RAINBOW
Empowering Women Worldwide

Participation of educated women in the workforce in India: A teaser to begin with

By: Himanshi Tiwari* & Rupert Beinhauer ** * BIMTECH India ** FHJ, Austria

Asked by a journalist if she would like to inspire women in Artificial Intelligence (AI), Sonia, a social humanoid robot developed by Hong Kong based company Hanson Robotics, said:

“Girls are one of the most valuable natural resources this planet has to offer being so full of potential, thinking brilliantly. And yet they are mistreated all over the world. There is definitely apartheid of gender.”

UNDP (United Nations Development Program) Human Development Report 2019 claims that there are some groups of people worldwide who are methodicallyunderprivileged in several ways and women are among the largestgroups. Further categories applied in this sense are ethnicity, caste, geographical location etc. The report highlights that gender inequalities are amongst the most deep-rooted types of inequalities worldwide. As it concernshalf the world’s population, gender inequalityis one of the paramountobstructions to humandevelopment.

Gender discrimination is multifaceted and complicated with divergent progress and regress from country to country and issue to issue.Taking India as core example of this article, there have been significant social and political interventions for creating awareness and diminishing disparity at all levels. But as mentioned the problem is deep rooted and had many socio- cultural facets, the journey is tiring and long and there are many miles to cover before full attention and understanding can be reached.

In India and around the world awareness about the ills of gender disparity has increased and the minimization of this gap has been put into the development focus of various countries. Through numerous initiatives worldwidegirls have been catching up on some of thebasics, such as the right to education through the enrolment to primary schools.But there is less to celebrate about the current progress. Beyond these changes connected to fundamentals, inequality remains a hot topic in socio-cultural development and further influences interactions and limits possibilities of growth and progress in the home environment, in the workplace, politics and beyond. At homewomen do more than three times as much unpaidcare work as men. And although in manycountries women and men vote equally in elections, there are differences in higher levels of political power as mere voting rights donot ensure full and active participation in decision making and leading from the front.

It is observed that a large number of women are leaving the workforce in India. There is a drop in the percentage of Indian women participating in the labour market by 10 %. This is the largest drop in the world, between the years 2015-16 to 2018-19 (ILO Report, 2018 ). Only 27% of the female population aged over 15 is working in India. This is the lowest rate of women’s participation in any workforce among the BRICS countries; the highest is in China at 64% (World Bank Report 2018). India is losing 48% of women already participating in the labour market (in the first 7-12 years of their career) during the transition from junior to senior positions (Gender Diversity Benchmark for Asia , 2019). Literature and government reports suggest that leaky pipeline at the time of motherhood is one of the biggest reasons for this.

Keeping this is mind, a group of 12 researchers, academicians and quality experts from India, Austria, Finland and Spain joined hands together and formed a consortium under European Union’s Erasmus+ Capacity Buildingin Higher Education program with focus to explore the reasons for low participation in the active workforce, of educated women who have full time enrolment in the university system. This consortium is working for the Project RAINBOW which aims at ‘realizing aspirations, interests and brilliance of young women’ currently enrolled or alumnus of these participating universities as well as every woman in general, within the ecosystem of these universities/HEIs.

Within the aforementioned project, the consortium/experts surveyed more than 700 female students/alumni and conducted focus group discussion with about 55 subject matter experts, to explore the hurdles that women face while entering the workforce and also during career growth and development. Upon exploring the reasons from the female alumni of three Indian universities/HEIs, geographically dispersed in Northern, central and Western part of India, non-participation in the workforce, non- flexible work and other life roles like that of a daughter, daughter in law, wife, or mother emerged as majorly significant factorsto withdraw from the labour market.

Further significant outcomes were:

  • 64% of respondents believe that the job opportunities available to them were not flexible enough and
  • 8% of the participants have chosen to give priority to other life roles like marriage, motherhood, caregiver etc. over their personal career growth.

A range of key drivers that had played important roles in the decision making of the representatives of the study to start a career and/or remain in the workforce are presented thereinafter. Generally, it can be said that the study itself was well received by the participants. The 10 key drivers discussed in the study design were; growth, learning, exposure, work life balance, flexible working conditions, job security, monetary benefits, additional perks andbenefits, autonomy and fun. Out of this range of 10 key drivers, learning has been considered the most important (score of 4,60 of 5) with Growth (4,56), Exposure (4,44)and Work life balance (4,41) also having been mentioned as important. Fun (2,75) was selected as the least relevant driver.

Another question was asking about what a career means for them and the reason why professional goals fulfil them. The results indicate that many highly educated Indian women do not seek a career because of financial necessities, or to reach a higher status in society. The participating women chose financial independence (4,59 of 5) as being the most relevant for following a career, with a sense of accomplishment being rated nearly as high (4,55 of 5). Economic necessity or improved status ranked much lower.

