When Pavithra Sudhan, an IT professional, was pregnant with her first child in mid-2000s, she only had 84 days of paid maternity leave. She took another three months of unpaid leave and had to quit, as getting approval to work from home was a huge process.

Five years later, things have changed for the better. But going by statistics, there is a lot more that needs to be done to improve women’s participation in the workforce.

According to World Bank data, women workforce fell from 35 per cent in 1990 to 27 per cent in 2014. India is ranked 130 in terms of gender-equality index. Indian women’s contribution to GDP is 17 per cent as against the global average of 37 per cent.

Changing policies

It is with this understanding that companies are trying to retain and attract female workforce by changing policies to accommodate their changing needs.

Now, six-months paid maternity leave and work-from-home option have become the norm.

To ensure that female employees on maternity leave are considered on a par with other employees for promotion and career development opportunities, they are evaluated based on their performance during the period they were working.

But that is not all. There are more on the anvil. Tata Sons unveiled new policies that address various stages that women face — childbirth, early childhood care, flexible work timings, and care for the elderly.

These include seven months of paid maternity leave, 18 months of flexible work timings after childbirth, and weekly twice work-from-home option. There is a provision of six months leave for adoption and surrogacy. At ICICI Bank, employees undergoing fertility treatment can get 180 days off from work. Women employees and single fathers can get 36 days paid adoption leave each year till the child attains the age of two years. This is in addition to the six-month paid maternity leave for women.

The bank has introduced iWork@home programme, wherein the women employees can extend their work-from-home option beyond one year.

Coca-Cola India has a Crèche Support policy that gives freedom to the employee to select a crèche of their choice for their children and reimburse annual costs from the company.

Safety and security of women is another factor India Inc is paying attention to. While ferrying employees in late-night shifts has always been there, special attention is being given to women employees who work beyond 8 pm.

ICICI Bank has deployed iTravelSafe application, which has a panic button and tracker. The bank has also put in place a Quick Response Team to respond to women in distress, which is currently available in Mumbai, Delhi and Hyderabad. The team includes a driver, a security officer and guard on duty throughout the day at the given locations.

Other facilities

Ashwin Shirali, Vice-President — Talent & Culture, AccorHotels India, said, “Women who work between 8 pm and 6 am, can avail themselves of company arranged transport.”

Many start-ups too are following suit. Sriram Manoharan, Founder of Start-up Contus, said that in addition to travel arrangements, they are constantly evaluating needs of women employees and are more open to changing policies to bring gender diversity.

Efforts are slowly beginning to bear fruit. Companies are seeing an increase in participation of women in the workforce and improved retention rate, though not significantly.