Rigid working hours and lack of remote working options are among the factors that historically kept numerous women away from the job market in the pre-Covid era. But, with the pandemic nudging even some of the relatively conservative organisations to consider work-from-home (WFH) models, will India Inc see more women joining the workforce?

Leading corporates, gender diversity advocates and staffing solution companies answer with a resounding “Yes”.

“Women have a great chance of making a comeback, as there are a lot of women who are talented and can multitask, but are sitting at home due to personal reasons,” said Kaustubh Sonalkar, President - HR of Essar Group and CEO of Essar Foundation. “I think this is going to be an opportunity for them to start working from home and also look out for part-time jobs.”

Inclusive workforce

Salesforce, a cloud-based CRM giant with over 2,000 employees in India, said it is committed to bringing more women back into the workforce to strengthen its inclusive culture.

“As more and more companies are allowing employees to work from home permanently, it has created favourable circumstances and opened multiple opportunities for women to restart their career while catering to their personal commitments,” said Nidhi Arora, Director- People at S&P Global India.

“In India, women were not actively considered for night shift jobs citing safety concerns. But, overnight, all such excuses have been taken away and now they are eligible for all kinds of jobs,” said Subha V Barry, President of US-based Working Mother Media. “There are broader mega trends that are coming up as a result of Covid and I think more and more women are now going to secure employment.”

Can WFH help companies bridge the gender gap ? Vipul Singh, Divisional Vice-President and Head of HR at ADP India, has a different take. “Women do not drop out of work only because they are not allowed to come to the office. It’s also because there is a period of time in their life where there is a social, physiological and personal need for them to compromise,” Singh said, adding, “That is why WFH is becoming more successful — there is a social as well as organisational construct to support people who are working from home.”

Noting that women participation in the workforce has gone down from around 35 per cent to 25 per cent in the last two years, Subramanyam S, founder and CEO of Ascent HR, a cloud-based human capital management solutions company, said it is now bound to go up. The disparity in wages itself will be one of the key drivers for greater women participation in the workforce, he added.

Wage factor

“Wages of women are more than 20 per cent less than men, which is a disadvantage to the women but a cost advantage to the industry,” Subramanyam said. “With companies and entrepreneurs trying to cut costs where possible, they will use all kinds of methods to make this work.”

Subramanyam further said there is a possibility of industries moving towards flexi hours or outcome-based employment, which will open up more jobs for women since employers need not comply with minimum wage norms for such jobs.

Industry experts also believe that WFH has opened up a huge opportunity for women wanting to make a second career.

“I think organisations’ bias towards women looking for a second career with greater flexibility has broken now because they have realised that women, particularly those wanting a second career, will be able to do their jobs from home now onwards,” said Saundarya Rajesh, social entrepreneur and founder-President of Avtar Group.

Prasad Nelliparthi, CHRO at Matrimony.com, said: “The post Covid situation opens more opportunities for women. We will continue to drive and take new initiatives to attract and employ more women besides drawing women looking for a second career. We are going to recruit them with the option of remote working/WFH.”