4 Reasons Indian Women Are Dropping Off The Labour Force – Here’s What Employers Can Do

Acknowledging and celebrating the achievements of women in the workforce helps create a supportive environment that encourages them to thrive.

India has witnessed a concerning decline in the labour force participation of women in recent years. Despite the country’s economic progress, the number of women actively engaged in the workforce has been dwindling.

Statistics show that women comprised only 19 per cent of the workforce in India in 2021, falling from over 40 per cent in the early 90s, according to World Bank and International Labor Organization statistics. In contrast, women constitute more than 50 per cent of the workforce globally.

The presence and participation of women in the workforce are crucial for a nation’s inclusive economic growth and development. Empowering women in their careers can drive innovation, productivity, and workplace diversity. Moreover, it is essential to challenge gender stereotypes and create an environment where women can excel professionally without compromising their personal aspirations.

Reasons for women dropping out of the workforce

The Motherhood Penalty for women in the labour force 

The motherhood penalty refers to the adverse impact on a woman’s career and earnings after becoming a mother. It usually results from gender biases and societal expectations that assume women should primarily focus on caregiving roles instead of pursuing their careers.

Various factors contribute to the decline of women’s participation in the workforce after motherhood, including a lack of family-friendly policies, inflexible work arrangements, and prevailing cultural norms. Micro-aggressions and deep-rooted societal norms mean working mothers get limited career growth opportunities and struggle to balance work and family life.

Absence of flexible work options

The lack of flexible schedules, remote work opportunities, and alternative arrangements for work-life balance often force women to make difficult choices, compromising their family commitments or career aspirations. The rigidity in work arrangements may also hinder their opportunities for professional growth and advancement, perpetuating gender disparities in the workforce.

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Gender wage gap

The persistent gender wage gap discourages many women from pursuing long-term careers. Despite strides towards gender equality, women often earn less than their male counterparts for the same work and face barriers in their career progression. This wage disparity not only affects women’s financial independence but also undermines their confidence and sense of worth in the workplace.

Unequal growth opportunities

Unequal opportunities for career growth, such as limited access to leadership roles or discriminatory promotion practices, further contribute to women’s reluctance to pursue long-term careers. The lack of representation in higher positions and decision-making roles can create a discouraging environment where women feel undervalued and marginalised. As a result, many women may opt for short-term employment or leave the workforce altogether.

Issues like safety during workplace commutes and office travel pose additional challenges that can discourage women from seeking employment opportunities.

India Inc is rolling out women-friendly initiatives…

Progressive organisations, especially large conglomerates and MNCs, are rolling out initiatives like flexible work options, employee resource groups, creche subsidies, onsite childcare, nursing rooms and designated parking spots for women employees to support new mothers within the workforce and ensure a smooth transition back to work post maternity.

These supportive initiatives are steps in the right direction to positively impact women’s retention rates and enhance their career progression, creating a more inclusive and gender-diverse workforce.

 … But they are not what working women really want

India Inc is currently rolling out the steps based on its understanding of women’s wants. There is a need to reach out to women and understand their perspectives so that these initiatives get the desired results.

Companies need to survey women in their workforce to identify their preferences and needs. This is crucial in designing effective policies and practices that cater to their requirements.

Studies of working women across the globe reveal that they greatly value:

  1. Personalised support and flexible work options to strike a balance between their personal and professional lives
  2. Family-friendly policies, including parental leave, childcare assistance, and remote work options, can significantly ease the burden of balancing work and caregiving responsibilities
  3. An inclusive workplace culture that helps eliminate unconscious biases and create an empowering environment

What more can companies do to increase women’s participation in the labour force?

Companies can create supportive policies and inclusive cultures that promote work-life balance, offer flexible work options, and implement targeted initiatives to address gender bias and provide equal growth opportunities.

The following 5 steps can help companies address the skewed gender balance:

Create family-friendly policies that go beyond maternity leave

Companies should implement comprehensive, gender-agnostic, family-friendly policies that support employees throughout various life stages.

Normalise flexible work arrangement and remote work options

Flexible work arrangements, including remote work options, empower women to manage their professional commitments more effectively.

Provide access to affordable and high quality childcare facilities

Affordable and reliable childcare facilities enable women to pursue their careers without compromising the well-being of their children.

Invest in gender sensitivity training for employees and leadership

Gender sensitivity training fosters an inclusive workplace culture where women are treated with respect and are provided equal growth opportunities.

Recognise and celebrate women’s contributions 

Acknowledging and celebrating the achievements of women in the workforce helps create a supportive environment that encourages them to thrive.

By fostering an inclusive and equitable work environment, India can unlock the full potential of its working women and drive economic growth and prosperity for all.

The last word: equal participation of women in the labour force is important

Supporting and empowering women in the workforce is not only a matter of social justice but also a strategic imperative for sustainable economic growth. Studies show that gender diversity in organisations leads to better decision-making, increased innovation, and enhanced financial performance.  India Inc needs to reach out to more women and embrace their talents to improve its productivity and reputation, and further bolster the country’s competitiveness on the global stage.

The onus of building a more inclusive and equitable work environment also falls on women. More women should step up to challenge traditional gender roles and support other women in their pursuit of fulfilling careers. Working with a coach or a mentor will also help women build their self-confidence in the workplace.

The time for action is now!

Image source: tommaso79 from Getty Images Free for Canva Pro

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About the Author

Smita Das Jain

Smita Das Jain is a writer by passion who writes every day. Samples of her writing are visible in the surroundings around her — her home office, her sunny terrace garden, her husband’s car and read more...

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