Today, only 25% of Indian women are employed. According to the World Bank’s 2017 India Development Report, India ranked 120 among 131 countries on female workforce participation. So, why are women not a part of our country’s economic progress? What challenges do they face and what holds them back from participating in the workforce?
I interviewed a young woman entrepreneur about the challenges she and her all-female staff face because of their responsibilities at home. “In the present Indian society, we are confused about our ‘gender roles’.” If a woman is working, she also has to shoulder the full responsibility of her home. I have found this extremely challenging as there are days when I just want to come back home and have my partner fix me a meal, but it just doesn’t happen that way. Men are not equipped with basic life skills like cooking or managing a home, and hence, they cannot contribute.
When I started my business, I ensured that my team leaves by 4 p.m., so they have enough time to tend to their personal needs as well. These women take care of their household chores, support it financially, take care of their children, with little to no support from their husbands whatsoever. “There are times when, despite all their contributions, they are told they are selfish in wanting to work and are not doing enough for the home and family.”
This woman’s treatment of her employees should be an example for other small and medium-sized enterprises, to show empathy towards their women workforce. We need to acknowledge that as of today, women, when compared to men, have to do deal with a lot more. It is critical that we, both men and other women, be more understanding and supportive than we are.
The problems don’t stop at home. In the online survey I conducted on gender inequality, a few women opened up about the challenges they face at work. One respondent shared, “Though I hold a senior position in my organisation, and hence have many rights, any decision related to my work gets associated with my marriage or my pregnancy because of which I am deprived of any promotion.” Another one wrote, “Men find it difficult to take orders from me.”
Gender bias is at play when women are recruited for jobs. They easily get accepted for ‘nurturing’ jobs like nurses or teachers, but a qualified female mechanical engineer usually struggles to prove that she is as good, if not better, at the ‘hardcore’ jobs. Even in other jobs, there is a bias against women because they are not ‘cut out’ for extreme competition. These biases also reflect in the gender pay gap. Women get paid lesser than men for the same job because they ‘aren’t as efficient’.
According to ‘The Future is HERe’ report by Indian Woman Network (IWN) and Ernst & Young (EY), 47% respondents in their survey reported that they “have no more than 5% women in senior management roles”. Of the women who responded, 42% said that they face “managerial bias” and 33% felt that “there are different performance standards and expectations set from male and female employees working at the same level.”
While we explore the biases against women in the employment sector, we must also appreciate the role a woman can play at our workplace. In response to my survey question about how the presence of a woman changes things in a team, many felt that people start to behave well. “I think it makes the group more cheerful, in general. People become better behaved as well”, wrote a respondent. Some feel that the group becomes less toxic and more stable, while others lauded a woman’s multitasking skills. These responses reiterate the fact that we need balanced groups at workplaces to increase productivity and job satisfaction.
The biases held against women are archaic, and we must shed them to create a vibrant and productive workplace. We have come a long way from the times of our grandparents where women found it difficult to step out of their houses, so we must keep up the momentum to enable more women to pursue their dreams confidently. We must get rid of the social barriers that keep women from professional success. We must not undermine anyone’s talent because of their gender.
Empowering women in jobs and businesses is a crucial step towards gender equality. Let’s give women, not just a chance to venture out of their homes, but to excel in their careers and to achieve their potential. It is our responsibility, as an egalitarian society, to give them the opportunity and the environment in which they are free to do so.
About the Author:
Aggam Walia is a student of the High School Achievers Program conducted by Young Leaders for Active Citizenship (YLAC). The High School Achievers Program identifies promising high schoolers and builds their capacity to lead change. This study was undertaken as part of the 2019 Delhi edition of the program.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this study are solely those of the author’s and do not represent the views of YLAC as an organisation.