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Wanted: women workers, distance no bar

Rakhee Roytalukdar | Updated on May 18, 2021

Workplace balance: In India, work from home has increased female representation across key sectors   -  ISTOCK.COM

Companies are investing in remote talent to promote workplace diversity

* Work from home has increased opportunities for women, especially for those looking to re-enter the workforce

* Half of 150 plus companies which took part in a March 2021 survey said they would hire more women in the first quarter of the year than they did in this period last year

* A survey in October 2020 by LinkedIn stated that female workforce participation increased in Indian companies from 30 per cent in April to 37 per cent in July 2020

* The LinkedIn survey showed that women were 26 per cent more likely to apply for remote jobs than men

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It’s been a long year for office goers who have been itching to see their work desks again. But not everybody is complaining. Bengaluru-based Sneha Shinde certainly isn’t. Shinde, who rejoined work on a digital platform after a career break last year, says that if there is an upside to the pandemic raging across the country, it is the fact that it allows her to work from home (WFH).

Shinde, mother of a toddler, points out that because of WFH, she can take care of her child and work for the digital platform at the same time.

“In pre-Covid-19 times, WFH would have been unimaginable. But Covid-19 has been a great leveller in terms of work and gender parity. Flexible work hours have come as a boon for me,” she says.

As WFH becomes the norm, more and more organisations are looking at hiring women. About 50 per cent of 150 plus companies — multinationals, large companies, high growth start-ups and early age start-ups — which took part in a March 2021 survey said they would hire more women in the first quarter of the year than they did in this period last year.

The survey conducted by Bengaluru-based Scaler, an ed-tech start-up focussed on up-skilling students and tech professionals, also found that companies were investing in remote talent to attract a diverse workforce and promote workplace diversity.

One of the key findings of the survey was that WFH had increased opportunities for women, especially for those looking to re-enter the workforce. It found that companies were willing to pay a premium for women workers with the right knowledge and experience in digital skills.

“WFH is no longer seen in a negative light,” says Scaler co-founder Abhimanyu Saxena. “Before the pandemic, most organisations were not comfortable with their employees, especially women, working from home. But that has changed significantly. Apart from pure technology companies, others in the space of ed-tech, health-tech, e-commerce, food delivery, frozen foods and gig-economy have flourished. All these sectors are allowing women to re-enter the workforce and are paying them well.”

Companies, clearly, have seen over the past one year that the quality of work is not affected by remote talent — as employees working in places away from traditional office environments are called.

Saxena’s company, too, has seen a significant growth in women techies enrolling on its platform to upgrade their skills. “Our women-to-men ratio beginning 2020 was 10:90. Within a year that has grown to 20:80. Seeing the interest, we have started a unique initiative targeted towards young women engineering students and professionals, allowing them to find career growth and development opportunities.”

The new normal

The new WHF normal is particularly significant in India. Social customs and family obligations have often forced women to leave their jobs, as being away from home for long hours is not always feasible for those who have children or the elderly to take care of. But the pandemic has opened up many avenues for them now that they have the flexibility and opportunity to work from anywhere.

Saxena says while Scaler does not have a specific break-up on the kind of industries hiring women, it has seen that almost all sectors and business industries are open to people working from homes.

He elaborates that the WFH policy differs from company to company. “MNCs and large companies have adopted a hybrid workplace model or are in the process of transition. However, early-stage startups continue to prefer the in-premise workplace model, citing collaboration challenges. But after a successful WFH and remote working experiment, more and more companies are now confident about hiring remote talent to access a larger talent pool. The top roles in demand are software developers, data scientists, web and mobile application developers and UI/UX designers.”

A survey in October 2020 by LinkedIn, the US-based business and employment oriented online service, stated that female workforce participation increased in Indian companies from 30 per cent in April to 37 per cent in July 2020, although India lagged behind developed countries in women in the workforce trajectory in 2020. The other key finding was that in India gender parity had improved across many industries as female representation grew by 8 per cent across corporate services, education, health care and media and communications.

“In India, work from home has certainly boosted gender parity and emerged as a great equaliser in terms of gender diversity with increase in female representation across key sectors,” writes Pei Ying Chua, APAC lead economist, Economic Graph team at LinkedIn, about the survey conducted in India. “The lockdown, which prompted acceptance of the work from home concept supported by flexible work hours, has emerged as an opportunity for women to rebuild their careers and start afresh.”

Bengaluru-based Sapna Upadhaya, who rejoined work in the pandemic after her maternity leave, agrees. “The pandemic has forced corporates to rethink flexible work arrangements. We have seen that with technologies like e-mail, video meetings, e-sign, etc, it is possible to carry out most, if not all, work outside the physical confines of the office,” she says.

She would have found it difficult to continue with her job if she had to commute to work, Upadhaya adds. “I decided on rejoining work as flexi hours enabled me to shoulder many more personal responsibilities. And I am happy with the pay.”

The software and IT sector, where remote working is easy, has seen an increasing number of women who had earlier left their jobs because of household and family compulsions re-entering the workforce. The LinkedIn survey showed that women were 26 per cent more likely to apply for remote jobs than men.

Another survey by Price Waterhouse Cooper had earlier found that although women who had taken a career break were keen to return to work, they often found themselves under-employed and lowly paid when they re-entered the workforce, as their employers thought they would need more time after the career gap to renew their contacts and network. The survey found that many women said they would want to return to work if they are given flexi working opportunities and hence could add to the state’s economy with their increased spending power.

Clearly, for thousands of women, the times — however difficult — carry hope.

Rakhee Roytalukdar is an independent journalist based in Jaipur

Published on May 18, 2021

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