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How India Inc is trying to become more inclusive

An egalitarian effort
Last Updated : 06 May 2022, 08:49 IST

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India Inc is trying to narrow the gender gap in its workforce and become more inclusive by unveiling new benefits such as menstrual leaves, gender-neutral parental offs and even payment for nanny services. It is also retraining its leaders to fight unconscious biases and introducing programmes to create opportunities for women who have taken a career break.

The measures are much needed as Asia’s No. 3 economy has consistently scored poorly in the World Economic Forum’s global gender-gap rankings and lagged most of the world on vital metrics such as the female labour force participation rate. Even though women account for about half of India’s population of 1.39 billion, India’s FLFPR is staggeringly low at 18.6%, among the lowest in the world.

To make things worse, more women seem to have dropped out of India’s workforce during the Covid-19 pandemic. Data from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy showed last week that millions of Indians, particularly women, are leaving the labour force entirely. About 21 million women left the workforce between 2017 and 2022 even as the overall labour participation rate dropped from 46% to 40%.

To boost opportunities for women who have taken a career break, IT behemoth Wipro Ltd has launched an initiative called “Begin Again” and the Indian arm of rival Accenture has a programme named “Career Reboot”.

“From our conversations with those who have joined, we have learnt that they took a career break for different reasons - childcare, eldercare, medical reasons being the more common ones,” Wipro Chief Culture Officer Sunita Rebecca Cherian told DH.

The companies acknowledged that just hiring more women won’t solve the inclusion problem. “Just hiring more women is not enough, we need to build a culture of equality by continuing to invest in their development and creating enabling structures that help women stay in the workforce. This could include benefits like flexi-work options, childcare support and other caregiving enablement, or deliberate efforts to sensitise people managers and other decision makers so as to eliminate any unconscious bias,” said Lakshmi C, Managing Director and Lead - HR, Accenture India, which aims to have a gender-balanced workforce by 2025.

Some others such as conglomerate ABB India have introduced a gender-neutral parental programme which allows both parents to be present with their newborn or adoptive child under three years of age.

This also covers LGBTQ couples, cohabiting partners, adoptive and surrogacy-commissioning parents. Each ABB employee, who is a primary caregiver, can avail 26 weeks of parental leave while the secondary caregiver will be entitled to 4 weeks.

Some others such as startup ShareChat have gone a step further and decided to cover their women employees’ nanny expenses of Rs 7,000 per child up to the age of six. It also provides special leave allowances for childcare, fertility, adoption, and miscarriages.

Department chain Shoppers Stop has introduced a menstrual-leave policy for its customer-care associates, allowing them to take 12 days of annual paid leave over and above their privileged and sick leaves.

Automaker Volvo group is also creating more opportunities for women professionals on a break of one year and more through its “Excelher” programme.

“We also annually audit the hiring data for gender compensation parity,” Amit Sharma, Vice President & Head, Volvo Group India told DH.

Some in sectors traditionally dominated by men are also trying to be more inclusive.

India’s largest aluminium producer Vedanta recently welcomed transgender professionals into its workforce. The Indian Machine Tool Manufacturers’ Association (IMTMA) has started training programmes exclusively for women to increase their number in their companies.

The tech sector is leading the diversity and inclusion race, according to data from Monster.com. It showed that the ITES/BPO (30%) sector and the IT/computers-software (24%) segment currently accounted for the largest chunk of women in the workforce.

Despite the efforts, India still has a long way to go to become truly inclusive.

A Deloitte report showed women hold only 17.1 percent of the board seats in India, almost a decade after the Companies Act, 2013 mandated having one woman member on every board. Only 3.6 percent of the board chairs are women, down by 0.9 percent since 2018.

Female representation, especially in top management roles, is crucial as it paves the way for a more equitable and productive workforce, said Monster.com CEO Sekhar Garisa.

“Skilling and nurturing talent at a young age while providing equal opportunities to all lies at the core of creating a gender-inclusive workplace,” he said.

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Published 01 May 2022, 18:38 IST

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