Article: Best of 2011: Women are Opportunity


Best of 2011: Women are Opportunity

The October 2011 issue of People Matters took an in-depth look into the practices that companies are adopting for attracting, nurturing & retaining women talent
Best of 2011: Women are Opportunity

Gender inclusion to us is about creating a level playing field for both men and women so that meritocracy can shine


A change is the ecosystem demands CEOs taking the driving seat and making gender mainstream


In a talent-deficit environment, tapping women into the workforce represents a significant opportunity for growth and scale. The October 2011 issue of People Matters took an in-depth look into the practices that companies are adopting for attracting, nurturing & retaining women talent.

The working-age population in the 15 to 64 age group in India is expected to increase from 780 million in 2010 to 915 million by 2020 and to a staggering 1 billion by 2030. More importantly, half of them would still be under the age of 28 in 2030. This broadly constitutes India’s much trumpeted demographic dividend, which is often lauded as its competitive advantage over the long run. The demographic dividend story may be a good selling point while pitching for investments, but when seen through the statistics and reality of women at work, it paints a contrasting picture. Considering the latest data released by the National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) in terms of declining labor force participation by women over the last five years, it is apparent that the so called demographic dividend is an illusion when it comes to this half of the population. Statistics from the NSSO show that while labor force participation rates have fallen for both men and women, the decline in the rate is much sharper for women in the 15 to 59 age group. In the five years up to 2010, the work participation rate of women (both rural and urban) has been on a decline, coming down by 6% since 2004-05. Interestingly, in the decade from 2000 to 2010, the population of women aged 15 years or more increased by 86.5 million but only 8.9% of them joined the labor force. It is ironic that during a period of economic growth when, ideally, labor participation rate should have increased and as a result the dependency ratio should have decreased, the contrary holds true. Women form close to one-half of the human resources of the country and the sheer decline in work participation rate of this major chunk of human resource, poses serious concerns as it undermines India’s demographic dividend theory.

The fundamental question - given the target of the 11th Five Year Plan to create 500 million skilled workforce by 2022 (by annually increasing the skill development capacity by 15 million) - is how will India achieve this target when the work participation of the ‘other half’ of the demographic dividend is declining?

Dr. Sonalde Desai, University of Maryland and NCAER, in her paper, “The other half of the Demographic Dividend”* states categorically, “India is unlikely to realize its demographic dividend’ to the fullest extent unless significant strides can be made to increase women’s labor force participation through an increase in employment opportunities and a reduction in labor market disadvantages.” For India Inc., which is grappling with the problem of talent deficit and employability of candidates, the underlying message is the need for the creation of balanced gender-diverse workforce.

The “Gender Dividend” opportunity

As organizations become increasingly talent driven, the greatest hurdle they face is the lack of an employable workforce. Yet a majority of the organizations are underutilizing and in some cases, are downright ignoring the other half of the talent pool - women make up 42 percent of college graduates in India; Census 2011 pegs the effective literacy rate for females at 65 percent. As talent becomes the most valuable resource for business, it makes sense to invest in women, create levers for competitive advantage and leverage on the “Gender Dividend”. With less than 25 percent of women in India as a part of the workforce (compared to 50 percent of men), they represent a huge untapped potential which can help bridge the talent deficit. In terms of numbers, organizations in India seem to be overlooking the 250 million women talent pool below the age of 30.

Reports from research bodies and media corroborate that women representation in the IT/ITeS workforce ranges between 24 to 26 percent at entry levels and gradually declines as one moves to middle, senior and board levels. For new age private sector banks, women at the entry level form roughly 20 percent of the workforce. The TCS-People Matters Gender Inclusion Survey 2010-11, found that though women are relatively well represented in the services and the IT sectors, they are mostly concentrated at the entry levels. In the IT sector, 70 percent of the respondents claimed that they have between 15-30 percent of women in their total workforce, while in the finance sector, 73 percent of the respondents claimed that the women share of their workforce was up to 15 percent. There is no doubt that if India Inc. is to meet its business objectives amidst the war for talent and talent crunch, it has to prepare itself in terms of scaling up its workforce and acquiring the right talent mix. Besides, they need to question as to how prepared they are in attracting and retaining this significant talent pool, where there is an equal risk of competitive attrition and of withdrawing from the workforce entirely.

Setting the tone

Many organizations are walking the talk and are making investments in their intent to create an equal opportunity ecosystem for women to articulate their talent and skills and define what they can do for the organization. If news reports are to be relied upon, then in some cases, companies like Microsoft, Alcatel-Lucent, Genpact, IBM, Schneider Electric, and Cadbury-Kraft Foods amongst others, are paying headhunters 30 percent more for women hires than they would for men. Not only this, with increasing number of women climbing the competitive corporate ladder, companies seem to be leaving no stone unturned to lure them and are even offering existing employees an additional bonus as much as 25 percent for referring a female employee.

A new ecosystem

The last generation of workplace innovations introduced policies to support women with young children, internal networks to help women navigate their careers, and flexible work options which broke down structural barriers holding women back from entering the workforce. While these must continue; a flexible and innovative workplace which appreciates the needs of women employees would go a long way in creating a nurturing ecosystem. Given the socio-cultural and labor market dynamics, there can be no standalone program or initiative to help advance women into senior roles. The organizational culture and ecosystem must change which requires a serious commitment from the leadership team and a sincere intent to put metrics in place. The ecosystem must nurture women within the corporate structure and leverage the power of gender diversity.

In the present context, the need for a gender-diverse workforce is vital as it has the potential to address workforce challenges relating to talent pool deficit. Besides the added benefits of diversity in perspectives, and skill sets; the journey to redefine the rules of workforce and workplace ecosystem will help create an inclusive environment where talent can thrive and the organization can reap benefits of demographic as well as gender dividend.

Show me the Numbers

• Number of women aged 15 years or more increased this decade by 86.5 million - only 8.9% of them joined the labor force

• UNDP predicts that India’s GDP growth rate could jump by 2 to 4% if women participation rates increased to 70%

• Close to 50% of women in organizations drop out by the time they reach middle-level positions

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Topics: Diversity, Strategic HR

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