Women, start, restart and rise

Only a quarter of India’s workforce is female. In fact, India’s gender parity rankings are among the lowest in the world, close to that of the Middle East and North Africa, where women are forbidden by law to work. China, on the other hand, enjoys over 60% female participation in the workforce and the US has 55% of its women working.

The potential for impact by achieving gender parity is immense — India’s GDP can rise by 27% if female participation matches male levels. The increase in diversity in the workforce will also have a direct impact on the bottom lines of companies, with research showing an increased return on investment (RoI) for companies that benefit from the diverse perspectives and capabilities that the two genders bring.

Increasing women’s participation in the workforce will also have a huge impact on society and families in bringing more gender balance and equity, with women truly being empowered to take their own decisions and carve their own paths.

The road to accelerating women’s participation is a bumpy and longwinded one. If we want to increase gender parity in the Indian workplace, we need to get women to Start, Restart, and Rise in their careers, and it takes an entire village to come together and drive it — employers, educators, society, and the woman herself.

Today, companies are at the forefront of this change, because they realise that diversity is good for business. They are working to create structured programmes to drive diversity goals and initiatives to make the workplace more women-friendly. They are also creating structured returnee programmes, which could be in the form of internships, reskilling programmes or exclusive recruitment drives to enable women to restart and rejoin the paid workforce.

Companies are also structuring programmes for the professional development of women as well as removing biases in the workforce through sensitisation to increase women’s retention and ascension toward leadership roles.

Educational institutes are also partnering this journey by rolling out customised programmes for women on a break, for senior women professionals, and for women in technology, so that women can bridge the gap, leapfrog into senior roles and have their rightful voice in tomorrow’s technology, which will shape all our lives.

The foundation for change of course will be changing mindsets in our society and families.  We need families to recognise and nurture women as equal breadwinners, and we need our men to become equal caregivers. Policies such as six-month paid maternity leave versus no policies for paternity leave deepen the problem, with society placing the entire burden of parenthood on the mother’s shoulders.

Progressive policies

Countries that are among the top in achieving gender parity are also leading the way in progressive policies such as parental leave, the benefits of which are manifold — men, too, get to enjoy the life experience of parenthood, children are brought up in more gender-neutral environments and women can get the breathing space they need to build a career without having to worry if they can “have it all.”  All while her family not just supports her but is proud of her.

But the most important change has to start with the woman herself. There are plenty of internal hurdles that women need to cross to accelerate their careers. In fact, as a management student from Wharton, let me tell you — women need a management degree of a whole different type: the ability to manage the four big barriers to women’s success: guilt management, time management, fear management, and bias management.

How do I know this? Because I had to, have to, and will continue having to manage these four big barriers in my own career. After graduating from the Wharton School, I founded my first start-up, Paragon, in Mumbai. Two years later, I relocated to Bengaluru when I got married. I shutdown Paragon and joined my husband’s family business Kemwell, in pharma manufacturing. I never thought I’d stop working, until motherhood struck and that’s when I took a break in my own career.

And 3.6 years and two children later, when I got back to work, I realised all the challenges that women face in restarting their careers. Today, four years into running JobsForHer, I am still fighting against the four big barriers to success – the guilt of not being a ‘good mother’; constantly managing my time and prioritising between work, family and home; facing my fear of not just failure but fear of success, too; and challenging the biases of so many around us who think women shouldn’t or can’t or won’t.

As India marches into the future, we need our next generation of girls to aspire to challenging careers and not assume that that will need a huge personal sacrifice. And that will only happen if the entire ecosystem comes together to enable women to start, restart and rise in their careers.

(The writer is Founder-CEO, JobsForHer)

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