Article: Beyond 9 to 5: Women, flexibility, and the future of work

Life @ Work

Beyond 9 to 5: Women, flexibility, and the future of work

Flexible work arrangements are reshaping women's careers in India, with a surge in female participation in the labour market, tech-based jobs, startups, and the gig economy.
Beyond 9 to 5: Women, flexibility, and the future of work

Even as the recent pandemic has precipitated a shift seemingly towards remote and hybrid work, the practice is not entirely new. Indeed, flexible work arrangements have been a part of the professional work environment for a large part of the US workforce. Although not on the same scale, some degree of work flexibility did exist in the early 2000s in India too when far-sighted HR leaders introduced flexible working policies in their organisations as a part of broader people practices. This was at a time when such policies were a relatively new concept in India.  Now aside from their gender-sensitive practical needs in everyday life, with women constituting nearly one-third of India’s labour force today,the need to be cognizant of flexible work arrangements becomes even more pressing.

 While the larger preference for flexible work arrangements would be determined by which side of the fence one was on – whether one is an employer or an employee – most surveys point to vastly enhanced productivity for organisations that did allow flexible schedules, especially for women. Let us find out how

More women in the labour market 

Notwithstanding the occasional fluctuations that may have led to a rise or drop in women’s participation in percentage terms from time to time, it goes without saying that today there are more women engaged in the organised labour market in absolute terms than before. From about 60 lakh women that were engaged in the organised sector in 2011, today, there are a whopping 89 million women in the same category. And in the last year alone, there has been an impressive 35% jump in white-collar job openings for women in India. 

Rising number of women in tech-based jobs

With new-age technologies reshaping economies as well the organisational structures and workflows in multiple ways, Indian women are increasingly catching up with their male counterparts in this segment. The IT sector, reckoned to be the largest employer of the country’s white-collar workforce, has doubled its intake of women employees in a decade to 2 million, or 36% of the current total IT workforce. And a majority of these women are under the age of thirty who would naturally be also expected to fulfil a number of maternal, caregiving and socio-familial responsibilities. However, despite progress in numbers, what is worrying is that a large number of women are quitting their tech jobs due to the return-to-office summons conveying their inability to cope with the high load of non-office and personal tasks in a work-from-office schedule.

More women a part of startups & the gig economy 

This era is marked by the rise of startups and the emerging gig economy, and women are an active participant in both. As startups emerge as the new engine of the Indian economy, women entrepreneurs and business leaders have demonstrated their significant contributions, even as they continue to progress towards achieving parity with their male counterparts.

According to a NASSCOM report, a considerable 18% of startups are helmed by at least one woman founder or co-founder.  Women entrepreneurs and leaders are able to relate first hand with the needs of their female colleagues, something that enables them to provide valuable support and offer flexible working opportunities. As such, they would be inclined to advocate for similar policies and practices to benefit their fellow colleagues.

Likewise, women have been an integral part of the burgeoning gig economy and it has been estimated that 20 to 30% of the independent contractors, consultants and workers are women. Given that by their very nature, the workplace rules, timings and schedules in companies and businesses engaged in the gig economy are somewhat less structured, steps must be taken to help women employees achieve a better work-life balance.

Shifting social dynamics & family structures

Unlike the joint family-dominated family structures of the yesteryears, today nearly half of Indian households are nuclear families. Additionally, with the rise of single-mother households, it can be safely inferred that there are an increased number of single working women with children (and possibly elders) at home. That 40% of women in nuclear households are employed today amplifies the need for hybrid or flexible work schedules for them.

All-round benefits for women employees, as well as companies 

Flexible work arrangements empower women by allowing them to balance caregiving responsibilities and careers without compromising their skills. This not only retains talent but also boosts gender diversity, positively impacting company performance and employee morale. It benefits both women and companies, promoting inclusivity and a more engaged and productive workforce. India's commitment to women's empowerment in key positions further emphasises the importance of extending flexible work arrangements to a broader workforce.

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Topics: Life @ Work, #Future of Work

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