Gender equity at workplace: Women’s role in the accelerating the economy needs to be realized

While cultural and social norms prevent women from realizing their full economic potential, safety concerns restrict their physical and economic mobility.

By Naghma Mulla

Unequal pay and gender disparity at workplaces are a common and pervasive phenomenon across the globe. By 2030, India’s working-age population will surpass 1 billion. This gives us an excellent opportunity to tap the vast potential of the women workforce. The UNGC (United Nations Global Compact) India Study 2020 states that raising women’s participation in the labor force to the same level as men can boost India’s GDP by 27%. This is further corroborated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Yet the participation of women in India’s workforce continues to be amongst the lowest in the world. According to the Monster Salary Index survey 2019, women in India earn 19% less than men and only 28% of women are active in the workforce. 

While cultural and social norms prevent women from realizing their full economic potential, safety concerns restrict their physical and economic mobility. Gender equity truly is an enormous problem when it comes to women’s participation in any country’s workforce.  Achieving gender equality at workplace requires a comprehensive understanding of the ways in which women experience discrimination and are denied equality. The Global Gender Gap report released by the World Economic Forum (WEF) in 2017, states that India finished 139 out of 144 countries on economic participation and opportunity and 112 on the education attainment metric. Overall, India ranked 108 out of 144 countries, clearly indicating the presence of a gender gap.

This is the first step to address the same is to develop appropriate strategies aimed at eliminating discrimination. Gender imbalance starts from the time a girl is born. Girls’ lack of access to education is justified on the presumption that, as mothers and wives, they will not enter the workforce and thus do not require education. Women who enter the labor market face pre-existing gender biases and lack of enabling conditions in the workplace due to their household and caregiving roles. Our society is structured in a manner where women must fight for their position. 

Therefore, organizations need to provide measures which allow for equal participation at the workplace, ensuring gender equality. Altering the hiring process to increase diversity is a must. This can be done by promoting gender equality with better job descriptions and having a diverse interview panel. In addition to that, equal pay and access to leadership roles should be ensured for all genders. Mentorship and training programs designed for women will enable them to perform to the best of their ability.  

Gender inequality at the workplace is highly disadvantageous for the overall economy. As per a World Bank study, India’s female labor force participation has reduced to 20.5% in 2019 from 30.3% in 1990. A study by the McKinsey Global Institute indicates that the participation of women in the workforce could add US$700 billion to India’s GDP by 2025. The pandemic has further impacted prospects for India’s female workforce, restraining a country which is striving to become a $5 trillion economy by 2025.

To shape women’s economic stability, they should be included in all work facets. While the sensitization will start from home to provide equal and fair opportunities to a girl child then taking it to an institutional level where they start to realize their rights through gender sensitization workshops that may be conducted at the workplace. All the factors that affect their participation in workforce need to be given equal priority.

Workplaces must be committed to using a lens of gender justice while designing their entire system of functioning. Focus should be on creating clear and succinct policies for employees, identifying engaging and creative ways to articulate these policies at all levels. These also include safety while traveling to and from work, support in accessing reproductive health services and guidance, effective HR policies to tackle harassment and discrimination against women employees. Investment in leadership training, mentoring programs, recognitions among others could be taken into consideration. In addition to this, the need of the hour is to have a platform, such as Udyam Stree, which can bring together stakeholders from varied fields to accelerate the participation of women in the economy.  We are positive that these measures will ensure a commitment to gender justice and remove biases which are inherent to the system.

All these measures will require additional input and effort. They will require planning and execution. Which begs the question – why do we need to acknowledge the gender bias and encourage the participation of women in the workforce? The reason – a more robust, diversified workforce will come into play. Women from the unemployed and economically disadvantaged sector will integrate into the mainstream workforce, helping the country address the income and gender inequalities. The skill set which will enter the labor force will change and diversify, allowing for more talent and a larger qualified pool of human capital. In addition to this, the social fabric of the country will begin to witness a gradual change and India’s daughters will set examples by paving their own way. 

The author is President and COO, EdelGive Foundation

Views are personal.