broadly all companies align their policies for inclusion of women, execution of those policies is often inefficient. For instance, it is now binding for all companies registered under the Companies Act and the Factory Act to provide home drop service to their female employees after the office hours. Although sometimes, smaller companies make the arrangements so inconvenient that the female employees have to voluntarily opt out of the service (for which forms are kept ready!) and travel on their own, with reimbursements applicable. While this process complies with the norms, the purpose of ensuring women's safety is undermined. In fact, inadequately flexible policies like lack of extended maternity leaves in case of health concerns, priority conundrum between job demands & family needs, etc., lead to higher attrition among women. Increasing intake without proper retention strategy would only serve as a leaky bucket solution.
Further, it is seen that women who have succeeded and reached senior level positions have compromised volumes more of personal priorities than men on the same ranks. This speaks about the organizational structure being fundamentally in favour of male psychology. Where the female policy & its execution lag is in understanding the working female psychology and tweaking workplace policies to suit their needs. If India truly needs to include all genders in its economic progress, merely providing equal employment opportunities and creating discrete policies will not suffice. The need is to gain their confidence in the corporate (and industrial) framework to create an environment conducive for them to perform, to appreciate their identities and priorities and to align the company culture to accommodate them fully. If our readers have watched the Pixar short film Purl, they'll be able to relate better. Female employees need to be accepted in all aspects as equals; be it their nature, way of work, personal commitments or approach towards solving problems. A lot of times, the management fails to address this aspect and lauds female employees who psychologically metamorphose to conform to the male-centric approach. This, then erroneously translates into a standard work culture expectation rather than being a personal choice. Empowering doesn't only mean a personality makeover, but also making space for all its kinds in the team. Consequently, the need is to enable empowered women to efficiently perform all their duties.
Compliance vs. Initiative
A lot of companies today are accepting women employees along with their personal responsibilities. It is about time that businesses cease treating women, especially those who carry the responsibility of their family, as a liability. They should rather be viewed as a bankable investment. According to a McKinsey report, increasing women's labor force participation by 10 percentage points could add $770 billion to India's GDP by 2025. This value needs to be tapped by Indian companies in earnest. Top players have already acknowledged this fact and have started initiatives like Women's Leadership Development Programs; a pivotal step in enabling women's professional excellence and efficient leadership of organizations. It is now time for others to follow suit. Expected results can be achieved only by acknowledging the value of the female workforce and not waiting for policy-level compliance amendments to make such provisions. For this to happen, we need a radical change in women empowerment enforcement approach. Companies need to go beyond compliance and take up gender-gap bridging as their own initiative. After all, an organization is a family of heterogeneous professionals. Each member has a rightful place and deserves extended support. That defines a truly inclusive workplace. Evolutionarily itself, women have mastered managerial skills & who better than them to lead the family!