Indian companies are striving to keep their female employees at work in a culture that expects women to put their familial commitments first.
As soon as a woman marries in India then it is assumed that they will spend their time caring for the needs of their husbands and any subsequent children they bear. Beyond the immediate family unit, Indian culture places a significant importance on extended families and therefore also expects women to care for their elderly relatives on top of their other familial commitments.
Women who work can be treated with disdain, especially by male employees, this cultural attitude means that the rate of female participation (in the workplace) in India is just 34.2 percent.
However, Indian companies are now beginning to challenge this androcentric attitude through a series of inclusive measures designed to encourage women to stay in work. In the future this could even encourage woman to take up careers, especially after university, because they will be assured that any future familial responsibilities will be respected and accommodated for.
The measures range from flexible transportation, to on-site childcare and adjustable working hours. Google, for example, has taxis on call for all employees allowing women to easily get home should there be an incident or medical problem with their children or relatives. Wipro takes this immediacy one step further by running children’s day camps on-site during the holidays to avoid women having to take time off work. Boehringer Ingelheim, a German drugmaker, pays expenses for female employees to be accompanied by their mothers on longer business trips, acknowledging the cultural aversion India has to women travelling alone.
Looking at the actual women themselves several companies have also employed initiatives that help women to prepare to return to work whilst on maternity leave; some firms emphasise the need for women to have career aspirations and work closely to make these aspirations real prospects for the future.
A case study quoted online by Bloomberg Businessweek reveals how Ernst and Young’s Indian operation was determined to help their employee Preethi Mohan Rao stay in work after the birth of her first child in 2006. During her maternity leave, the company called Rao monthly to check how things were and her ability (and desire) to return to work. They were able to persuade her that life with a career and a baby was a possibility; they provided her with a flexible schedule, nursery facilities on-site and a transitory period of one month where she built up her hours gradually.
Ernst and Young’s CEO Mahendra Jain reported that although there was no evidence of the financial benefits of such measures it was “how we do business here”. The company is just one example of the movement to promote equality in the workplace. In India, a country with a male-dominated and –designed workforce, the company has been able to increase its employee numbers by 1000 percent whilst maintaining an equal number of male and female workers.
The company spent thousands investing in Rao’s career and they weren’t about to let her give it up under the cultural pressures of motherhood.
For Rao, now a manager, the move has changed her life, how long before more women are offered this opportunity?