Women in the Workforce

Women as a collaborator in the workforce have been there since time immemorial. Unfortunately, till the late twentieth century, their talents were restricted to jobs that did not necessarily tap their complete potential. Largely, I would say, jobs that did not require major intellectual effort and their potential in many areas were never explored. Gradually, women have been entering diverse areas and professions and over the past 10+ years, there has been a world-wide thrust for “equal opportunity”. But is this really happening? And, is it enough? International Monetary Fund’s chief, Christine Lagarde, said in her speech at the launch of W20, in September, 2015:
For example, we have estimates that, if the number of female workers were to increase to the same level as the number of men, GDP in the United States would expand by 5 per cent, by 9 per cent in Japan, and by 27 per cent in India

When you know the challenges faced by women, you will be better equipped to help overcome them. Allow me to discuss some that are foremost in my mind.

Family or profession could be one of the biggest choices a woman has to make. There is a conflict between the professional aspirations and an innate desire to bear and rear children. A woman who wants to work is incomplete if she cannot work. The question is more along the lines of how to handle work and/or family. Whatever choice is taken, whether it is family, profession or both, the person should not live life with any guilt or regrets.

Sexual harassment is another issue that many women face. They must be able to protect themselves from peers, supervisors and other members. They need to look out for direct as well as indirect approaches, such as physical advances, innuendos, gender-based derogatory remarks etc.

What I find quite surprising is the biased pay structure in most organizations. For the same work, responsibility and efficiency, women might be paid less than their male counterpart.

There is a lack of family support, especially for married women. The concept of a woman leaving the house/household work to attend office is incomprehensible to many. In addition, if it involves odd working hours, the situation is even more difficult to fathom.

Talking of odd working hours, brings up the question of security, even inside the workplace, especially during late hours. Adequate security arrangements need to be in place to ensure the safety of women.

Leave for maternity and child care is another major issue faced by women. What is normally provided to women is either insufficient or practically non-existent. Of late, many companies are introducing changes such as the provision of day-care facilities for young children, so that they need not make compromises on either the personal or the professional front. Similar adjustments are also happening for men so that they can contribute to the needs of the family, like paternity leave etc.

Today, a new avenue is opening up for women entrepreneurship. You will find quite a few women who have joined the startup boom and are doing very well for themselves. Business Today’s The Most Powerful Women in Business showcases some of the outstanding examples of women entrepreneurs. With your own enterprise you are in a position to address most of the challenges, discussed above, yourself instead of having those decisions being taken by someone else and imposed on you. Read what Sumi Krishnan has to say about this in her article 5 Powerful Rules for Women Entrepreneurs to Live By. However, there will be other challenges that you will need to look out for. Like, for example, Ankita Vashistha co-founder of Saha Fund says:
On the investors side there are few women investors and on the portfolio companies side there is a sense of hesitation. Many times investors are hesitant in investing in a women centric organisation. And the women find it uncomfortable speaking openly to an investor. This is because a lot of times investors do ask sensitive questions that are generally not asked.

You can see from various news items and articles that women have done very well as entrepreneurs and leaders. To my knowledge, there are very few industries where women have not shown their presence, be it FMCG, media, banking, bio-pharma, cosmetics, IT, automobiles, hotels, farm equipment, entertainment, fashion and many more, not forgetting governance and law-enforcement and security forces. Today, there are a lot of opportunities for women to do whatever they prefer and follow any profession they choose. Roshini Sharma, an extraordinary bike rider put it very beautifully. The only thing stopping you from achieving what you want is you. Women have the capacity to do whatever they want, and they should fight for it.
Here is what some of the leading ladies in the world have said:

Eleanor Roosevelt, former First Lady: One’s philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes  and the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility.

Michelle Obama, First Lady of the United States: No country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contributions of half of its citizens.

Ekta Kapoor in a conversation with Forbes said – Yes, I am an entrepreneur but not in the conventional sense. I have learnt business as time passed, but I do not have a B-school education. You need to evolve and re-evolve to align yourself with changing tastes and great content is all about great basic thoughts!

Kiran Mazumdar Shaw in an interview with rediff.com said -Basically, I am in a very different field. I was unique in many ways. I was a woman entrepreneur and a biotech pioneer. I never looked at myself as a woman entrepreneur because I was always painted as a very different breed of entrepreneur. I had the challenges as a pioneer and I never looked at the challenges as a woman entrepreneur. So as a pioneer, I have been treated very differently. After succeeding, I don’t think anyone today sees me as a woman entrepreneur.

Indra Nooyi, CEO PepsiCo: -There is nothing like a concrete life plan to weigh you down. Because if you always have one eye on some future goal, you stop paying attention to the job at hand, miss opportunities that might arise, and stay fixedly on one path, even when a better, newer course might have opened up.

Lisa Srao of I Brands Beverages: -You women entrepreneurs out there, blaze new paths and don’t allow yourself to be restricted by outdated traditions.

Tina Garg, Pink Lemonade: -The gender equation in the workplace flips when you see women come up to the fore confidently.

Meenakshi Lekhi, Supreme Court Lawyer: -Life is never balanced. There will always be an imbalance between your work life and personal life.

Nazaneen Jalaludheen, Applied Robotics: -Ups and downs are synonymous to a startup. Every day is so different. One day is filled with a mad rush of optimism and the next day feels like everything is going down the drain.

Allow me to wind this up with a comment from the Nobel laureate Amartya Sen: -Women are increasingly seen, by men as well as women, as active agents of change  the dynamic promoters of social transformations that can alter the lives of both women and men.

References:

1. Shradha Sharma. Meet Seasoned Silicon Valley Investor, Ann Winblad. 2014. http://yourstory.com/2014/12/ann-winblad/
2. Team YS. Intel launches investment fund for minority, women-led tech startups in US. 2015. http://yourstory.com/2015/06/intel-investment-fund/
3. Atul Raja. Women Entrepreneurs In India: Cooking Up Change. 2015. http://www.huffingtonpost.in/atul-raja/women-entrepreneurs-in-in_b_8075082.html
4. The Economic Times. Gender parity in workforce can boost India’s GDP by 27%: Christine Lagarde. 2015. http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2015-09-06/news/66268175_1_women-empowerment-christine-lagarde-more-women
5. Business Today.in. The Most Powerful Women in Business. 2015. http://www.businesstoday.in/powerful-businesswomen/2015/
6. Kirti Sharma. 10 Promising Women Entrepreneurs in India. 2014. http://www.indianweb2.com/2014/06/24/10-promising-women-entrepreneurs-india/
7. Kathleen Gerson. Hard Choices: How Women Decide About Work, Career and Motherhood. 1986.
8. Sindhu Kashyap. For, by and of women entrepreneurs SAHA is India’s first women’s venture capital fund. 2015.
9. Sumi Krishnan. 5 Powerful Rules for Women Entrepreneurs to Live By. 2015.
10. Sharika Nair. If Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer didn’t have to choose between career and children, why should you? 2016. http://her.yourstory.com/career-or-children-0113