That women’s employment in urban areas has been inordinately low is no secret. While female literacy has been growing consistently since 1981 when it was at 25% to over 60% in 2011 when the last census report was released, the employment rate of women has been disappointingly insufficient. Women’s employment in cities and towns has never gone beyond 25% and the urban women’s labour force participation has historically been much lower than that of their rural counterparts.
While researchers and experts in the field have over the years claimed that social culture influences the demand and supply of women workers, are the restrictions limited just to culture or beyond? How do companies hire women and do they even want to? What are the steps being taken by companies to make workforce gender-neutral? A new study by World Bank which surveyed 618 firms in three of the largest cities in the state of Madhya Pradesh (India)—Bhopal, Indore, and Gwalior has been published. It addresses the issue of culture and firm characteristics, while noting that the two are not necessarily in binary opposition.
The survey included firms and companies that worked mostly as sole proprietors, private limited companies, with only 4% firms having more than one proprietor and only two of the 618 enterprises were registered as public limited companies.
- The survey found that recruiters rated women’s willingness to work for long hours as being critical – a factor that was not considered as important when hiring all employees.
- As employers in India rely on personal connections to fill jobs, this holds even more validity for small firms in north India. So the report noted that “women are less likely to have the social networks that can get them such jobs, unless aided by families and friends. It is also not culturally appropriate for women to walk into firms asking for jobs or to market their skills or resumes aggressively”.
- A little over half the employers (53%) agreed that men should have more right to a job than women, when jobs are scarce.
- Most employers interviewed for the survey considered men as being better suited for jobs in most functional areas, except in customer services and care. In general, employers perceived men to be better suited for jobs in production/technical/
operational domains (82% said so); while in jobs involving procurement/purchase, 71% agreed that men were better suited.
The report’s assessment of the relative role of culture, as signified by attitudes of employers, and firm characteristics in hiring women shows that the disparity is not just a result of patriarchal attitude but also institutional practices.
RECRUITERS’ MINDSET MATTERS
The study also showed how female-driven businesses have higher percentage of women working in it. If women are Human Resource department heads, they have fewer gender biases etched in their mindsets than men. Speaking to SheThePeople.TV, building material company Nuvoco’s Chief of Human Resources and Industrial Relations, Devendra Shangari shared, “During recruitment, deep-rooted beliefs of the people who are responsible for the initial screening of candidates could very well influence the overall process. Hence, whether noble principles actually get translated into reality depends a lot on the ones implementing them.”
He adds, “However, today there is an openness to go beyond gender biases, and look at the capabilities a person brings to the table. Furthermore, changing social structures, movement to larger towns and cities, nuclear families [or DINKS]; are giving rise to realities where careers of both, men and women, are considered important. Having said that, there still exists a propensity for women to gravitate towards working in support functions and/or jobs that are located in the metros over those based in remote locations.”
He weighed in on the fact that roles that “involve extensive travelling to or being based out of remote locations see fewer women applying, for example, sales and manufacturing” face a consistent lag in gender diversity.
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WOMEN IN TOP TIER IMPACT DIVERSITY IN WORKFORCE
Kanika Gupta Shori, Co-founder and COO, Square Yards believes that having more women in leadership acts as a trickle-down effect to the entire workforce of a firm. “With women on a company’s board, the chances given to interviewees across the table are fairer. With a male and a female candidate of equal calibre and experience, preference will not simply roll towards the male candidate, as would generally happen in case of a homogenous board of male recruiters. Having more women, there is certainty of an unbiased gender representation in the overall hiring, ensuring a fair mix of talent and skills, irrespective of gender,” she said.
During recruitment, deep-rooted beliefs of the people who are responsible for the initial screening of candidates could very well influence the overall process. Hence, whether noble principles actually get translated into reality depends a lot on the ones implementing them.
SKILLING PROGRAMS IN NON-CONVENTIONAL SECTORS
Having the right attitude to bring a change and accommodate women in non-conventional sectors, today firms particular in metro-cities are formulating new policies, initiatives to increase diversity in their workforce. An online automobile marketplace, Droom, is building its owned and operated ECO technician fleet. Its Founder Sandeep Aggarwal told us how they face major challenges in recruiting female auto-technicians. However they are building “a full support system starting from post-recruitment training, assisting in getting a driving licence and safety & security to recruit women”.
So skilling and training programs from within firms who would then go ahead and recruit women in male-dominated sectors is also a great way to employ more women in various untouched sectors.
While cultural change is a slow process and will require eons to happen, firm characteristics which also strengthen gender bias can change. Both the mindset outside the firm—that of the society—and inside the firm—that of the recruiters—need to change for female employment rate to show an upward curve.