Lately there have been few interesting reads on lives of women employees in the corporate world. Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Lean In’ and Annie Marie Slaughter’s ‘Why women can’t have it all’ are much talked about books that discuss gender issues which still exist globally in the corporate sector. And there is still a lot that needs to be done to make it more equitable for the fairer sex. When we talk about these issues in the Indian context, there emerges a story that talks about an essential change in the mind sets of Indian population, an evolving thought process and hopefully, a more promising future for the working women in India.
At the work front, life of Indian women has gone through an evolution. Few decades back, the mental make-up of the society enabled the presumption that, typically, role of a woman was limited to ensuring the well-being of her family (and extended family). Hence, only a select few women even aspired to get a job and the ones who chose to venture out mostly aspired for Government sector jobs or the academic stream, which used to be relatively less telling and demanding.
Over the years, the upper and middle segments of the Indian population became more and more open to educating their girl child. Though there is still a lot that needs to be done in this direction, education of girls and women has eventually resulted in a comparatively bigger proportion of women in the employable workforce. With the economic liberalisation taking place in 90’s along with expansion of industrial sector and opening of the private sector, multiple avenues for jobs and a plethora of career opportunities for everyone, including women have now come up. As a result today, women are frequently taking up jobs that require highly specialized skill sets, advanced educational qualifications, longer work hours and unflinching dedication - much like their male counterparts. This has indeed done wonders to the self-esteem and independence of women – something that was long overdue for the female population of India.
In her book, Sheryl Sandberg shares some statistics that show that in India, for example, only 11 % top 240 companies in India have a female CEO and only 5 % of the 100 companies listed on BSE have women in their Board of Directors. A meagre number, pretty much following the trend across the world – but should it not be taken as start to something big? At some level it shows that the ascent of Indian women to top echelons has started but then again a lot still remains to be achieved.
Diversity in organizations has become an issue of prime importance in the past few years. So much so, that many organizations have a separate team that looks after, initiates and manages issues related to diversity. Few organizations also have internal targets of recruiting a fixed proportion of women in the workforce, at all levels of hierarchy. While such moves have been made, it is also imperative that organizations adopt practices which create a conducive environment for women to work, perform and sustain and that their potential is not curtailed due to other external factors. For example, women often have to take a step back include during and post maternity. The Indian labour laws provide for a specified period of paid maternity leaves, but then organizations should also ensure that they go the extra mile by implementing friendly policies and regulations such as extended maternity leaves, flexible work hours, work from home facility, crèche etc., by providing women with opportunities to get back post maternity. Motherhood should not be a reason for a skilled employee to put a pause to their careers. Instead it only shows that women have it in them to multitask with a professional career and a family - just that organizations need to partner with their women employees as well.
There’s a lot that Indian women can achieve. It can be like being lost in a maze of ambition, career, responsibility, and motherhood - the end point of the lookout being the seemingly unachievable balance between a fulfilling personal life and a substantial career. However, the start has been made and now the baton lies in our hands to make it a success story for the new age women workforce in India.
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