Women participation in the workforce is not only important from an organisational perspective but also from a developing economy perspective given the quantum of boost it can give to the economy.

By Rupali Kaul

India is a land of over 1.3 billion people wherein women constitute 48 per cent of the population. But it is discouraging to note that women make up just 23 per cent of India’s labour force, and according to the Economic Survey, India’s female labour force participation declined by 7.8 per cent from 33.1 per cent in 2011-12 to 25.3 per cent in 2017-18.

These numbers speak for themselves and clearly indicate the huge untapped talent pool of women for organisations to harness. Women participation in the workforce is not only important from an organisational perspective but also from a developing economy perspective given the quantum of boost it can give to the economy. In fact, according to a report published by McKinsey Global Institute in 2018, women’s contribution to India’s GDP (gross domestic product) stands at 18 per cent, one of the lowest in the world. More than 70 per cent of the potential GDP growth opportunity comes from increasing women’s participation, the report added.

Looking at the reasons why women drop off the labour force, whether it is the organised or the unorganised sector, social factors play a key role. Our society even today places the responsibility of being a breadwinner on the man of the family. And women are seen playing the role of a caregiver, taking care of the growing children or the elders, managing domestic chores and not to forget the unending emotional effort of holding the family together, courtesy the patriarchal society we live in. Hence, while navigating through the different life stages of being a daughter, wife, mother or a daughter-in-law, women often succumb to the increasing family demands, societal pressures, their own cultural conditioning and end up withdrawing from the workforce.

The 3Ms – Marriage-Maternity-Mobility often derail the careers of working women. There are a few who have a strong support system at home and at work and the determination to sail through these phases bravely, but a majority of them often look for lighter, more flexible career options or end up exiting entirely due to unavailability of a conducive work environment.

Need to empower women to return to the workforce

In the corporate world, going back to work after several years out of the workforce can seem like a daunting prospect. In these circumstances, many women are concerned that their time away will negatively impact on how they are perceived by potential employer and have doubts about the relevance of their own competencies and skill sets in the new environments. Along with that there are many other important external factors, like the lack of policies around flexi working, travel time and a sharp decline in income that women suffer after childbirth, often termed as motherhood penalty impacting the decision to return from a career break.

Hence, empowering women to return to the workforce has to be looked at from two sides:

1. Creating an enabling environment for women to return – where organisations make efforts to build an inclusive culture and infrastructure to welcome back women into the workforce.

2. Women empowering themselves to make a comeback – planning and effort from the side of the women to show their commitment and intent towards their career.

Creating an enabling environment for women to return

It is heartening to know that many organisations have started acknowledging the positive contribution women can make to the organisation and are also accepting these breaks as a natural phenomenon.

With this focus, customised returnee programmes have been a potent tool in successfully attracting women back to work. Returnee programmes are a progressive step taken by corporates, providing a formal pathway for returning women. These programmes help women reskill and offer relevant career opportunities. Many organisations have done pathbreaking work with their returnee programmes like Second Career Internship Programme (SCIP) by Tata, Springboard by Microsoft, Reconnect by Axis Bank, Career 2.0 by Genpact, Second Careers by CITI, Rekindle by Amazon to name a few.

While returnee programmes are a great platform to bridge the career gaps, they are not the only solutions for the returning women. Organisations have realised that they need to work on integrating the returning women into the workplace by creating an enabling architecture and processes. This could be in the form of supportive infrastructure at work in the form of day care facility, creches, feeding rooms for young mothers or flexible work options and policies focussing on the transitioning life cycle stages of women.

A strong representation of women in the leadership and Role Models can be a great motivation for returning professionals and thereby ensure a larger sensitivity to the demands of women.

Sensitization amongst managers and team members to positively orient them for the cause of returnees is another important part of building an inclusive ecosystem for them. Making employees aware of the biases, stereotypes that work against returnees and embracing a positive mindset are critical for long lasting success of any such initiative.

While organisations make these efforts, it is important for organisations to position themselves as employers of choice in the relevant Talent pool, making it known that they welcome women who have been on a break and value the power of returning women professionals. Creating that kind of social standing which promotes women employees and showcases its policies and practices will attract returning women and will help the tribe grow.

Some of the social factors that are at play as women return to work may be beyond an organisation’s reach, but they can increase the conversations around safe places to work, for everyone. Having robust policies for the prevention of sexual harassment can be a key here.

Women empowering themselves to make a comeback

While changes in the HR policy make a significant difference, proper preparation on the part of women can ensure smooth transition back into working life. It is important for them to refresh their skills and update themselves with relevant developments in their fields to hit the ground running. This can be an excellent way to demonstrate their commitment towards their career to potential employers.

Women need to leverage the power of creating lasting connections. Maintaining relationships with employers and colleagues during a break is an excellent way to make an eventual return to the workforce simpler. Taking the time to keep in touch with your co-workers gives you the professional network that could lead to your next role.

Today, building visibility on social media is another strong tool that women can leverage to build their personal brand. Voicing and sharing their opinions and thoughts on relevant topics, writing articles, will help keep them relevant.

Taking these small steps go a long way to re-establish their strengths and regain their confidence to make a return.

Hence, increased sensitivity on this topic, sustained efforts along with the right intent from returning women is all we need to bring about comprehensive societal change to create more inclusive and equitable workplaces for women.

We all, as a part of the society, have a role to play in changing mindsets, creating awareness, fighting stereotypes and in the process enabling women to take charge and become a part of the workforce and the economy, which will truly be a win-win for all.

The author, Rupali Kaul, is Operations Head at Marching Sheep.

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed are solely of the author and ETHRWorld does not necessarily subscribe to it. ETHRWorld will not be responsible for any damage caused to any person or organisation directly or indirectly.