‘Daughterly guilt’ haunts Indian working women

A survey found out that in India and China women didn’t want to leave elderly parents in others’ care

March 20, 2016 10:50 pm | Updated March 21, 2016 05:38 pm IST

Photo for reporesentational purpose only.

Photo for reporesentational purpose only.

“Being a woman is a terribly difficult trade since it consists principally of dealings with men.”

- Joseph Conrad, ‘Chance’

Recruiters are finding it difficult to meet client requirements that mandate filling corporate positions with women employees. This trend follows research that has historically placed India at the bottom rung in Asia when it comes to women’s representation in white-collar jobs across all levels of experience.

“For seven out of ten recruitment mandates we receive from our corporate clients to fulfil positions, there are no women candidates for a fair consideration to be made against male candidates,” said Dr Saundarya Rajesh, Founder & President, AVTAR Career Creators, a recruitment consultancy.

Too leaky, too early Traditionally, India has had poor representation of women in the workforce in junior, middle and senior management levels. While the number of women coming into the workforce, across job categories, has increased, from 98 lakh in 2005 to 2.8 crore in 2012, the number of women as a percentage of those employable has gone down steadily – from 29.3 per cent in 2004-05 to 23.3 per cent in 2009-10 to 22.5 per cent in 2011-12 as per data from the government’s National Sample Survey Office.

In the white-collar segment too, the country has the poorest representation of women as a percentage of the workforce, compared to the rest of Asia.

According to the Gender Diversity Benchmark Survey for both 2011 and 2014 by Community Business, a non-profit organisation, when it interviewed 21 and 32 multinationals respectively, India had the highest dropout rate for women across all three levels.

While the other regions, China, Japan, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Singapore, which participated in the survey, observed ‘the leaky pipeline’ trend between middle and senior management levels, India’s problem is exacerbated with the highest number of women dropping out at the junior level compared to its counterparts. In the 2014 survey, the country had women representing 30.3 % of junior level workforce, dropping to 16.4 per cent at the middle level. This means that only a depleted sample even gets to middle management. Compare this with Hong Kong’s 57.5 per cent and 45.7 per cent, respectively.

The survey attributes women dropping out, in markets such as India and China, to several traditional influences, one of the strongest being ‘daughterly guilt’ – which, it says, can outweigh ‘maternal guilt’ – from having to leave elderly parents in others’ care.

Husbands earn ‘enough’ “Another strong driver for more women staying away from corporate positions is the affluence of urban male breadwinners that has gone up in the last two decades or so,” said Dr Rajesh. That, she said, has given women the option to either take a step back or try their hand at entrepreneurship in their area of passion.

Sledgehammer for a nail? Agreeing that the available pool of women candidates is lower than desirable, Ms Hema Subramaniam, Founder & CEO of Live Connections, a search and recruitment firm, added, “There is another side to this. Some companies genuinely want to have women on board for the value they bring. For others, it is only a check-list item or a piece of statistics.” In her experience, such companies get women employees to come back to the workforce only to allocate low-end work, driving away those testing waters for a come-back.

One of her candidates summed it up with “Why use a sledge-hammer to drive a nail into the wall?” Ms Subramaniam said, “The candidate said it was a waste of her and the company’s time and effort to end up doing such work.” Companies have to also be sensitive to the capabilities of those women that want to return to the workforce, she opined. She clarified though, that women who have stuck on and risen to senior positions are able to command high salaries and perks and are in good demand.

IT industry Nasscom, the apex organisation of the IT and BPO services industry, had reported earlier this month that it sees a greater representation of women at the entry level than earlier – at 51 per cent for the industry. Even the evolution of job roles, from support to core jobs, is growing for women at 2 per cent per year since 2012, the report said.

However, this pace of change seems slow compared to what companies want.

Dr Rajesh of AVTAR Career sees the trend, of too few women candidates available for open positions, across industry, and across age-groups. “Since the IT industry employs the largest number of women in India, the trend is visible more here than elsewhere.” She cited a recent report by the Wadhwani Foundation that shows 48 per cent of women under the age of 30 taking a break at least once in their career.

“The cost to the company of the trend of women in mid-career and leadership levels leaving the workplace is very high,” she said.

What women wantThe Hindu also spoke to two women managers at two of the top six IT services companies in India; one of whom has returned to work after her second maternity leave, and the other who has resigned and is now serving her notice period. Both requested anonymity for reasons of corporate protocol. The latter, who aspires to be an entrepreneur, said it was a big leap of faith to let go of the financial stability that a job offers.

“I quit because I find the start-up ecosystem in India vibrant and full of possibilities,” she said, adding that her passion was in social entrepreneurship, since, “in a country like ours, technology and social needs are both large.” The moral and financial backing of her spouse helped her take the plunge, she added.

The other lady, now a delivery manager in one of the top six IT software services companies said, “While it is tempting to stay back at home, I do need to help the male breadwinner, given ever-increasing aspirations for a bigger house, a bigger car and the like.”

She temporarily moved away from a corporate job to freelance before returning.

With a hobby such as hand-made jewellery that nearly became a full-fledged business, she opined, “Women are a lot more creative. So at some point, they want to move away from the grind and try their hands at something more creative.”

Rankings – to get ‘em back As awareness in companies on gender diversity increases so have the mandates on recruitment of women employees.

“This requirement is across all categories - business, technical and sales profiles. This is due to: the growing statistical evidence of the benefits of hiring women; socially progressive management teams; and best practices from MNC headquarters percolating into Indian operations,” according to Dr Rajesh.

The gap, between the industry’s needs and the number of available women for consideration, has triggered new ways to attract capable women back.

While in-office crèches and flexible timing are already in vogue, AVTAR, jointly with Working Mother Media, a global gender-parity organisation, launched the latter’s ranking for Best Companies for Women in the country last fortnight.

Dr Rajesh said, “Especially at a time when Indian companies are losing 11 per cent of their female workforce every year, it is critical for them to do their best and be seen by women prospects as the best.”

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