Hima Bindu Kota
With the right support, women are developing a new set of skills and are on the way to contribute to nation-building economically, politically, socially and culturally
Emerging economies with wide gender gaps and unequal access to education, capital, jobs and markets should aim to bridge the gap by encouraging women participation in workforce and in leadership roles in political, economic, social and cultural arenas, thereby reflecting inclusiveness in society, companies and countries.
Empowering women employees and entrepreneurs not only contributes to a virtuous cycle as higher female disposable income trickles down to increased spending on education and healthcare, but also triggers a multiplier effect as women influence others to participate in the economy and invest in their ideas. The trend of promotion of economic empowerment of women — “Womenomics” — is on the rise worldwide. So, could India lag behind? Globally, there are 860 million women of employable age, who are not a part of the world’s workforce, which is more than the entire population of Europe. Their hidden and latent resources and talent, when harnessed effectively, through entrepreneurship or participation in work force, can lead to sustainable growth in companies and countries. In a growth and resource-constrained world, it is impossible to ignore the huge potential of women, which constitute at least half of the world’s population.
There are several trends that have lead to more women participation in the workforce. The first trend is the rising use of automation in manufacturing and other industries, thereby reducing the physical demands of jobs, allowing more skilled women to enter industries in which they have traditionally been under-represented like mining, transportation and manufacturing.
Secondly, the usage of internet is a great game changer and has created numerous opportunities for women by bringing down the entry barriers and reducing the need for physical presence and capital, and at the same time, allowing access to a broader audience compared to a bricks-and-mortar outlet. In the corporate sector, due to the flexibility allowed by the internet, women spend less time at work. On the other hand, technology is also helping to close the poverty gap faster and enable societies to overcome lack of progress in development sooner.
Although inclusion of women in the workforce is on the rise, it is not without its own set of challenges. Differential pay between men and women, particularly in some sectors is the major dissuading factor. Additionally, they often lack training, mentors and networks, markets, credit and technology. The participation of women in workforce has much more contribution than only in economic aspect. It has been noted that investments in women provide a high yield dividend in terms of poverty alleviation and general prosperity as they reinvest 90 per cent of their incomes in the community, education and health, essentially, in raising the standard of living. Women are also much more capable of sustainable peace and stability through their engagement in peace negotiations and post-conflict decision-making.
Today, numerous companies are recognising the importance of investing in women’s entrepreneurship. Goldman Sachs’ “10,000 Women Program” has focused on providing business training to women who seek to grow or expand their businesses. This high yield investment that has resulted in both jobs creation and greater profitability for the businesswomen who have participated in the programme. Similarly, The Coca-Cola Company has committed to create five million new women entrepreneurs by 2020 and Walmart has a significant women’s economic empowerment initiative that addresses both training and sourcing from women-run Small and medium-sized enterprises (SME).
At the macro level, there are examples of countries, both in the developed world and in developing nations, that have made considerable investments in their women workforce. In Kenya, for example, banking is a sector in which more and more women are entering the workforce and several entrepreneurs are doing incredible things like creating network of over 100 small-scale miners; working on fair trade, and developing an incubator for young entrepreneurs in Kenya. Another African country Rwanda has more female parliamentarians than any other country in the world. These trends are not only limited to Africa. An entrepreneur in Pakistan, Roshaneh Zafar, started a non-profit microfinance bank called Kashf Foundation, a part of which she later converted into a for-profit commercial bank with more than 350,000 women borrowers as on date.
Over the past few years, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has positioned himself as a champion of gender equality and made women empowerment one of his top three reform ‘arrows’ aimed at rejuvenating the economy. His famous ‘womenomics’ measures, aimed at advancing economic empowerment of women have shown clear-cut progress, with about 70 per cent of Japanese females aged between 15 to 64, now being employed or seeking jobs, moving ahead of the US where 63 per cent of women are in the workforce. To put this in numerical perspective, nearly one million women have joined the labour force.
His push for equality is a win-win idea, since Japan has a shrinking population and needs skilled people to fill jobs, including those in executive suites and Japanese women are among the most educated in the world. Goldman Sachs has reported that fuller participation by women could boost Japan’s total output by as much as 13 per cent. Also, Abe’s ambitious goals include having women in 30 per cent of Government management posts by the time Tokyo hosts the Olympics in 2020. His Government is also pressuring companies with 301 or more employees to set goals for hiring and promoting women and has provided number of benefits to them like increased child care leave benefits, women-friendly subsidies and tax incentives, greater flexible options like teleworking and so on.
In Indian context, with majority of women entrepreneurs in SME sector, their challenges include lack of access to resources like credit, technology and markets. It is estimated that over 90 per cent of finance requirements for women-owned enterprises is met through informal channels as they are unable to source formal, easy, collateral free and transparent financing for their start-ups. Although Niti Aayog unveiled women’s entrepreneurship platform in march in Delhi, the purpose of which is to create a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem, the Government needs to work its way up through the economically weaker section, if it really wants to empower women entrepreneurs.
Companies and countries need to give women the tools they need to build sustainable and profitable organisations. However, this does not happen overnight and communities have to build a huge pipeline for women, so that a proportion of them can create more change, innovate and drive growth and become future disrupters of larger scale companies. With right support, women are developing a new set of skills and a new set of expectations for their countries and are on the way to contribute meaningfully to nation building economically, politically, socially and culturally.
(The writer is Assistant Professor, Amity University)