Change in Societal Mindset Must For Women's Return to Workforce

Update: 2023-06-29 10:24 GMT
State government on Monday announced Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs) will be entitled to maternity leave, a decision that will bring ASHA workers in line with other women government employees. (Image Source: Twitter)

Participation of women in any nation’s workforce is of critical importance. The higher the participation of the women workforce, the greater the level of prosperity. India with its 1.4 billion plus population, however, has one of the lowest women participation rates in the overall workforce. According to the World Bank’s latest data, women represented 23% of India’s formal and informal workforce in 2021, down from nearly 27% in 2005. India is ranked lower than neighbouring Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in this regard. One of the primary factors behind such a drop in female participation was the COVID pandemic. According to a Metlife survey, nearly 2⁄3 of women left the workforce due to the pandemic. Hearteningly, these women are now preparing to return.

Given the benefits of enhancing economic empowerment, gender diversity, fostering personal fulfilment, and social change; every effort should be made to bring more women into the workforce. Moreover, society has to ensure that the quality of jobs is better than in previous years. It is a known fact that many women are dissatisfied with their current job profile and are looking at switching jobs or careers. This phenomenon is prevalent among women leaders in senior positions. Against this backdrop, challenges faced by women in returning to work should be addressed on priority.

Challenges before women in re-entering workforce: 

India’s socio-cultural setup expects women to be bound to household chores. Since independence, women from various walks of life have come out of that shackle and established themselves in different fields. However, societal expectations remain. Managing childcare, household duties, and other family obligations while pursuing a career can be demanding. It, therefore, requires careful time management and support systems. According to a study by Harvard Business Review, women are more likely to have caregiving responsibilities, making it difficult to work full-time. Amid such a challenging environment, women usually take career breaks for discharging family responsibilities. So, at the time of comeback to the job market, female aspirants face questions about career gaps, their ability to meet the demand of the job market, and other related issues. This, in turn, impacts their confidence level and lowers their negotiating power with prospective employers.

Another challenge faced by women is the skill obsolescence. Rapid advancements in technology and industry changes make many skill sets less relevant with time. This is especially true for the technology industry. According to industry body NASSCOM, 35% of the total workforce constitutes women in the 5 million strong tech employee base in India. With such a huge workforce, women employees, who take career breaks, may feel their skills are outdated. Such factors affect female employees’ ability to negotiate fair compensation and benefits. Many women accept and end up accepting jobs at less remuneration than what their skill level deserves. Moreover, women returning to the workforce may also face biases against career gaps as some employers may view such gaps as a lack of commitment or a lack of skills. Amid these challenges; access to mentorship, career coaching, returnship programmes, and flexible work arrangements can greatly assist in navigating the nuances of returning to work.

Bootcamp programmes can speed up return to work:

According to Statista, women's participation in the workforce in the nation decreased from about 36% in 2021 to around 33% in 2022 and 2023. To check the decline and improve participation, a multi-pronged approach should be taken up.

Firstly, on a personal level, the right mindset among women is of utmost importance to reenter the job market. Usually, women keen to come back to the workforce after a gap battle self-doubt and anxiety. Developing a positive mindset can help female workers to overcome such challenges and build confidence for a comeback.

Tapping the support systems is another important factor for gaining confidence and being industry ready. For instance, technology can be leveraged to streamline household chores and automate certain tasks. Similarly, the use of online resources such as home delivery services and others can help strike a better work-life balance. This support system can free up time for women from family responsibilities and they can focus on their professional commitments.

Upskilling is another aspect that will greatly influence the outcome of re-entry efforts by women. This is especially true for the technology industry. In the last five years, emerging technologies including AI, ML, data analytics, and cloud computing among others have changed the face of the technology industry. Therefore, it is important to learn the in-demand skills for getting the mojo back. Upskilling platforms such as OdinSchool run special programmes for women keen to join back the workforce. These programmes provide active mentorship along with additional support in new-age domains such as Data Sciences, Analytics, Web Development, and Digital Marketing. Hearteningly, several women have made successful comebacks after going through these programmes. One such example is Naga Lakshmi Pothuguntla from Andhra Pradesh. A mother of two, she embarked on an inspiring journey- riddled with challenges-, of a career comeback as an Associate Manager at PepsiCo after an 11-year gap. With the active support of OdinSchool Data Science Bootcamp, she not only excelled in developing the on-demand data science skills, she was able to build the necessary mindset and confidence to get back to the workforce successfully.

Last but not least, changes in societal norms are the need of the hour. Lowering the pressure for a woman as the primary caregiver in the family, and creating a participating culture will go a long way in this regard. Moreover, companies should adopt flexible working hours, increase in paid family leave, equal pay, and better communication, along with the elimination of bias for facilitating return to work for women. Special efforts should be taken to address, the 'motherhood penalty' issue with women with kids should not face any gender discrimination. Paternal leave to men can also enhance gender diversity by equal sharing of household work.

According to global consultancy firm McKinsey, India could add up to $770 billion to its GDP by giving equal opportunities to women in the workforce. Therefore, all stakeholders should actively pursue ways of promoting the return of women to  the workforce through multiple measures.

— Shruti Gaddam, Director, OdinSchool


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