Further, the survey tried to explore the aspirations the participating women have with regard to themselves and their own development excluding social roles and commitments such as being a daughter/mother/wife etc. While answering this question, women rated the desire to establish an identity of their own (4,6 of 5) highest, women wanted more economic freedom (4,39) and aspired to utilize their education in a better way (4,30) and want to travel and see places (4,30).

It is believed that women careers´ at times get affected by the lack of support from other members of the family.Through the implementation of study, it was identified that the most crucial social support to follow a personal career, needs to come from parents(4,68 of 5), followed by the partners of the participants (4,42 of 5). Therefore, it can be stated that the close social environment is a crucial and influential factor for the careers of women. It is followed by the peripheral social environment and societal support.

During the focus group discussion with subject matter experts performed in the frame of the Erasmus+ project RAINBOW showed that the biggest influential factor to follow a personal career for women is the work-family relationship. This factor is not only highly relevant in India but in many other societies worldwide.It is predominantly expected that women follow the traditional gender role that puts women into the role as a family care taker. This involves caring activities for children and other family members who are in need for additional care. This fact leads to the societal perception that a woman’s value in the society is defined through the family life and (unpaid) care responsibilities. This kind of gender role leads to stereotyping which puts pressure on working women to manage family life and career. As a result, women easily opt out from their careers and take over the expected societal role as a care taker. Finding affordable childcare for example creates a lot of mental stress for women, which may cause unsatisfactory job performance and, in some cases, also leaving the workplace.

In India, work and career is affected by gender stereotypes not only at the time of women´s participation in the workforce but also at an earlier stage, namely during the selection process of their field of education.

One of the participants in the survey confirmed this reality. She expressed that,

“Parents in the middle-class families of India including mine have a key role to play in choosing a career for their daughters. Mostly daughters are forced to choose a career their parents want. If the daughters want to pursue a career, not in line with parents’ choice, they have to put a lot of efforts into convincing and persuading. This is what I personally faced and I think this should change. One must have the freedom to choose one’s career.”

Research has also highlighted a unique interference in the career choice decisions of Indian females. Indian girls start thinking about their work life balance after marriage, long before they are actually married. During their college days only, they make or are culturally prepared and influenced to make career choice decisions that do support their life after marriage.

One respondent said that,
“Before taking any decision relating to my career, my parents made me think about the question that weather my future parents in law will let me continue this after the marriage. They forced me to do Chartered Accountancy as this can be done while sitting at home also after marriage. But later, they supported me in perusing MBA.”

Another woman responded that,
“It becomes difficult to find a partner for matrimonial purpose if a lady is highly qualified (like pursuing Phd etc.) as they already assume that she will not be able to carry out the daily household course in a better way.”

Further, also the division of household chores and care responsibility have gendered approach in India. Work might hold same meaning for men and women in India and in many countries of world but parenthood is different. It brings forward completely different situations and work-family adjustment related challenges for women not only in India but also in other parts of world. Motherhood is seen as an agent of discrimination in career growth.

India has recently promised third highest maternity leaves (time in weeks) in the world to the working women who choose to be mothers. Canada and Norway are ahead of India by 50 weeks and 44 weeks paid leave respectively for absence from work during motherhood. Following the enactment of the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017 (“Maternity Amendment Act”) on March 27, 2017, the law (a) extends maternity benefits to commissioning and adopting mothers, (b) mandates employers to provide crèche facilities at the establishment, (c) allows women to work from home in certain cases and (d) requires employers to inform female employees at the time of their joining on maternity benefits available to them.

The amendment protects employment of women and grants 26 weeks of paid leaves (for the first two children) as compared to 12 weeks in the past. It is expected that this amendment will benefit around 1.8 million working mothers, as it applies to both the private and the public sector. But is this quantitative gain enough to ensure inclusive workplaces in India? Will it be a change agent in improving gender parity at Indian workplaces? What Indianeeds is a change in the mind set towards working mothers, which is not easy in a patriarchal society. While some progressive companies are consciously designing gender sensitive policies, a vast majority of workplaces are yet to catch up on providing such benefits to their women employees.

Looking at women’s employment from the labour market point of view alone is not enough. We need to look at this phenomenon with the intentions of introducing a transactional as well as transformational intervention at socio- cultural, political and economic levels. Understanding differences among women is critical to crafting policy and making public investments that meet their needs and expand their choices and opportunities. Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act 2017 is a step towards this but it needs more in-depth understanding of the socio-cultural, historical, physiological and economic aspects of motherhood to fully contribute towards an innovative and sustainable workplace for future. The country’s law makers, academicians, researchers and other stakeholders have a huge task ahead of them which can only be accomplished with the combined efforts of experts who are ready for change to convince the general public.