Women, worldwide, have long been oppressed, suppressed, discriminated, exploited and prejudiced against in all spheres of corporate and personal life. History is replete with instances where the women have given way for men to achieve greater glory, prosperity and stardom while recusing themselves to household chores to nurture, raise and protect a family.
However, things are changing fast in this domain. Over the last few decades, few bold women broke the mould and challenged status quo. These women have taken charge and raised their voices for equal opportunity. The most recent is the #MeToo campaign that bought the exploitation and unequal opportunity status of women to the Oscar centerstage for the world to see.
Women have transformed themselves — and what a transformation it has been. For instance, top Indian banks have women in leadership positions. The glass ceiling has been dented and being broken day in day out, globally and locally.
The society is more receptive towards the needs, eco-system, laws and environment required for the women to confidently and securely perform and grow in her professional role, while being compassionate for her dual role towards the family, child bearing and rearing responsibilities, her biological needs and well-being and the important role she needs to play in her personal life as well.
However, in a bid to absorb women into the work culture the adjustments being made is making them more unequal which, in turn may be pushing them, inadvertently, towards unemployment – purely from cost basis.
The fight of women has always been for equal opportunity and equal status in society. However, many recent changes, suo moto incentives by corporates, including the recent progressive 26-week maternity leave, though the step in right direction, coupled with various other requirements may be putting women at a disadvantage.
Enough has been written on the fact that 26-week maternity leave is a significant cost in a small and medium enterprise where the manpower (and womanpower) is numbered, restricted and any absenteeism is immediately felt and affects output. The study indicates that such measure would further limit the already declining female workforce in the system as not all entrepreneurs are ready to take up this cost without any tangible benefit to their enterprise.
The Economist pegs that the missing 235 million women workforce, if brought into the employment arena, could easily impact the democracy by a positive 27 per cent which in turn will have a cascading affect on better families, more educated children, more number of females opting for better investments decisions to secure their future and bigger say in the economy. The main reason for India’s missing workforce is the conservative nature of Indian families, the social belief and non-acceptance of women working from well-to-do-families and the automation of jobs largely done by women, especially in the agriculture sector.
Bachi Karkaria, an eminent journalist, points out – diversity vs the bottom line, we need to extend the much-wanted holistic approach here too. Make corporates part of the bigger picture playing their role in forging a happier fulfilled society. Corporate Societal responsibility can begin closer to home.
Many places, an unwritten thumb rule is at works where, considering the “indirect costs” associated with employing a woman, a women should be at least 25 per cent more efficient/ knowledgeable/better than their male counterparts to be employed in mid to small companies into strategic positions.
Women, however, feel that this is an issue of mindset and the women in workplace provide the much-needed emotional quotient (EQ) in addition to the intelligence quotient (IQ), and a completely different perspective — something the male counterparts cannot even comprehend as they don’t have the insights on women stakeholders and customers.
“Women bring not just IQ but EQ to the table, a completely different perspective that is invaluable to today’s business environment” tweeted Tina Ambani while lauding the group’s focused efforts that has improved their diversity ratio significantly.
Some believe that active dislike for women and the diversity they bring in , not apathy, is what’s keeping women away from workplace, something that will not change in hurry. Most women are not hired as they are in child bearing age, feel this set of women commentators.
So what can be done to improve employability while maintaining costs and yet providing safer work environment for women employees: For one, the mandatory women director on board of companies needs to now get involved and drive the diversity agenda.
The government did good by incentivising registration of property in the name of women but reducing taxes and government fees. Such incentives can be extended to companies and MSMEs, in slabs, based on their employment ratio of women in the workforce e.g. a 1 per cent income tax incentive for every 10 per cent women representation will not only encourage women in employment but also help them get employment in formal economy. This cost can go towards creating a better safer and women friendly workplace for the employees
The law needs to be updated when it comes to all women workforce in any setup. In a competitive environment, it makes no sense to force women to leave at (say) 5.30pm especially in new-age non-physical-exertion-oriented non-manufacturing businesses. Let them decide.
The Vishakha committee, mandated in every company to tackle issues of preventing sexual harassment, have not been able to gain the confidence of women employees in most cases. They are still seen as an extension of management, with HR heads part of the committee, rather than independent and impartial committee present to help women employees.
The law already mandates reporting of all cases in the annual report of companies. However, what happens in cases where the employee chooses to use the social media option without reporting the case to the employer while in service.
Guilty till proven innocent – this informal guideline that makes it very easy for any women employee to cry wolf and levy allegations leave a lot of scope for manipulation and arm twisting on their counterparts. The allegations may be true in most cases, but wherever they are found to be malicious, the damage is already done without recourse. This tough balancing act needs some finetuning.
When working in teams, the women are sometimes at a disadvantage owing to safety restrictions. It should be best left to the employee and the teams to facilitate equal contribution and learning opportunities. The focus should be on safety but equal focus should be on making them future leaders with equal responsibility and experience.
Women in India already fight a huge battle to become successful against heavy odds. However, the road to the successful journey will be made tough if the cost of employing women will be made higher along the way. The environment has to evolve to give women their rightful place in the society and workforce.
(The writer is a media strategist)