Women hold the key to the nation's prosperity

Paul Dupuis Mar 11 2018, 21:59 IST
Female boss shows presentation on screen at business meeting

It is a promise that evokes hope and optimism, even in the midst of critics that point out how much better the situation can be. While women are responsible for contributing 17% to India's GDP presently, their potential to add to her economic growth story is immense.

According to the ILO, India's GDP can go up by $1 trillion, if the participation of women in the workforce goes up by 25%. The IMF states that proportionate representation by women in the workforce can boost the Indian economy by 275 - a staggering $2.9 trillion by 2025, according to the McKinsey Institute.

The message is clear. More than any other country in the world, India has the most to gain by closing the gender gap. The impact will be profound and tangible if India were to shift women towards the centre of the discussion on development and economic growth in the country.

Breaking down the barriers

True, the figures from the World Economic Forum's latest Global Gender Gap Report on Indian women's participation in the workforce €" in terms of overall representation and wages €" are not very encouraging. However, if we are to move ahead, we need to address the root causes and implement corrective actions.

The top priority is finding an equitable mechanism to address the pressing issue of work-life balance. An Assocham survey showed that 25-30% of Indian women quit their jobs after having their first child. Though a plan to return is contemplated, many do not follow through, owing to the fear of not being presented with the opportunities commensurate with their skills and experience. While the recent act to double maternity leave to 26 weeks and mandatory childcare should improve things greatly, a holistic approach to addressing the concerns of several qualified professionals aiming to return to the workforce must be put in place. A good starting point could be the scope of paternity leave and discussions around flexible working schedules.

Another issue is a gender gap in access to technology. The right to technology is an important one, as lack of access is detrimental in an increasingly digitalised world. For women entrepreneurs, easy access to technology can open doors to resources that are crucial to running a successful business. They need information about markets, banking services and online learning opportunities. Investment in women's digital literacy is therefore critical to closing the gender gap and raising India's participative economic development.

That brings us to the all-important factor of recognising the potential of India's women as entrepreneurs €" one that can be a veritable game-changer for the nation's economy. A study by Ernst & Young asserts that women entrepreneurs are powerful job creators who outperform their male counterparts. Established and successful women entrepreneurs emphasise the need to provide their budding counterparts with confidence, capability and access to capital.

The government's 'Stand Up India' and MUDRA initiatives that have enabled close to 75 million women with training and access to loans are indeed a step in the right direction. Women entrepreneurs need to be provided with an enabling framework that includes mentors, access to new markets and innovative financial services. With the right tools and support, women can transform their fledgeling enterprises into thriving businesses.

Tackling pay inequality

Confronting the brutal facts; According to WEF's 'Global Gender Gap Report €" 2017', India has seemingly gone backwards when it comes to ensuring gender-wage parity. However, the difference seems to stem more from the state of labour force participation than from actual gender pay bias. Men outnumber women by almost 4.5X when it comes to high-skilled jobs.

That being said, it does not take away the urgency with which India Inc should address this anomaly. Market-determined benchmarks that map out the median, upper and lower compensation bands for different roles and functions can be used in lieu of the practice of asking candidates their salary history. Technology, in the form of assessment platforms to determine the wage quadrant based on capabilities, can be effectively leveraged to level the playing field. Such a move to a capability-based and matrix-oriented compensation discovery structure will correct 'historical' biases that place women at a disadvantage regarding compensation.

Towards a more conducive work environment

The strengths that a woman brings to the table are multi-faceted. They range from significant emotional intelligence to a precision-focused and process-oriented approach, strong problem-solving skills and empathetic human equations. Organisations must learn to recognise and celebrate the different manners in which women weave these desirable behaviours into the workplace. Designing an environment conducive to the needs and requirements of the modern age working woman is not an activity to sign off on a checklist, it makes tremendous business sense.

Inclusive policies that are sensitive to women should be an integral part of the organization's vision. Rewards, recognition and progression opportunities must eliminate gender bias. Additionally, well-planned rejoining programmes that help employees, in general, reorient to the demands of corporate life will also serve the woman's cause as well.

Sallie Krawcheck, the author of "Own it" presents diversity as the effective antidote to what she terms insidious groupthink. Diversity, she says means "Diversity of opinion. Diversity of perspective. Diversity of background. Diversity of disposition. Diversity of experience. Diversity of education. Diversity of orientation. Diversity of skin colour. And diversity of gender."

It's not about creating a woman-first environment. A truly great organisation embraces diversity and ensures a level playing field and progressive policies that are applied equally to men and women. Mere flexibility is not the only answer, and it only serves to over-simplify the discussion. We know that diverse teams are stronger teams. Welcoming, and encouraging women to add to this diversity is the way forward.

(The writer is MD and CEO of Randstad India)

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