Women as 'Economic Participants' of the Nation

Women as 'Economic Participants' of the Nation

By: Vanitha Datla, Vice Chairperson, Elico Ltd.

Vanitha holds a CFA charter from ICFAI and is a post-graduate in Business Administration from the ICFAI Business School (IBS). She is currently pursuing her doctoral thesis at the Indian School of Business. With a career spanning close to three decades, Vanitha is a frequent speaker at various forums and is passionate about contributing towards women empowerment and women’s issues.

World over, there has always been, an interest, in understanding the value, that women bring, whether in the corporate arena or elsewhere. Today, Countries, Corporations, and Communities are recognizing the economic and social aspects of Gender Diversity and Inclusion. While gender inequalities are still rampant across countries, the degree of inequalities differs among developed economies and emerging economies. India is unfortunately placed quite poorly, in the Global Gender Parity Index for 2023 at the 127th position out of 146 nations.

The four parameters that are measured are economic participation, educational attainment, health & and survival, and political empowerment. Though our country has currently achieved parity in enrollment across all levels of education, reaching the 26th position out of 146 countries and attaining close to parity on the health and survival ratios, parity in political participation is still low at 23.5%. On the economic participation front, the nation fares the worst, standing at a 142nd position out of 146 countries.

"If all of the women's energies can be used in India, it will add one percentage point to the GDP growth rate and add a lot of value both in terms of economic and social development.”, was the statement of a study by the Boston Consulting Group. As a nation, while more and more Indian women are getting better access to education and are graduating every year with the requisite qualifications across disciplines, regrettably, their representation at the workplace and in businesses, has yet to gain traction, to be able to become a force to reckon with.

This brings to light the harsh fact, that though women are gaining professional qualifications, especially in domains such as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics), Medicine, Law, Management, Pharma and Lifesciences, etc., their participation in the workplace has been declining over the last two decades. A 2018 study pointed out that, three out of four women of working age, are neither working nor seeking employment, leading to masculinization of the workforce, and post the pandemic, the country has witnessed a dismal female workforce participation rate of 19.2 percent.  While another report states that only 7 percent of urban Indian women have paid jobs.  It is worrisome to note that despite the rapid urbanization prevalent in India and the fact that women’s educational levels have increased, these factors have failed to improve women’s labor-force participation.

As India is gearing up, to become a $5 Trillion economy by the middle of the current decade, one of the best approaches to achieve this goal, would be to identify enablers and create an ecosystem that would integrate more women into the economy as true economic participants. A specific low-hanging fruit, that could be plucked, to add to a country’s social and economic development, would be to include a major percentage of women of working age, in the workforce. It is certainly high-time, that Regulators and Policy Makers, understand the gaps in the current set of policies and how the much-needed policy changes, will play an important role in enabling more women not only to enter but to sustain the workplace. Policies such as parental leave, workplace harassment, pay parity, board representation, etc., have been introduced over the decades to enable equitable opportunities for women across countries. India still needs to scale up its current policies to match the best-in-class countries, so that the country stands to benefit from increased participation of women economic contributors.

I fully subscribe to having reservations in every sector, for women, to create a potential women presence that offers prospects of diversity and other governance benefits. The persistent under-representation of women in political life and decision-making has led to a democratic deficit in India. The discrimination that women face in their daily lives, hinders them from demonstrating their full potential and excludes them from benefitting equally from the development process. Government should encourage inclusiveness and participation from all its citizens, irrespective of caste, creed, or gender so that men and women have the opportunity to influence the institutions and policies that affect their lives.

Women are still ill-informed about their rights and as a result, cannot stand up for themselves when discriminated against. All stakeholders such as the government, private sector, and communities should ensure that there is widespread awareness among women regarding rights and policies that affect them. In this aspect the current government’s push to pass the landmark Women’s Reservation Bill, 2023, will constitutionally entrench women’s representation in the government, leading to a revolutionary shift in women participation and gender parity in the country. Women should no longer be treated as a minority segment by society and should be given access to resources, rights, and other entitlements as their male counterparts. They should be equally represented in decision-making whether in the household or the public sphere. Bridging the gap between women’s economic and political activity and their decision-making ability would help in minimizing gender disparities.

Despite not having a level playing field, there are numerous role models among women, who have succeeded to the pinnacles of their career and personal lives, to stand as shining examples that women can achieve anything if they set their minds on it. Around the world, as well as in India an abundance of female leadership has been exhibited in the corporate sector, politics, and society, in recent times.

The theme for the International Women’s Day, 2023 is “DigitALL: Innovation and Technology for Gender Equality.” The significance of transformative technologies along with digital education in helping to bridge the divide is large as it would enable more women to become economically independent, leading them to become economic contributors. Women professionals and women entrepreneurs can play a substantial role in this area to allow our country to realize its developmental potential. ‘An Empowered Woman leads to an Empowered Nation’ and I sincerely hope that societies, countries, and corporates come together, to detract the conclusion made by the Global Gender Gap Report, 2023

“None of us will see gender parity in our lifetimes, as it would take another 131 years”