Pune-based Sunita Sable had taken a break from her consulting job after the birth of her girl child in 2019. Since she had a complicated pregnancy, Sable was ‘advised’ by her family to quit her job and look after the child even, as she was to resume in April 2020.
However, Sable had a bit of luck - the coronavirus outbreak and the subsequent lockdown turned out to be a job-saver for Sable who has resumed her job after being offered a work-from-home option.
A study by McKinsey & Company and global community for women Lean In, about one in four women in America are contemplating leaving the workforce or downshifting their careers due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is amidst fears of layoffs, burnout and double shifts, meaning a long day of office work followed by household work and childcare.
However, the reverse is proving to be true in India where remote working has, in fact, encouraged more women to stay employed and has also attracted those who had left the workforce.
Neha Bagaria, Founder and CEO of women-centric career platform JobsforHer, said that earlier while most of the work-from-home roles used to be in telesales, data entry or content writing, today they include SAP consultants, UI/UX designers, app developers, accountants and teachers.
These new postings have opened up a world of opportunities for women not just in Tier 1 cities, but also those in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities who are skilled, qualified and capable, but just didn’t have enough job opportunities in those cities, she added.
Take 36-year-old Durba Ghosh from Birbhum district in West Bengal. An MSC (IT) graduate, Ghosh had to leave Kolkata two years ago since her mother was unwell and her younger brother had gone abroad for education. She never came back since travel was an issue.
Now, amidst the pandemic, Ghosh has been able to find a software developer role with a Kolkata-based IT firm. She told Moneycontrol that the company has assured her that she would be allowed to pursue remote working.
A survey by JobsforHer showed that over 40 percent of women stated their desire for ‘flexible options that allow a certain amount of work from home’ in the post-COVID world as the deciding factor when it comes to their jobs.
The option of working from home and/or visiting the office when required is the best option, according to them, as they adapt to the changing corporate world and family needs.
This has probably led to the 62 percent rise in job applications that JobsForHer saw on its platform between April and July, and a 55 percent average increase in the number of work-from-home jobs posted by companies. Bagaria said she hopes to see more companies hiring capable women professionals to fill their roles in the coming months.
Currently, the gender diversity across Indian companies ranges between 30-35 percent on an average. With the remote working option being made available, HR consultants said this will help push up the number to 40 percent by July 2021.
Sharing responsibilities at home
For a majority of women across India, household chores and childcare are a given in addition to their daily professional work. A survey by JobsforHer showed that 70 percent of women in India relocate after marriage and a significant portion of these migrate to tier 2/3 cities in the country where job opportunities are low, putting the brakes on a woman's career graph.
“Work-from-home jobs open up a world of opportunities for such women who already have the skills, qualifications, experience and drive to take up their careers again with gusto, and are waiting for the right window of opportunity to make that leap into their professional journey,” added Bagaria.
Further, even in cases where women had to move back home amidst the pandemic, companies have largely been accommodative.
Mumbai’s Poornima Tiwari, who decided to save up on rent and move back home to Indore in May, said her employer, a tax firm, helped her set up her home office.
“Connectivity can see some disruptions here in Indore. But my employer has given me that much flexibility. Shifting back home helped me save on the rent I was paying in Mumbai and was much safer since my area had many COVID-19 cases,” she added.
Human resource consultants also feel that companies have offered flexibility to ensure that high performing women do not leave the job roles.
Manu Saigal, Director, General Staffing, The Adecco Group India, said a lot of companies have taken this opportunity to embed inclusivity policies as their processes and best practices for remote, flexible, and distributed work evolve in the current context.
These firms will be better positioned to hire talented individuals who live outside capital cities – widening economic opportunity and saving money in the process, she added.
But Saigal also has a word of caution. Some employers could view remote working as an accommodation to a small portion of the workforce and this will definitely have an adverse effect on women who have gone back to their native towns post the lockdown, she said.
Delhi-based recruitment consultant Seema Nambiar explained that women in blue-collared roles in the construction sector could see an adverse impact on employment if they are unable to come back for meeting project deadlines.
Sharing responsibilities at home
With both men and women working from home, there is a hope that household chores will also be equally divided. This is a factor often ignored, but is key to workforce participation of women.
The closure of schools has put more pressure on women than men, Saigal said. Although both women and men take part in childcare, global estimates from before the pandemic show that around 75 percent of all unpaid domestic and community labour is conducted by women, she added.
“In India particularly, women are reported to perform more than four times as much unpaid labour as men, including those who are simultaneously committed to paid work and report to struggle with childcare responsibilities due to the COVID-19 pandemic situation. While some inclusion challenges can be addressed only by governments or stakeholders together, many companies are embracing their responsibility to support women employees in their workforce through the crisis,” she said.
Bengaluru’s Deepti Sankaran who works for a financial services firm said that prior to COVID-19, it was usually she and her mother-in-law who would be doing all the household chores.
“After constant prodding, my husband and father-in-law who are working-from-home also lend a hand. This is crucial because during bank closing days, my working hours are stretched and household chores may be left undone. Managing the house is not my responsibility alone,” she added.
Will this help promote more inclusive policies?
Saundarya Rajesh, Founder – President, Avtar Group said that women continue to be less represented in many organizations, even as intentional leaders deploy policies and practices in order to achieve gender parity across levels.
“Progressive companies especially the ones in the IT sector have tailored their policies to suit the needs of women professionals at different levels. COVID-19 has not only increased opportunities for women who depended on a ‘flexibility work scenario’, but has also opened a series of opportunities for a diversity of talent agnostic of location, gender and so on,” she added.
Rajesh also said that with active video collaboration gaining social acceptance, work from anywhere has helped maintain enhanced productivity even if a skilled employee has moved to their homes in Tier II/III towns.