Anita, AVP at a leading FMCG company, celebrated a very special Mother’s Day this year. She was woken up with the aroma of an amazing cup of coffee wafting into her bedroom and was led with a blindfold to the dining table where her favourite breakfast – Paneer burji and toast, made by her 2 children, 11 & 4, with surreptitious support from her spouse – was waiting for her. Later in the day, she witnessed a special dance performance (for which practice happened slyly) and closed the night with a cheerful game of Antakshari. Even though it always falls on a Sunday, this particular Mother’s Day was super special to Anita – she found her home far more welcoming, relaxing. This is her 9th week, working from home and she raises a silent thanks to an unlikely champion of remote working – the Covid19 pandemic!
And yet, for all the Anitas in India to celebrate this integration of work & life, a lot more is to be done. The silver lining that the corona virus and the subsequent lockdown brought about is a definitive argument in support of flexibility as a tool to enhance the Indian Woman Professional’s (IWP) workforce participation. How exactly does this happen?
What ails the IWP?
A survey by Avtar in 2016 showed that in India, close to 50 per cent of women professionals off ramp from their careers primarily for child bearing, child rearing and elder care. The WEF’s Global Gender Gap Index (which measures gaps that exist in economic participation of women) witnessed India take the 112th place this year, simply because over 70 lakh Indian women have dropped off the workplace. In every family, there is at least one member who is not earning to potential, simply because it is not sustainable. And it is imperative that to drive economic growth and sustainability, especially in a post-Covid world, women’s workforce participation is focused on. And every single Indian Woman Professional counts.
The symbiotic relationship between the IWP & Flexible working
Guilt and regret are some of the common ailments that plague the working woman. The constant conflict over allotment of time for work and life is a war of attrition, very literally so, in the case of the IWP. It is here that Flexibility transforms into the veritable O2 of the IWP’s career. Flexible working conditions enable working women to juggle childcare, work, familial commitments and also allows them those extra few hours for essential tasks. With lesser commute time, women stand to gain a few more hours in the day for them to apportion between their personal tasks and work-related tasks.
Gender chore gap
The Wall Street Journal places India’s gender chore gap (the difference between time spent by a man and a woman on household chores) at 333 minutes. This is amongst the highest in the world. In a pandemic situation, where both the partners are working from home, with no domestic help, we are finding a positive change in this. Many men are emerging as strong allies to their partners at homes. With a division of labour, the home care giving responsibility reduces the burden of women. And, if these habits become ingrained in every successive generation, we will see a spike in the women’s workforce participation in future.
Time to Talk
The Pandemic-induced remote working scenario has taught the corporate world that seamless work life integration is possible not only for women, but for male professionals as well. Companies were weary of allowing flexibility or remote working, fearing data infringement. Given today’s context, with very effective and efficient work-from-home solutions available from experts, organizations will feel secure in promoting flexibility for all.
Future of work for women
The pandemic has inadvertently addressed some of the unconscious biases that exist in the industry especially at the hiring table. The overwhelming thought among hiring managers that women will quit post marriage or at the altar of motherhood will be reduced considerably with a crucial enabler in the form of WFH available. Even as India Inc. adds more Diversity & Inclusion initiatives such as increased maternity leave, mandatory paternity leave, mentoring etc., the right and choice to work for women depends greatly on organizations continuing the practice of flexible working. If the learning from these times can be carried forward to business in post COVID times, it will not only help engage a larger segment of women in the workforce, it will also result in great innovation and emergence of diverse perspectives – key to handle disruptions and VUCA of the post COVID era.
And Anita will continue to celebrate many more mother’s days, without the feeling of guilt and regret. In the process, she and her sisters will add a cool INR 26 billion to India’s GDP.
The article was originally published in The Hindu. Click on the following link to access the same: Bringing more women to work