As the International Women’s Day approaches us, it is time for all to think of their role in the fast-changing world of work being impacted by rapid globalisation and new digital technologies.
Undoubtedly, there is a fundamental case for empowering women as they represent half of the global population. They must have equal access to health, education, earning power and political representation.
In recent years, there has been a definite growing demand for concerted action to facilitate women’s integration in the workforce, close the gender pay gap and create equal opportunities in the overall economy. Public and private sectors are examining existing policies and innovating to accelerate progress towards gender equality.
But overall – in most geographies around the world – progress has been rather slow to realise the full potential of half the humanity. India – with 1.3 billion people – has much to catch up with.
I recently came across a report which says the gender pay gap in IT services sector is as high as 34 per cent. While men earn Rs 360.90 per hour, women earn only Rs 239.60. The story is no different in manufacturing, a major job generating sector.
Among the most common reasons identified for this gender pay gap relate to socio-cultural factors and career breaks of women due to parenthood duties. While the law mandates non-discrimination in hiring women, ground realities are different.
Various studies and survey prove that men often get higher salaries than women vying for the same position in an organisation at the time or hiring or promotion. This is not acceptable.
It is critical to note that economic benefits are proportional to the percentage of women in the workforce. For example, in FMCG and FMCD sectors, women form 23 per cent of the workforce and 13 per cent of top management. In manufacturing, they comprise 12 per cent of overall workforce and only two per cent of top management.
On the other hand, in corporate functions, women constitute 32 per cent of workforce and there is a relatively lower pay gap of 14 per cent. This proves that gender pay gap is a manifestation of the lack of gender diversity.
India Inc must initiate measures to hire more women and retain new mothers when they return to the workforce. Care-related policies can be formed to reconcile professional and family obligations as women tend to bear most of care-giving responsibilities of children, elderly and others.
There can be career breaks, paid maternity leaves, remote work or flexible working hours to encourage women’s economic participation. Though the costs and trade-offs associated with such practices are long-term investments, they generate societal and economic returns.
In coming years, talent and digital technologies will determine how the Fourth Industrial Revolution delivers sustainable economic growth and innumerable benefits to the society. As India embarks on a rapid growth path in the turbulent globalised world, it should prioritise gender diversity for innovation and inclusive development.