The Labour Ministry on January 1 published its draft standing orders on work from home (WFH) for the services sector under the new Industrial Relations Code.
Experts believe that the formalisation of work from home can play an instrumental role in encouraging women to re-enter the workforce as second-career women.
Second-career women are women professionals who take a break from their work or career to attend to their domestic or other responsibilities and are willing to rejoin the workforce after a break.
"The statistics around female labour force participation in India show that women exit their workplaces in substantial numbers particularly in their mid-career stage – close to 48 percent. The talent deficit that loss of women talent creates is huge, resulting in a leaky pipeline leading up to fewer women in leadership roles. Formalising the access to work from home is a great step to contain and reverse this trend. This would enable the careers of thousands of second career women a talent pool that is geographically distributed," said Saundarya Rajesh, Founder – President, Avtar Group.
Work from home (WFH) is a win-win situation for both employees and employers. When an employee has the flexibility to work at one’s own space and pace coupled with increased ability to integrate work and life, there is increased productivity. And when the organisation displays commitment and support to employees, attrition rates are contained, she noted.
Data from the Working Mother and Avtar Best Companies for Women in India 2020 study show that the maternity attrition rate at these companies is just 9 percent- this can be attributed to a structured flexi work models they offer to women to resume careers post maternity, establishing the role of work from home as an important enabler for women seeking sustainable careers, Rajesh added.
"While there is a growing trend of large corporate firms shifting their focus towards second career women in the last few years, young India still has more than 7 million second career women who are seeking career returns. And, if one includes Tier 2 and 3 locations, the number is more than 11 million. However, there is an increasing corporate interest and investment in this talent pool – at least 65 companies have formalised second career recruitment tracks for hiring from this talent pool, as per data from the 2020 – 100 Best Companies for Women in India," she pointed out.
Ill health, child bearing and child rearing are among the top reasons for women in India to take a break from their corporate careers.
Citing a survey result, Saundarya noted: "Avtar conducted a survey in 2019 among 783 second career women from various industry sectors across the country. We found that the absence of strong networks and skill gap are the two biggest barriers to career re-entry - with 59 percent and 36 percent respectively saying this. Insufficient support at home (23 percent) is another prominent barrier."
It is the first time that the Labour Ministry has brought out standing orders for the services sector under the Industrial Relations Code. Before the new labour codes were approved by Parliament in September 2020, there was one standing order across sectors.
Under the model standing orders drafted for the services sector, the decision on working hours for employees in the IT space has, however, been left up to employers.
Shumita Ghosh, Senior Manager Operations - LATAM | IMEA | EU | APAC, Randstad RiseSmart said: "For the longest time, one of the hardest decisions working women had to make was choosing to take a hiatus. Whether it was to start a family, or on medical grounds, or simply because they needed a break, when the time came to re-enter the workforce, they were generally met with uncertainty from employers."
Ghosh believes the work-from-home model whose popularity peaked last year opened up a host of opportunities for women to flourish in the job market, without having to compromise on personal commitments. "The government’s proposal to formalise work from home within the services sector is a welcome move, one which will enable women to enter the job market from the comforts of their home, and also act as a stimulant towards encouraging women to rejoin the corporate world," she said.
Ghosh, however, cautioned that work from home alone wouldn't suffice.
"While everyone is jumping on the bandwagon of work from home and flexible working model, we need to also bear in mind the need for balancing this whole act. Only a work-from-home model will not resolve the challenges that women face in bringing the necessary optimisation at workplace. There is a risk of burnout if other factors such as providing flexible working hours, managing workload, and ensuring work-life balance are not taken care of," Ghosh said.
"It is critical that in addition to WFH policies, we also implement a Balance From Home (BFH) structure that makes women and men provide equal importance to both personal and professional priorities," she observed.
According to Manisha Raisinghani, Co-founder and CTO, LogiNext, formalisation of wok from home is a progressive step in a rapidly evolving situation triggered by the pandemic. "This announcement definitely encourages a conversation around more liberal policies and opens up opportunities for women to re-enter the workforce," she opined.
Raisinghani further stated that within organisations, having initiatives like buddy programmes, focused mentoring, or upskilling programmes can drive positivity towards encouraging women to re-enter the job market.