Ease of Doing Business for MSMEs: Women entrepreneurs have quickly shifted gears to cater to new demands and challenges that the pandemic had brought on. In fact, more than 50 per cent of businesswomen took COVID-19 as an opportunity to alter their business models from traditional to digital.
- By T R Ramachandran
Ease of Doing Business for MSMEs: There has been enough talk around gender equality in the past few years, however, gender inclusivity continues to be a distant dream for most organizations around the world. In our country, women constitute almost half the population and if we can close the gender gap, they have the potential to contribute approximately 6.8 per cent to India’s GDP. That’s reason enough for countries, economies, and organizations to provide women with opportunities and access to resources. A bit of encouragement and empowerment is all it takes to spark a revolution, one that will truly serve this country well in decades to come. And what better time to get started than now, as we recover from the economic impact of the pandemic.
COVID-19 laid foundation for inclusive workplace
Most companies globally were forced to transform their operations overnight last March with employees required to work from home (WFH). With over a year of this becoming the norm; organizations have openly supported the concept of a ‘remote workplace’ and in some instances, even announced plans to permanently do away with physical office setups. And therein perhaps lies the opening that we have been looking for. Remote hiring and ‘work from anywhere’ may be the latent solutions for workplaces to become more gender-inclusive.
A shift to remote working or hybrid workforce models has opened possibilities for employable women in India who had withdrawn from the workforce – for various reasons like elder care, family commitments, etc. – and found it unviable to return. Now, businesses are becoming more comfortable with flexible work hours and a phygital presence, enabling more such women to enter or re-enter the job market with the freedom to tailor their working hours. Corroborating this, a recent report stated that 38 per cent of Indian women working in the tech or IT industry prefer work from home and 36 per cent experienced more autonomy when not working in an office. The current scenario thus lends itself well to improving our gender mix as a community, a spike often seen as spurring a directly proportional surge in creativity, innovation, and technological advancement.
Organizations are making concerted efforts across different roles and functions to have a diverse and inclusive workforce. And, the pandemic may just have opened new doors for this. For example, companies have realized the importance of creating an environment that ensures adequate female representation in candidates and interviewing panels and follows a no discrimination recruitment process. Diversity-focused initiatives in our view, help us attract, retain and propel more women into leadership roles than before.
Entrepreneurial spirit on rise
Women entrepreneurs have quickly shifted gears to cater to new demands and challenges that the pandemic had brought on. In fact, more than 50 per cent of businesswomen took COVID-19 as an opportunity to alter their business models from traditional to digital. By changing supply chains, facilitating digital sales and delivery channels, and introducing new offerings, the shift to remote management and digitized operations will augur well for the women entrepreneur ecosystem in India in the long run. These businesses have also shown resilience with gig economy workers establishing businesses from the ground up amidst the pandemic by unearthing new opportunities.
We have realized the importance of programs tailored for women entrepreneurs to help them thrive, and not just survive, in the marketplace. While financial aid can offer great support, imparting skills and building connections play a far more important role for these entrepreneurs in the long term. Formal and informal mentorship programs too play a vital role in promoting entrepreneurship and encouraging budding businesswomen.
Keeping the momentum going
Companies have made great strides with gender inclusion, evident when more than half of the women in tech state that levels of gender equality have improved in their organizations over the past two years. Also, a recent study found that post-COVID-19, there was an increase in new registrations of women freelancers. Providing adequate support to women to take up gig roles and micro-entrepreneurship will create more jobs.
Though gig roles are popular among women who want flexible roles and higher pay, a stronger policy framework that formally encourages them to take up such opportunities while working from the comfort of their homes will aid them in taking the decision. Greater collaboration between government bodies and ecosystem enablers will provide better resources and facilities to these ventures.
World Bank data shows that women make up 20.3 per cent of the workforce in India, starkly lower than in economies like China (43.6 per cent), South Africa (45.3 per cent), and Brazil (43.9 per cent). It is not only important to recognize how essential women are for the economy but to support them adequately. They represent the next phase and avenue of growth for India. While it will take time to gauge the full impact of the pandemic, flexible working, enhanced networking and mentorship, learning opportunities, and inclusion will go a long way in keeping women in the workforce.
Women-friendly policies and investing in women-owned businesses will ensure the continued development of our country and its women professionals. India could increase its GDP by 16 per cent by 2025, adding up to $770 billion, by simply enabling women to participate in the economy at par with men. This staggering number itself should catapult the participation of women in the workforce to top priority for organizations and the economy. While there is much to be done, it is about time that we empower women to work and live better, one step at a time.
T R Ramachandran is the Group Country Manager, India and South Asia at Visa. Views expressed are the author’s own.