We need more women at work to uplift Indian economy, but where are they?

Growing up in the IT Hub of the country, Bengaluru-based Tanya always had her eyes set on gaining top seat at the boards of one of the best Tech companies, and she made her way towards that slowly and steadily. She got married in a typical Indian joint family where she was living with her in-laws, with everyone being supportive of her career and dreams.

In 2020, just as Pandemic came calling, Tanya, who was an executive in her company found her career at a standstill. As a mother of a 2-year-old, being at home with no household help, Tanya lost her mother-in-law to Pandemic and her father-in-law became bed-ridden. Suddenly, Tanya had to transform from being an executive to becoming a caregiver for her family. Unable to cope with the pressures of demanding work-life situations, she ultimately had to quit her job. 

This is not the story of one Tanya, it is what millions of women in the country have to face at some or the other time in their lives.

India is known to be the fastest growing economies in the World. According to McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), bridging the gender gap in the economy could lead to an increase of 30% in a country’s GDP. But despite being 48% of population, Indian women currently only contribute 18% in GDP, and that too mostly in the unorganized sector.

Where are the women? Why are they missing? How to bridge this gender gap in economic participation? And are they truly missing?

Let’s start with the last question – Are they truly missing?

It’s a resounding – Yes!

According to the latest World Bank figures, from 2021, fewer than 1 in 5 Indian women work – at least formally.

As per India Employment Report 2024 in partnership with the International Labour Organization (ILO), India’s female labor force participation rate (LFPR) remains the lowest in the world. In India the LFPR is at 37% in 2022-23. Though this number is a slight increase from the previous year, it remains low compared to the global average as well as that of men, and this increase is observed in rural areas.

Another interesting trend to be observed from the Periodic Labour Force Survey (2022-23) is the rise in the percentage of self-employed women. In 2022-23 it is at its highest at 70.1%, which is an increase of 10.1% from 2021-22.

But also a key point to note in this is – while there may be a small increase in women’s participation in the workforce and in entrepreneurship, there is one thing that remains unchanged – burden of care work and domestic work.

This brings us to – Where are the women?

Just read the following numbers and you will find the answer for yourself.

  •  Women spend 7.2 hours of their daily time on unpaid domestic work compared to 2.8 hours spent by men. And these are women in the working age category of 15 to 60 years.
  • Indian women, on an average, spend over 44 hours a week on unpaid domestic work and caregiving activities, according to time-use data analysis.
  • Women aged six years and above spend 301 minutes on unpaid domestic work compared to men who devote a mere 98 minutes to the same.

All these are just a few numbers and statistics from different surveys and reports that came out in the last couple of years. There are a number of such surveys you can find easily.

According to a SBI report, if women were to be paid for the unpaid domestic chores they do for their families, that pay would be equal to about 7.5% of India’s GDP. But since it is not in any official logs as this is not officially even regarded as “working.”

Now imagine the answer on top of it – Tum karti kya ho din bhar?

Said or unsaid, the burden of household chores and caregiving does fall on the women. This is especially so in male-dominated households. With this you can find many other connecting studies and statistics that will show how this leaves women exhausted, with lesser time for themselves, and for even to care for their own wants and needs.

According to an India Spend article, Indian working women spend 45 minutes a day less than married working men in sleeping, eating and drinking, personal hygiene and receiving care from others.

But, why does this gender gap in economic participation exist?

The first step is to acknowledge the significant gender differences in our society. There is a huge gap in access to information between the genders, which means women do not have enough or lesser access to information about work opportunities than men.

Studies have also found that, even if women have access to employment opportunities, women apply to fewer jobs compared to men. Add to this the wage disparity that already exists between the genders in India. This further takes women away from many good opportunities.

And then come in your said-unsaid societal norms and safety concerns related to women working out of home.

Well, understanding “why” behind it is definitely not hard, if you are a woman in India, right?

So, how to bridge this gender gap?

If we want to see the economy booming at a faster rate, we need to increase participation and visibility of women equally.

Here are some ways this can work:

  • Access to equal opportunities and information access is crucial in bridging the gender gap in economic participation. Right kind of Networking is crucial for women, especially in right circles and groups. It is important for both professionals as well as entrepreneurs.
  • It is important to address and eliminate the wage gap that exists. Companies should add guidelines related to ‘equal pay for equal work’ in their HR mandates.
  •  Equal participation in handling household chores is also needed by both partners, if we want women to become more active participants in the country’s economy.
  • Creating safer work spaces as well as travel options is essential to encourage more women participation in work.
  • Giving a seat at the table – It is true that women do have slower career advancements and are less likely to be promoted than men. This can be attributed to gender biases at play in the workplace or society. Women not just need but deserve that seat at the table in top management. This also helps in encouraging more women to open up to the idea of taking those top management positions.

When it comes to entrepreneurship, there are many women ventures that do not grow beyond small home ventures. So it is essential to bring these women businesses to mainstream searches. 

Also, it is very crucial to show your active support for women-owned businesses and services. Here are some ways you can help women entrepreneurs in their growth:

  • Purchase from them or use their services.
  • Referring them to your networks.
  • Sharing reviews and testimonials.
  • Collaborate with them to help increase their visibility.

Platforms like Women Listed are key in giving such women businesses and services more visibility and opportunities to reach more customers. After all, we have all heard the old adage – what is seen, is what sells!

Tell us in the comment section, what are some more ways that can help to encourage more women participation in the workforce and support women-owned businesses?

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