Despite rapid economic growth, India still lags behind in terms of gender inclusivity within the workforce. According to a report by ASSOCHAM, the female labour force participation (FLFP) rate in India fell by almost 10% in the past decade. The report also states that the country records the lowest FLFP rate among other BRICS nations, with only 24% women comprising the female labour force. One of the biggest reasons for such numbers lies in the fact that most Indian women are compelled to leave their thriving careers post marriage or motherhood. However, in the process, society fails to realise the huge loss that this exodus poses to the Indian economy, and how, if given the right workplace fixes, these women can contribute to and accelerate India's GDP.
Most Indian women are compelled to leave their thriving careers post marriage or motherhood... society fails to realise the huge loss that this exodus poses to the Indian economy.
Let us explore how workplaces in India can be transformed to help women restart their careers post motherhood:
1. Project/target-based work options
The ability to work flexibly and be judged on deliverables is something that many people have begun to ask for these days in order to achieve work-life balance—which in our hyper-connected world is not unimaginable. Employers have begun to realise that a 40/60/80-hour work-week can result in a lack of productivity in the long run, and does nothing for either the workplace or the home. In fact, it probably destroys both slowly, over time.
Another great solution is to hire mums to work part-time hours or find roles where two or more people could job-share. As part-time workers, mums value time and are very efficient at managing their time spent at work because they give up a lot to get there, and so, make it count.
The reasoning for the eight-hour workday as we have come to know it, has its historical roots in the American Industrial Revolution. It was implemented to give factory workers a fair and healthy lifestyle of "8 hours work –8 hours leisure –8 hours sleep", instead of the 10-16 hour workdays that they were dealing with before.
Maybe it's time to revisit the drawing board for the modern working world and the accompanying difficulties it poses to women who are returning to work and need to ease back in gently.
2. Developing a culture of awareness and support
A key requirement is training for HR departments and senior management to help create a culture of awareness and support for working mothers, women returning to work after their maternity break, people with ailing elders in their families, people with disabled family members for whom they are a primary caregiver, and also people who suffer from a chronic ailment themselves, which may require time-outs every now and then.
Companies that provide on-site day-care or crèche facilities, where parents can check on their kids at different times of the day, are valued and win immense employee loyalty.
Many women would love to return to work within six months of having their babies, but may require discreet facilities like a lactation room, instead of using the general women's bathroom for this vital and immensely beneficial service to their children. Such a facility may also be used for days when an employee isn't doing so well and doesn't want to waste an entire day at home, but instead just needs a little pick-me-up rest from a migraine or a cramp.
Developing a culture of support within your organisation ensures that employees are helping each other reach goals and targets as a team in every way, building your bottom line and growing your company from strength to strength.
3. Adequate and empathetic leave/time off
Women, and increasingly men, want to spend quality time with their families, without compromising on their work or feel like they are neglecting either. By implementing and ensuring that employees access benefits like paid maternity/paternity leave (six months or more), sick-leave (for self or children or elder, dependent family members), and medical insurance, in addition to vacation time and mandatory holidays, companies will see a significant positive in the quality of an employee's work.
Being able to attend to one's family when they need you, stress-free from workplace accusations or judgements, enables a person to give their work all the attention it deserves when on the clock.
4. Childcare facilities
Children, to their parents, are more precious than anything else. To entrust them to the care of someone else is nerve-wracking. Companies that provide on-site day-care or crèche facilities, where parents can check on their kids at different times of the day, are valued and win immense employee loyalty.
Indian companies should not lose well-educated, highly skilled, good female employees by being reticent to employ family-friendly policies and benefits that cost almost negligibly in the long run.
Alternatively, companies that provide ample childcare benefits, which would enable a parent to leave their child at a reputed, competent and well-staffed day-care facility, would retain that employee—happy and productive—far longer than those that don't.
5. Training, retraining and remaining in constant touch
Most of us love what we do. However, our world is galloping ahead minute by minute, and it's nearly impossible to keep up. By investing in constant training and retraining to help employees keep up and stay in touch with new technologies and smart-tools to make their workloads easier to manage, faster to accomplish and their results higher quality, companies also keep their workforce engaged, challenged and happy. Women, as much as men, want to be recognised for a job well done and they want to know that they have done all that they can to achieve that.
Indian companies should not lose well-educated, highly skilled, good female employees by being reticent to employ family-friendly policies and benefits that cost almost negligibly in the long run. Organisations have to realise that Indian women are generally the primary caregivers at home and while they enjoy coming to work to do a job that they love, that job will almost always lose out to the people they love, if forced to choose.
Let's not have to choose—let's do it all.