Flexi powers the economy

Saundarya Rajesh | Updated on March 12, 2018 Published on October 03, 2013

LF04_FLEXI3   -  The Hindu

Sudha (name changed) first wrote to me last year with a sense of urgency: “I am finding it difficult to balance work and home, and am wondering if I should look at a flexi-time assignment.” My organisation, FLEXI Careers India, assessed her profile and recommended a few roles suited to her. However, Sudha did not manage to find a job of her choice. Neither her existing employer nor potential ones were willing to provide the flexibility Sudha so badly needed.

Soon, the inevitable happened: Sudha, General Manager - Customer Care for a leading telecom company, turned into a dismal statistic — she was out of the workforce.

Stories like that of Sudha highlight the limited and poor choices that working women have in India. From age 26 to nearly 40, a majority of the women plod along carrying the double burden of career-pursuer and primary caregiver; and make no doubt, when something has got to give, it is the work persona that is eliminated on the altar of wifehood and motherhood.

The IMF’s latest report on women titled ‘Women, Work and the Economy — Macroeconomic Gains from Gender Equity’ describes the tremendous economic gains that accrue to a country simply by including more women in its workplaces. It proves beyond doubt that a guaranteed means for a higher GDP is the employment of more women. Of the 865 million women worldwide who can contribute to their respective economies, says the report, over 812 million live in emerging and developing nations.

In India, just 9.8 million women populate the organised workforce — an abysmal 24 per cent of the women who live in urban areas and have the potential to pursue revenue generating activities. Each year, close to 48 per cent of all women under the age of 30 quit the workforce citing work-life imbalance. Over 18 per cent leave presumably never to return. The difference between women’s workforce participation rate and that of men is a clear 50 per cent — a figure that consigns us bleakly at the bottom of the Human Development Index. In 2011 the country ranked 134th (out of 187 countries) with HDI of 0.547. It ranked 56th out of 86 in the 2012 Social Institutions and Gender Index. The Global Gender Gap Index rating for 2011 is 0.6190, placing the country in the 113th place (out of 135 countries).

While the statistics provide no joy, there is however greater acceptance that more women are needed in the workplace. Companies such as Hindustan Unilever, Cadbury, Microsoft, Deutsche Bank Group, P&G, Kotak Bank, Goldman Sachs, Accenture, IBM, Standard Chartered Group and others have charted new avenues to increase women’s workforce participation. The need for more women in the workplace as a solution to almost all problems that women as a group face in our country is a truth that cannot be overstated. Policies surrounding sexual harassment, maternity counselling, mentoring and leadership grow in importance as has been witnessed by these organisations.

And that is not all. Research by IMF and other economists shows that the economic growth of a country is largely determined by the wellbeing of its families which, in turn, underscores the importance of women. At a time when several countries are waking up to the truth that women are, and will be, a key determinant of growth, India still has a lot of groundwork to do.

Among the enablers seen critical to unleashing the full potential and power of women’s workforce participation, the paramount ones are flexible working solutions, skill-building initiatives for greater inclusion of women, and career re-entry programmes for women. Interestingly, these are even greater career-enablers for married women.

Brazil is a shining example of what these enablers can accomplish. Up from 45 per cent, Brazil achieved 60 per cent workforce participation of women in 2011, primarily driven by married women and women with children. Apart from robust reforms to provide resources to women, Brazil also mandated 120 days’ paid leave for mothers-to-be. With policies targeting both urban and rural women, Brazil has narrowed the gender labour gap to 21 per cent, rocketing it to the 8th position in the Social Institutions and Gender Index 2012. Needless to mention, the country’s GDP eminently reflects the positive change.

The change in India has to take place at all levels — government, business, industry and society. Young girls still grow up in a society that does not acknowledge their right to earn. One more woman contributing to the country’s GDP does make a difference. Take Sudha’s word for it.

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Published on October 03, 2013
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