The Pandemic has set back the clock on Indian women in the workspace by several years – a statistic which was low even before the pandemic. By World Bank estimates, in 2020, fewer than 20% of Indian women worked in the formal sectors – a figure lower than Pakistan, and in line with Afghanistan before the Taliban takeover. Estimates post pandemic paint a grimmer picture – it is estimated by the World Bank that women employment in India post pandemic is at 9% – about the same level as war-torn Yemen. 28% of all job losses during the pandemic were borne by women, despite being 20% of the workforce.
While there have been many reasons attributed to the decline of women in the formal Indian workspace, certainly gender bias has played a huge part. The employment gap between men and women in India is close to 60% – a statistic that points to the familiar bias that women need to be seen as those in charge of domestic chores and child rearing, while men take on the conventional role of being the income provider. The closure of the education system during the pandemic, and continuing hybrid models of work-from-home has contributed to strengthening the beliefs in these biases more than ever before. It is staggering to note from the Opportunity Index Report by LinkedIn, women were 7 times more likely to lose their jobs, and 11 times more likely than men not to return to work.
While it could take decades to close in on this gap, the one facility that could help counter this current state is the Childcare service or Daycares as they are called. A facility that is equipped to take care of children in a healthy, safe and happy environment can prove to be a huge bonus for women to reconsider their decision of not coming back to work. 58% of the women who quit their jobs during the pandemic attributedtheir decision to the lack of Daycare facilities – which had closed down during the pandemic. With the reopening of this sector last year, potentially this group of women could now return to the workspace.
The childcare industry in India has evolved to a much more mature edition in the last decade. What was originally a mom-and-pop run facility in the living room of a house in the neighborhood, has now grown to an industry that incorporates global best practices such as Health & Safety, milestone development for children, professional staff, good infrastructure with large spaces for children to learn and flourish. Facilities such as these are a boon to every working mother; not just in helping her return to work, but letting her get back to work ‘guilt free’.
The Government of India had made sweeping changes in the Amendment of the Maternity Act Bill in 2017, when they mandated that all companies with over 50 employees had to provide daycare facilities for the children of the staff. Perhaps this is the time to reinforce this amongst the industry, and ensure that all employers are compliant to this law. The ensuing situation would be a win-win for all: women would be able to return to the workspace, children can be taken care of socially and emotionally amongst their peers, and companies would have the benefit of gender diversity and some extremely talented women who could enrich the workspace.
A McKinsey study has pointed out that a company practicing gender diversity is 20% more likely to have above-average profitability. It therefore stands to reason that India needs to focus on getting women back to the workspace, and childcare would stand as the fulcrum to achieving this.