Last year, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) reported that Indian “Women constitute just over a fifth [22.5%] of the organised sector workforce. They are mostly to be found in the unorganized sector, marked by poor wages, poor quality of work and absence of social protection of any kind.”
This news, which was published in an article in the Times of India, stated that “According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), out of 131 countries for which data was available, India ranks 11th from the bottom in female labour force participation (FLFP). In fact, the National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) data reveals falling FLFP from over 40% in the mid-1990s, to 29% in 2004-05, to 23% in 2009-10 and 22.5% by 2011-12.”
The article elaborated,“The proportion of women in private sector companies is 24.5% of the total workforce compared to just 17.9% of the public sector. In central government jobs, women accounted for 7.6% in 1991, which, almost two decades later, had touched just 10%.”
As observers of human resource and employment trends, we feel India needs to evolve substantially to bridge this gender skew in the country’s workforce. Employers need to open up to new ways of valuing workforce talent, while, to lead by example, government offices and agencies have to open their doors to welcome women with skills, education and work experience that match the traditionally-skewed intake of male candidates during recruitment.
Moreover, as employers from public and private sectors review their organisation’s human resource and labour management policies regarding hiring women into their workforce or managing issues such as women on maternity leave or discriminations against women at work, Indian society in general needs to reconsider the social and moral mores that have dictated the roles women were, and are, expected to play at home and at work for the few who are employed.
There was a time when educated Indian women became teachers. Teaching was – and still is – considered a noble profession and safe for women.And, although an Indian woman’s rightful place was at home with her family, a school teacher daughter or daughter-in-law or wife was socially acceptable. Many women made careers out of teaching, usually in schools (hardly ever in colleges and universities), and often contributed much-needed cash to the family’s earnings.
This was a typical story in middle-class or upper middle-class Indian families and, no matter how educated or ambitious the woman was, as professions go, there was not much on offer besides a teaching profession. Well, perhaps, practising as a doctorwas an option (which, of course, required a different stream of education altogether).However, over the years, as women became more educated, teaching in schools was no longer an attractive proposition for them; they sought out jobs with greater prestige and higher pay which, until then, were entirely in the realm of Indian men.
With an interesting anecdote about finding her place in the Indian corporate world when she was being considered for a job in PriceWaterhouseCoopers in 1977, Naina LalKidwai, Immediate Past President of FICCI and Head of HSBC India and Director of HSBC’s Asia Pacific Region,illustrates the birth of this new Indian womanand the handicap she had to overcome. Here’s an excerpt from that interview with the Wall Street Journal’s India Real Time:
“I was the first of three women there. When I interviewed with them they told me that I met all the parameters and everything they required, but they just had never hired women before. At that point, they said they had to think about it and weren’t sure. It was very frustrating. I remember at the time feeling really cross and how unfair things were.
I went through all the arguments with them. I was very persistent and I finally got the job. Clearly they also figured the time had come to make that step and they hired three of us.
Once I got the job, I knew I had to succeed because I felt I was wearing the badge for all womankind. If they didn’t take women in the next year, it’s because I had failed. I was an experiment and it put a lot of pressure on me. As a result, I’ve learned to have a fighting spirit.”
Fortunately for Indian women, a lot has changed since the seventies. For starters, many industries have opened their doors to hiring women. Today, it’s not difficult to find women in industries such as banking, finance and insurance, media, PR and advertising, IT and IT-enabled services, travel and hospitality services, retail, healthcare, education, law, publishing (both print and digital), marketing, social services,human resource consulting and in general management roles in business.
Today, in spite of the worrisome 22.5% figure that the ILO reported for women in the Indian workforce, there are many more women corporate VPs and directors, doctors, lawyers, judges, police officers, accountants, architects, journalists, entrepreneurs, authors, filmmakers, photographers, musicians and teachers that we know of or see around us. We believe there are many more career opportunities for Indian women today than there was before.
We believe Indian women are beginning to find their rightful place alongside men in the Indian workforce. And, like Naina LalKidwai, gradually, they will fill Indian corporate boardrooms too.