Experts Column

Geeta, is the Co-founder and COO at AscentHR. Geeta is a fellow member of “The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India” and “The institute of Costs and Works Accountants of India”. She stepped into the role of COO at AscentHR with over a decade of experience in Audits, Taxation and Finance.

With work from home becoming the new norm and the boost in the gig economy, the future of work for women looks promising in the present and post-pandemic world.

The outbreak of the coronavirus, the consequent lockdown, adherence to norms like self-isolation and social distancing have compelled organizations worldwide to switch to a work-from-home model. The Govt. has recently relaxed the conditions of WFH for IT/ ITES industry. Even as restrictions are being slowly relaxed everywhere, there are fewer chances of getting back to pre-corona lives - anytime soon. With outa viable vaccine on the distant horizon and no cure in sight for the coronavirus, companies have transformed their way of working and are gearing up to work from home in the coming years, which may remain one of the permanent methods of work life.

Major changes are underway in workplaces affecting all areas of work and how work is being monitored / facilitated for execution. A silver lining to these dark clouds of new normal has been the boost in the gig economy and increase of women in the workforce. According to LinkedIn’s recent labour market update, the participation of women in India’s workforce rose to 37% as of July-end from 30% in April.

The trend of work-from-home with its innate advantage of flexible working hours has boosted gender parity and empowered many Indian women to embrace a second career-opportunity. The new normal has presented a plethora of opportunities for women professionals, as it allows them to contribute valuable skills while retaining flexibility.

With changes in labour laws defining gig worker’s rights and mode of engagement, women professionals will find the opening of gig economy to be a game-changer. It is empowering women with jobs that offer far more freedom and flexibility than the formal economy can ever provide. According to research by the Asia Foundation’s exploratory, women gig workers enjoy flexible work hours more, coupled with the ability to balance employment with unpaid care work. They like being their own boss and avoiding difficult employers, squalid workplaces, and exhausting multiple-client schedules. In fact, many women gig workers have become their family’s primary breadwinner, breaking stereotypes and altering the traditional balance of power in the home.

“Economic co-operation and development (Oecd) showed that women are better than men at problem-solving in teams in every one of the 52 countries surveyed”

About 70% percent of corporations in 2018 used gig workers to fill major organizational gaps. Women make up 50% of the gig-economy labour force, and the gender pay gap is narrower than the formal economy. Though gig work does not guarantee a steady income, the benefits seem to outweigh the risk.

While the flexibility of working remotely is seen helping a larger number of women joining the workforce, it has been noticed that women are getting bogged down by a higher share of domestic chores and responsibilities along with the WFH strategies implemented by companies. Even when both partners are working from home, women have to handle a majority share of domestic responsibilities.

According to McKinsey estimates, Indian women are spending an estimated 30% more time on domestic work during Covid-19. However, many leaders in organizations have been sensitive to the additional burden that their female colleagues carried during this pandemic. Many organizations are sensitizing their male employees to pitch in and help, and also ensure that there is no spillover of work into personal space. Companies are ensuring that their HR team(s) is regularly engaging with everyone to keep them motivated, hear their challenges or grievances and have informal chats about working from home for an extended period. Many employers are also considering the long-term effects of working from home by tweaking policies in favour of women.

Given the fact that an increase in female work participation could lead to an additional USD 700 billion in the economy by 2025 (According to a 2015 report published by the McKinsey Global Institute), it is necessary to involve more and more women in the workforce and make the environment suitable for their career growth and decrease the attrition rate amongst women employees.

Furthermore, in the jobs of the future where technology is bound to rule, the non-routine tasks will require human skills like communication, listening, problem-solving and interpretation. While the majority opines that women have better listening skills, a recent study among 15-yearold students by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) showed that women are better than men at problem-solving in teams in every one of the 52 countries surveyed. So, the forthcoming generation of women stands poised to use their strength in communication skills that is an invariable need of an independent / disparate workforce.

WFH could be more beneficial for women as well as for organizations in the long run as it could help companies retain women, if some structure is worked out around working from home. The mental bias towards working from home is long gone, with startups and organizations realizing it can be equally efficient as well. Gender diversity is also a social responsibility, and India as a progressive country should move towards accomplishing it. This is for sure a game-changer for women professionals.