At a time when women’s participation in the workforce is rising, the opposite seems to be happening in India. Recent data seems to suggest that the number of working women in India is actually falling. Is there not enough work for women in India? What are the reasons that we see fewer women in the workforce; see women actually dropping out of the workforce? What are the solutions to this seemingly intractable problem?
Women Are ‘Falling Off The Employment Map’
A World Bank report released last year revealed some startling facts: jobs for men in India increased by about 0.9 million. However, as many as 2.4 million women fell off the employment map; in other words, left the workplace. India ranks 120th among 131 countries in terms of workforce participation. The statistics do appear to be a little difficult to believe at first glance. After all, we see women working in shops as salespersons and managers and at the checkout. Women in corporate setups, as lawyers, accountants and in education seem to be all around us. It seems to be every other day that the flight you take is co-piloted or captained by a woman pilot. Women are getting into nontraditional jobs such as fighter pilots in the Indian Air Force!
Appearances can be misleading! Only about 27% of women are currently in the labour force India – the percentage fell from 34.8% to 27%. It is telling that among the G20 countries, the situation is worse only for Saudi Arabian women! Employment is an important indicator of the socio-economic status of women. More working women means a more equal, safe and fair society. We know that working women have greater autonomy and are able to participate in decision making more efficient. Women in the workforce help lower incidents of domestic violence and enable women to leave abusive marriages.
Here an important distinction must also be made: when we mean working women, we mean we mean women in paid work. The distinction is relevant because the unpaid/ domestic labour, childrearing, cooking, cleaning and household management that women are expected to undertake, is rarely taken into account; but which is in an important component of the work women do.
What Is Responsible For This Phenomenon?
Bizarrely, fewer women are working in spite of more women receiving a better education than ever before. The fact is that women continue to face unique challenges within the home and outside that make it difficult for them to work. There are security issues that either prevent women from working or narrow down the possible options. In conservative families, there are still many restrictions on women which do not apply to men; particularly after marriage. Further, women are still expected to be primary caregivers of the family. Even when a woman is working outside the home, she is still expected to cook, look after kids and elders and assume the responsibility for other household chores. She juggles home and works in a way that routinely requires her to make career compromises. When there is a problem at home, she is the one expected to take leave or even to give up her job. These social realities are resistant to change. Any change is slow and difficult.
Is Independent Consulting Or Gig Work The Answer?
So should women give up aspirations of economic independence and the satisfaction of applying their abilities and education in a gainful and rewarding manner? Should a woman miss out on challenging and enjoyable career opportunities because societal and familial strictures still hem her in? Happily, the answer is No! Because of the way that more companies are now offering flexi hours, the option of working from home, and longer sabbatical leave, women are able to juggle work and home more effectively and less stressfully.
Technology has now opened up newer avenues for women as well. Working from home by freelancing or consulting is much easier today than it has ever been. Women professionals can now access employers and contractual work from practically anywhere in the world; no longer constrained by limitations of physical distance. Women can now become their own bosses by stepping out of the rigid, formal work setup that typically limits their options.
We still have a long way to go before men pick up the slack at home while a woman pursues her dreams outside it. However, in the meantime, there are some great options for the woman with aspiration, drive and ambition to make a go of her professional life! One of the options for women with background /experience in human resources would be to join Noble House as an independent HR consultant. This could be just the platform for women looking for a rewarding yet flexible career option. As we have said before, the future is freelance – and we are only beginning to explore the real potential of the gig economy right now!