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Navigating Obstacles: Women's Journey Towards the Workplace

Rangam May 15, 2024 4:55:06 AM

Given that women face persistent challenges in the workplace, there's a critical need for systemic change to ensure equal opportunities for all, writes Shweta Singh, a proud advocate for women's rights and gender equality.

As a woman, I've always felt like we're living in a men’s world.

But, why?

Even in 2024, women are still struggling for basic privileges that men seem to effortlessly inherit — the right to education, a voice that carries weight, the power to make decisions, and simply being valued, respected, and loved for who we are, without any bias.

And that makes me wonder, why have women not got their dues despite years of hard work, unwavering dedication, and tirelessly proving themselves in every field? You name it, we slay it.

Still, I fail to understand why women aren't fitting into the world with the same ease as men.

When I walk into any workplace and meet working women, trust me, my heart is filled with pride and happiness because it takes a lot for a woman to reach the workplace from the walls of a cage.

According to the Center for Monitoring the Indian Economy (CMIE), which uses a more restrictive definition of employment, in 2022, only around 10% of working-age women were either working or actively seeking employment. That’s quite a low number, right? It means that out of all the women who could potentially be working, only 39 million of them are actually in the workforce in comparison to the whopping 361 million men who are employed or seeking jobs. So, the gap is there, and it’s even bigger than most of us know.

It’s not just about women; it’s a bigger concern that is holding the country’s economic aspirations. Millions of women are getting left behind, and if we don’t get these women into the workforce, it could put a serious damper on India’s growth plans.

To make the country grow with the booming population, we must ensure everyone, especially women, has the chance to work and contribute to the workforce.

As experts say, India’s population advantage might turn into a liability if we don’t get everyone on board, especially women, in the workforce.

Let’s dig into the reasons why women are the ones who are left behind.

Education is only for privileged women

In India's patriarchal society, girls often have fewer opportunities than boys, especially in education. Many girls struggle to access schooling because of conservative cultural attitudes, leading to a lower literacy rate compared to boys.

However, women's education has come a long way in India. In 2020, primary education in India showed a gender parity index of 1.03 for females, signaling equality. It's a big win and shows India's move towards fair education access.

With about 66% of women being literate as of 2021, it’s time to step up efforts to ensure every girl gets a shot at quality education.

Despite this progress, there’s still so much to be done. We need to keep investing in girls' education and ensure every child, no matter their gender, gets quality schooling. It's key to a strong, and fair society.

The unshared responsibility of unpaid care work

Despite more women earning degrees globally, according to a report by the International Labor Organization (ILO), a staggering 606 million highly educated women find themselves providing unpaid care full-time. This contrasts with just 1.5% (41 million) of working-age men taking on similar roles.

While women excel academically, the persisting gender gap in employment rates highlights the impact of unpaid caregiving responsibilities, often deterring women from pursuing paid employment opportunities.

Pregnancy discrimination is real

Despite policies and laws that prohibit discrimination based on pregnancy in all aspects of employment, including hiring, promotions, and fringe benefits such as leaves and health insurance, it remains disheartening that many organizations still hesitate to hire women due to concerns about maternity leave policies. Even those who are hired or already working have to go through a tough time in the workplace.

Pregnancy discrimination goes beyond simply being treated unfairly; it involves experiencing negative treatment or bias. Some of the subtle signs of bias at work are social isolation, negative stereotyping, unfavorable shifts or assignments, and sometimes inappropriate jokes or intrusive comments.

A study from Baylor University shows that such discrimination doesn’t just affect emotional well-being, it also impacts the health of women and their babies.

Motherhood is a “penalty

Motherhood still holds women back at work. According to a study by Marta Gallardo from the Faculty of Education at UNEDE, 54% of women think motherhood hinders their growth, while 44% of women have given up on their careers after having children. Only, 13% of women feel motherhood has not influenced their career growth, while 21% of women believed that they have not sacrificed many or any career opportunities.

Moreover, nearly half of women fear being seen as bossy, and over a third worry about being labeled “bitchy”. Are we seriously providing the right environment to our working women?

We need to support working mothers in advancing their careers while raising families — a concept not embraced well by many societies yet.

It takes a lot extra to be a full-time mother and yet bring the best to the workplace. Just like working from home is now common, having working mothers is becoming the norm too. Let’s normalize being a mother in a professional setting.

Sexual harassment on the rise

A McKinsey study highlights that women in leadership roles, who break traditional gender norms, deal with more harassment. According to LeanIn.Org and McKinsey, 55% of women in leadership positions have experienced sexual harassment at work.

Being the ‘only one’ in such roles exacerbates their experiences, exposing them to more unprofessional remarks and harassment.

What’s even worse?

Surprisingly, only 52% of women believe that their organizations would adequately investigate harassment claims. In certain groups, like women in corporate jobs or those in technical fields, the numbers are even higher — over a third of them have experienced sexual harassment.

Wrapping up

Even in this day and age, women continue to face significant hurdles in achieving equality and representation in the workforce. Despite progress in education and legal protections against discrimination, women encounter persistent barriers such as unpaid care work, pregnancy discrimination, and sexual harassment.

To address these challenges, society must prioritize investments in girls' education, promote shared responsibilities in caregiving, enforce strict policies against workplace discrimination, and foster inclusive work cultures that support women's advancements.

By recognizing and addressing these systemic issues, we can create a more equitable and inclusive society where women have equal opportunities to thrive in the workplace and contribute to the nation's growth and prosperity. It's not just about empowering women — it's about building a better future for all.

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