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Hybrid work culture driving more women out of the workforce

Employment among urban women fell 10% between January and April, against a 2% increase for urban men, data from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy showed.  (Mint)Premium
Employment among urban women fell 10% between January and April, against a 2% increase for urban men, data from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy showed.  (Mint)

Pressures of the hybrid work regime are prompting more women to quit, taking a toll on India Inc.’s attempts to foster workplace diversity. Among the primary reasons: Lack of childcare infrastructure in offices and pressure from schools for dedicated focus on child’s education as in the days of online schooling

Pressures of the hybrid work regime are prompting more women to quit, taking a toll on India Inc.’s attempts to foster workplace diversity. Among the primary reasons: Lack of childcare infrastructure in offices and pressure from schools for dedicated focus on child’s education as in the days of online schooling.

Diversity analysts note that many companies moving from work-from-home to hybrid work continue to expect workers to be available at all times, even if they physically attend the office.

“Timelines of work were scheduled before the pandemic. Then we moved to a culture where calls were done any time of the day. Although now one is transitioning back to the office, there is an expectation that work-from-home will continue without any cutoff time," said Mitali Nikore, an economist.

Despite overall employment in India nearing pre-pandemic levels by January, employment among urban women fell 10% between January and April 2022, against a 2% increase for urban men, data from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) showed. According to Nikore’s estimates, an analysis of historical trends shows urban women’s employment levels may fall another 10-15% in the coming months.

The exits come even as many companies create roster systems where employees need to attend the office a few days every week. In many sectors, there is more emphasis on newcomers attending offices to get acclimatized to the work culture of the new firm.

According to Rosa Abraham, associate professor at Azim Premji University, 90% of the male workforce is back to work against just 60% of women compared with pre-pandemic days.

“Tentative evidence shows that educated women have not returned, which means this is a distress-led recovery and not a healthy one. Those in the lower economic strata working in the unorganized sector have come back," said Abraham.

She has observed that in the hiring frenzy that is taking place in many sectors such as IT, retail, ITES and pharma, in families where men are earning very high packets, women are backing out.

“As the family’s net worth increases, more women in the household are stepping back. Alongside, a combination of poor infrastructure and child care facilities is leading to the drop in diversity numbers," Abraham added.

The last three quarters have seen a surge in hiring, where India Inc. is making up for the two years of a covid-induced lull in manpower numbers. But, as of now, it is an employee’s market, and they are being wooed with high paying offers, counteroffers, bonuses and hikes.

“It is a Catch-22 that is happening, especially in tech recruitments. Women who had taken a career break are coming back, but less than 10% of our women candidates are willing to get back to a physical office," said Saran Balasundaram, founder of technology recruitment firm HanDigital. The hiring agency has started mapping the leaders whose teams have open mandates to see if they are following the WFH/hybrid or complete return-to-office mode. “Depending on what the leader prefers, we are approaching candidates," he added.

However, this could still be just a phase as more firms stress their need to raise gender diversity.

“This is an intermittent phase, and more diversity recruitments are coming in where companies necessarily want women on board. The gig economy is not getting factored in, and many women have joined that workforce instead of the regular jobs," said Rituparna Chakraborty, co-founder and executive vice-president of TeamLease Services.

Chakraborty said after two years of covid, the struggle to get women candidates across hierarchies remains the same, and it is no worse.

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