Over the last few decades, the face of the Indian working population has changed. Not so long ago, workplace demographics were predominantly tilted towards the male population. Post-liberalization, in the last one and a half decades, things have changed on this front quite a bit.
India is moving from a talent-rich country to a talent-scarce country, creating a war for talent. This has had a beneficial impact on gender equity as the accent is on talent acquisition irrespective of gender, background, etc., so long as the talent is acceptable.
Obviously, women are entering the workplace in much larger numbers as they are participating in higher education in larger numbers. Further, with the spread of liberal ideas in a growing economy, the norms governing employment have changed. The mantra, now, is ‘inclusive growth’ where everyone is enabled to participate, and be benefited by the collective progress we are making.
Society has had its own role to play in increasing the diversity of our workforce. Through the past few decades, the thought process has changed, particularly aided by government and private involvement in focusing on education for the girl child.
Also, the Indian middle class has, to a large extent, realized the virtues of inclusive education—and the need for self-dependence among women through sustainable careers—over this period. This has resulted in improvement in gender ratios in our higher and professional education institutes, from about 10-15% women about 20 years ago, to about 27-32% at present.
Considering the gender ratio of 944 women to every 1,000 men according to the 2001 Census, and the relatively easier access to education, the percentage of women in the workforce is only going to increase further.
Indian industry has also had a role in encouraging workplace gender diversity. This was predominantly led by the opening up of multiple sectors across geographies, and increased demand for skilled and professionally educated personnel. This ensured the hiring of an increased number of women employees across both public and private enterprises.
The IT industry in India has thrived primarily due to the abundant availability of skilled talent. In the future, this would also be its biggest challenge, primarily due to the tremendous growth across all industry segments and the increased demand for talent from all quarters.
Considering the current talent pool comprises about 30% women, it has become imperative to tap this population, and then work towards retaining it.
In an organization such as Infosys, and in others of a similar scale, the gender ratio of women to men is about 35:65 at the entry level, increasing from 18:82 about seven years ago. However, we see that at the higher roles, it drops quite a bit—and the drop is very significant at the leadership level. This is mainly attributed to multiple reasons, one of which is the non-availability of experienced women managers since their increasing presence in the workforce is a recent phenomenon.
Our attrition rate in the female workforce is not very different from that for men. To ensure that women stay on while raising a family, several policy initiatives have been undertaken. At Infosys, a special “women’s initiative” has been started to focus on the needs of the women in our workforce.
Policies such as flexible hours, telecommuting, sabbaticals and additional infrastructure such as childcare centres and a dedicated office for expecting and new mothers can go a long way in addressing some of the needs of women employees, and can help in arresting attrition. Given that a lot has been invested in an employee in the initial years, losing her at a stage when she brings additional value to the table is something we should be concerned about.
With the increase in the share of women in the talent pool and that, too, with good academic performance, the essence is to have a focused approach to tap this pool and ensure sustenance in the workplace for a longer time to unlock value.
Considering the IT industry can provide women with relatively better benefits and a more inclusive environment, in the war for talent, the ability to hire and retain women would definitely give an organization the edge.
The author is member of the board, and director, human resources, Infosys Technologies Ltd.