More women in the workforce needed more than ever

The Indian IT industry’s endeavor to hire more female employees is welcome at a time when unemployment rates are steadily rising in the country, but more needs to be done to increase women’s participation in the workforce not only for their empowerment, but also to strengthen the national economy.

IT services major Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) may have grabbed the headlines with its recent launch of a recruitment drive to hire experienced women professionals, but TCS is not alone to focus on women. Other IT majors like Wipro, Infosys and HCL, too, are planning to hire more female employees. More than 40% (43) of the new hires in the industry are estimated to be women. Second-career women are reportedly getting up to 60-70% hike over their last salaries drawn many months or years ago. In some cases, longer maternity leave too is offered as a sop.

Women already constitute 34% of the 44.7 lakh workforce in the IT and ITeS sector, according to IT industry chamber Nasscom.  In 2020, IT industry contributed 8% of India’s GDP. Sustained growth in the IT industry is also expected to translate into a brighter future for employable women in the sector.

The participation of women in the IT sector is encouraging, but it is not representative of the female labour force in the country. The percentage of women in IT is more than that of the organised public sector (18.07%) and the organised private sector (24.3%), and less than that of e-commerce (67.7%) and retail (52%), as per Nasscom.

Overall the participation of women in the workforce in India is far from desirable.  The Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) 2019-20, covering even the lockdown period from March to June, released recently by the National Statistical Office (NSO), not only points out the decreasing participation of women in the overall labour force since 1987-88, but also growing divide between the male and female labour force participation.

The Female Labour Force Participation Rate (FLFPR) in 2019-20 is 30%, down from 47% in 1987-88, for working ages of 15 years and above. In contrast, men’s LFPR was 77% in 2019-20, down from 92% in 1987-88.  FLFPR includes both the employed and the unemployed seeking employment.

In urban areas, FWPR stood at 21% in 2019-20, down from 25% in 1987-88.  More women participated in hospitality, hotels, and restaurants, which were more vulnerable to job losses due to the Covid-19 lockdowns. At the same time, there was a decrease in the proportion of women in manufacturing, professional, social and government services sectors.

Similarly, the rural FWPR was down to 32% in 2019-20 from 53% in 1987-88, with women employed mostly as wage labourers in the agriculture sector.

Also, there was a very slow decrease in the wage gap between men and women. Female wages went up to 75% of male wages in 2019-20 from 71% in 2009-10, but wages of female casual rural workers dropped to 64% from 68% of male wages during the same period.

The domestic state of affairs of the women labour force in the country is reflected globally, too. India ranked almost at the bottom of a list of 181 countries in 2019, just ahead of Egypt, Palestine, Iran, Algeria, Syria, Jordan, Iraq and Yemen, according to the World Bank. India trails by a big margin not only China and the US, but also Bangladesh and Nepal.

India has a long way to go to increase women’s participation at the workplace. The sooner India gets its act together, the better it is. More women employees are not only good for gender equality, but also businesses by enhancing their organisational effectiveness and growth. The latter in turns leads to stronger national economies, according to IFC’s Investing in Women: New Evidence for the Business Case. Providing access to more women to work would also help accelerate the achievement of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s  vision of making India a $5 trillion economy in a time-bound manner.

Besides, more participation of women in the workforce would help India achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDG 1 on ending poverty, SDG 2 on food security, SDG 3 on ensuring health, SDG 5 on achieving gender equality, SDG 8 on ensuring decent work and economic growth and SDG 10 on reducing inequalities. More women in the workforce is a win-win situation for all. 



Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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