Simi Mehta, Sunidhi Agarwal, Anshula Mehta, Ritika Gupta, Sakshi Sharda, Ishika Chaudhary

Any society that fails to harness the energy and creativity of its women is at a huge disadvantage in the modern world. Gender balance and diversity need to be embedded in the workspace to create an environment that enables the holistic development of all. In order to comprehend the complexities of the workspace while charting out ideas for creating a gender-balanced environment, the Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC) at IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi, organized an online discussion on ‘Career Trajectories of Working Women and Ideas for Creating a Gender-Balanced Workspace’ as part of The State of Gender Equality – #GenderGaps series on 6 August 2021.

Career Trajectories of Working Women and Ideas for Creating a Gender-Balanced Workspace

Background

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The discussion was initiated by the moderator, Prof Vibhuti Patel, Former Professor, TATA Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, who pointed out that in today’s 21st Century knowledge economy the human capital theory occupies the center stage thus it becomes imperative to invest in Human capital for it reduces the gap between the knowledge-based workforce and the low skilled worker. To understand the workspace, she said, the career choice theory with its underlying patriarchal nature plays a major role in shaping the future of an individual.

Gender norms in India and expectations from women due to the stereotyped attributes deter them from playing a major role in the workforce population. Coupled with this is the lack of enterprise and investments available for them which puts them in a worse off position, stated Prof Patel.

Societal Stereotypes against Women

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Dr. Farah Naqvi, Faculty Member, Human Resource Management, Gulf Centre for University Education, Kuwait, then began with her presentation. She began by unpacking the term career and stated that career is more about how an individual chooses to prove their merit utilizing education and skills, and less about earning an income and having a job.

While highlighting career choices based on gender, she stated that it is often a steady growth for men while for women, it is the reverse as initially they tend to focus on balancing professional life as opposed to private life and the latter half constitutes prioritizing their own voices and opinions. Explaining it further, she stated that a womens’ career cycle can be divided into 4 phases: Ambition, Cultural Shock, (Re) Acceleration, and Actualisation.

Talking about the themes affecting the education, qualification, and profession of women, she stated the aforementioned depended upon parents: their education and background, the trade-off between marriage and career, compromises made for their spouse and family, aspirations of women, stereotypes deterring women given the prevailing gender socialization attitudes, challenges posed by male-oriented jobs and limited informal networks. Addressing the competencies that help them succeed, she stated that good family support, talent, management skills, hard work, and confidence are necessary amongst others.

Current Scenario

According to research, the ongoing pandemic scenario seems to have a positive impact on women and their careers. But the real impact has been severe with their unemployment rate shooting to 17% and average income surging to 180 rupees. The Global Gender Gap Report by the World Economic Forum indicated that India was amongst the worst-performing nations in the world with a ranking of 140 amongst 156 nations.

Data indicates that although women account for 39% of global employment yet they incurred around 54% of job losses, clearly indicating that female jobs are 19% more volatile than men’s jobs. Alongside females currently face an increased time on family responsibilities. As for India, they are unemployed at the rate of 17.1% while men at 10.9%. Unpaid domestic and caregiving work is amongst the many factors that affect women and thus reducing their participation in paid activities.

Apart from the social aspects, education and skills form a major part affecting their careers. Despite India producing 43% of STEM graduates across the globe, their participation in science, engineering, and technology research institutes lies at a sheer 14%. While women comprise almost 50% of the class in the STEM fields in India their participation in the workforce lies at 30%. Skills, on the other hand being provided through PMKVY for them who comprise 40% of the candidates, 30% do not accept job offers due to lack of permission from the family while 28% receive no offers.

To establish a gender-balanced workspace, Dr. Naqvi stated that women must be provided affordable education, must be encouraged to take up STEM courses, strengthen the capacity of governments to apply a gender-responsive for public policy, remove any obstacles to gender equality, develop an inclusive environment with equal opportunities, mentor female talent, remove the gender pay gap and promote shared parental leave.

Affirmative Action

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Prof Mira K Desai, Professor & Head, Department of Extension & Communication, SNDT Women’s University, Mumbai, stating examples from her work, remarked that family plays a major role in women’s life; although currently, women have begun taking a stand for themselves yet the role of the family hasn’t diminished.

Highlighting three major aspects, Prof Desai addressed that, the way their work is perceived must be altered, the notion of good-women bad-women depending upon their work-life balance must be dismantled alongside the stereotyped goals set for women. She also mentioned that the perception of work, defining character with work, and developing new roles for women are necessary questions that need to be pondered upon.

Existing Economic and Social Systems

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According to ​​Dr Gaurang Jani, Retired Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, Gujarat University, Ahmedabad, there has been an increase in the number of non married/ engaged women attending universities as compared to the previous decade wherein they were observed to have been engaged in their first year, married in the second and impregnated in the third year giving her barely any time to focus on her academics and career.

Emphasizing the relationship between caste and occupation he stated that there still exists the carrying forward of jobs as was done before. Discussing the socially vulnerable sections, he stated that the pandemic has been acute for these women who are forced to look after their children without giving up their work. Stating that despite there being institutions to support women, early marriage undeniably hinders their growth.

Way Forward

Addressing the way forward, Prof Desai stated that it is important to give education for work to women instead of it being a desirable characteristic for marriage. The perception of women has to alter alongside families’ perception of appropriating women’s work into the family business. According to Prof Desai, a perception change is necessary to enable women to join the workforce population as equals. Dr Jani and Prof Patel went on to comment on the matrimonial advertisements. While Dr Naqvi stated that biases must be eradicated and sharing of responsibilities must take place.

Working at the grassroots level and utilizing media are necessary to bring in the cycle of change and challenge the existing norms stated, Dr Naqvi. Prof Vibhuti also pointed out that teachers also play a major role in shaping lives and it is the duty of a teacher to create a supportive environment and encourage women to take a stand. Prof Vibhuti concluded by stating that addressing the issues and paving a path is necessary for women today and the generations to come. Affirmative action must be taken by the government, corporates, and other institutions to establish an equal platform for all. 

Dr Arjun Kumar, then presented the vote of thanks, thanking the panellists and audience for their presence and insights.

Acknowledgement: Srimedha Bandi is a Research Intern at IMPRI

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