The hybrid work model raises hope for better gender diversity in the workplace
What can we do to make the hybrid work model more conducive for women to join and stay in the job market?
Monday January 02, 2023,
4 min Read
The Covid and the post-Covid period were widely expected to improve the participation of women in India's workforce, but that remains a pipe dream yet. The first phase of work from home and the hybrid model that followed during the recovery period, allowing people to spread work between home and office, has yet to attract more women to the workplace. Some recent reports have even suggested that women have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic - loss of jobs and difficulty getting back into the national workforce.
One silver lining, if it can be called that, is the tech sector has done a shade better than others. According to reports published around February 2022, nearly a third of the tech workforce in India are women, against a national average of 26% (all sectors combined). The gap is not huge, but it is encouraging to improve. HR teams in big IT companies are more successful in attracting women into the workforce, with most expecting to move closer to the 45-50% mark over the next couple of years. A long shot, but very encouraging too.
The reason for a higher rate of participation of women in the tech industry is partly explained by a world-beating tally of India, with 43% of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) graduates being women. The nature of work and its environment make tech more conducive for women. On a slightly tangential note, with the rising role of digital tech powered by AI, automation of the manufacturing sector is also making it easy for better gender diversity there. But it needs to happen faster for a range of reasons.
Today, jobs in the tech sector, counting only IT/ITES, account for a fourth of manufacturing and half of education in terms of contribution to the total. But all this is set to change in the coming decades, if not sooner. It would be hard to miss the increasing role of tech in the two significant job-creating sectors, the latter in particular. As the lines blur between technology and these sectors and others, the opportunity for women to play a more prominent role in the job market will improve significantly. It is an opportunity we cannot afford to lose.
The apparent failure of the hybrid work model in improving women's participation in the workforce is because it overlooked important social conditioning and biases. For example, studies in the US have shown that in the hybrid model, when there is a choice, more men are seen coming back to work than women, meaning the burden of childcare was, by default, a women's. This creates a disproportionate burden on women to handle both work and home responsibilities. Sadly, opting out of work seems like a natural progression, making it a raw deal for women.
So what can we do to make the hybrid work model more conducive for women to join and stay in the job market? Creating childcare support in the workplace is quite common in the West, but it still needs to catch up in India in a big way. While a large organisation can afford to invest in such facilities, the smaller ones can outsource it like any other service. Today, a robust childcare services market in India can meet this demand.
Another popular initiative, like long maternity leaves, satisfies the need to start a family. Still, unless childcare support is provided, the burden will be handled mainly by women, which, as I said earlier, will push back the gender diversity agenda. Just like paternity leave, men should also be encouraged to share the responsibility of childcare and inducements from the workplace to do so will go a long way. Skilling, mentorship programmes and initiatives to encourage the women workforce to return to work after their breaks are also something organisations can proactively initiate.
This idea of creating a more conducive workplace for women got a push from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who recently suggested creating 'flexible workspaces and flexible work hours' to improve women in the country's workforce, particularly in the newly emerging sectors.
Increasing the role of women in the workplace has benefits far beyond the apparent economic ones. Social and cultural dynamics change for the better. With financial independence, crime and other social evils against women will come down and, most importantly, strengthen democracy through women's more comprehensive and informed participation. Since we have safely left Covid behind, we need to pick up one of the better outcomes of the pandemic, like a hybrid workplace and make the best of it.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)
Edited by Rekha Balakrishnan