Bridging The Women Employment Gap
What can we as startup entrepreneurs do to enable a holistic work environment to incentivize more women to join the workforce?
As an Indian citizen and an Indian entrepreneur, there are many things which could be changed about India – from the bureaucracy to the potholes, to the corruption, to the traffic. However, fixing any of these problems would take years, if not decades- and part of me wonders if it is even possible given how entrenched we are in the current system.
There are other issues, however, where a few simple policies can create massive social and economic change in our country, and moreover, this change can be driven by the private sector. What I am talking about specifically is measures to incentivize more Indian women to join the workforce.
Currently, India ranked at 108 out of 144 in the Global Gender Gap Index in 2017, dropping from its rank of 87 and ranking behind countries like Bangladesh and Mongolia. Though women make up a 48.5per cent of the population, we only make up 27per cent of the workforce, the majority of which is in the informal sector and well below the poverty line. Moreover, 66per cent of women’s work in India is unpaid, compared to 12per cent of men’s work.
Though there are a lot of ground-level initiatives that need to be established to increase the funnel of women who will work- namely providing high quality free education, improving women and girls’ safety in traveling, improving sanitation and hygiene conditions- I am going to specifically speak about shorter-term strategies to empower and retain women who already have the skills and qualifications to contribute to our companies and our economy.
Rather than waiting for the larger MNCs, the change needs to come from young startups where there are less hierarchy and less bureaucracy, which will lead to faster implementation as well as faster results.
Meritocracy and Fixing the Wage Gap
One of the most important things to fix first is the wage gap. On average, women in India earn 20per cent less than men according to the Monster Salary Index, and the gap only widens as they move up the corporate ladder. Now, the solution doesn’t mean blindly paying all employees the same salary regardless of performance, but it means giving all employees equal opportunities to prove themselves. If a woman is not taken to high stake sales meetings with clients, how will she be able to prove she can be the next Head of Sales, or that she deserves a higher bonus?
Clear Career Growth Prospects
Regardless of whether a woman is working as a software developer or a company secretary, it is important that she has career growth prospects – either in terms of moving to more senior positions within the company, or purely learning new skills. It is also really important to make sure that all employees (regardless of gender) are given feedback regularly through official channels, and have equal opportunities to network and find mentors. If you have a company football team made up entirely of men where employees get to know their male bosses better, perhaps make sure you have some more inclusive activities as well, like a company karaoke night or a potluck lunch.
Workplace Safety and Amenities
If a woman does not feel physically, mentally and emotionally safe and secure in the workplace, she will likely not stay. Companies need to think of the working environment from a woman’s perspective and make sure that they are taken care of by doing things like having a committee for the Prevention of Sexual Harassment, providing safe transport in jobs where women have to work late at night, making sure women have a separate clean bathroom, ensuring access to feminine hygiene products, and more.
Maternity Leave and Child-Care policies
Other than obviously giving appropriate maternity leave (as well as paternity leave for new fathers), there is a lot of company can do to support women as their children grow too. While larger companies may be able to offer childcare services, having a generous leave policy as a start-up means that young mothers can take paid leave off more easily when their children are sick, or there is a parent-teacher meeting at school, without having to give up holiday time for it instead. Lastly being flexible with new mothers about timings (i.e. allowing them to come in earlier and leave earlier to avoid rush hour traffic and spend more time with their children) will go a long way in retaining them as well.
As companies begin to think about these issues more seriously, it is imperative to get a woman’s perspective on the policies being set. If the startups of today begin to slowly make these changes, the MNCs of tomorrow will be organizations where women can truly thrive – both personally and professionally.
Sanna Vohra is the Founder & CEO of The Wedding Brigade. She is passionate about using technology to build a leading wedding brand. Prior to The Wedding Brigade, she spent two years in Morgan Stanley’s investment banking franchise in New York, focusing on equity transactions in the technology space. Previously, she has worked at Saatchi & Saatchi X, and in Coca Cola’s marketing division.
She discovered her passion for building businesses at Brown University, when she co-founded a restaurant discounting company for students. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa and Magna cum Laude from Brown, with Honors in Development Studies and Economics. With Wedding Brigade, this former investment banker aims to organize the un-organized wedding industry in India.