Each year, India loses millions of extremely qualified, educated women from the formal workplace whose participation could almost single-handedly transform the destiny of the country.
By Karan Bajaj
We’ve all read the statistics. Women in India represent just 21% of the workforce–declining annually-despite being 49% of college graduates. Each year, India loses millions of extremely qualified, educated women from the formal workplace whose participation could almost single-handedly transform the destiny of the country. In contrast, women in similar economies like China and Brazil represent 61% and 48% respectively of the workforce, placing India among the lowest in the world in women’s workforce participation.
Can India ever achieve its full potential until this number increases manifold? The policy frameworks trying to address the problem have one missing ingredient–recognizing the reality that Indian women are already working full-time.
Women in India spend more than 350 minutes per day working on household care activities, 10x more than men at 31 minutes per day, effectively ruling out formal office hours. While years of deep-rooted social and cultural forces have shaped this division, I think a structural solution to the problem of women participation in the workforce has now emerged in the post CoVID world. And new Tech Start Ups can power the solution.
Highly qualified women from India can now leverage tech to create high-value services and products for the whole world on their time, their convenience.
I see the magic of this daily at WhiteHat Jr. 11,000 teachers teach more than 125,000 classes a week–in coding, maths and now, music– to children across the world. A teacher can decide, based on her family’s needs, whether to take classes early in the morning in Australia or New Zealand before her children wake up or late at night in Europe and US when her kids are asleep. Or to work regular hours teaching children in India or the Middle East, based on her family’s own unique dynamics.
Kids all over the world have limited access to effective 1:1 teaching, physical or online. As a result, they deeply value their teachers–all technically qualified, educated women from India who decided not to participate in the formal workforce–without any hint of race or cultural barriers.
K-12 Online teaching is just one category. I see the same potential in multiple other models-from medical teleservices to mental wellness to home improvement to physical craft products-where compassionate, creative women from India can create goods and services that can transform the world. And with tech, they’ll create them on their own terms. I’ve always maintained that any credit of WhiteHat Jr’s scaling belongs solely to this uniquely qualified demographic in India. For founders looking to create similar women-centric value creation models in diverse disciplines, here are some learnings that may be useful:
1. Create Outcomes Not Services
People value outcomes rather than inputs. In WhiteHat Jr, for example, children want to learn the mechanics of building an app or create a composition on the guitar, versus generic coding or music tutoring. As such, we invest heavily in creating a custom curriculum that delivers these outcomes and an average teacher invests 500+ hours in training towards these outcomes, building on her own subject matter knowledge. That’s why I believe service-based startups should invest as much in a structured product which is delivered uniquely via the service versus making a service an end in itself. For an online physical fitness start-up, this would mean defining the exact outcome a user would achieve in the course duration e.g. the range of weight loss, and setting up an entire activity system from recruiting the right fitness instructor to robust class-by-class “train-the-trainer” plans and daily measurement of instructor delivery and client outcomes, done at scale with technology. A marketplace based approach which simply aggregates trainers and clients is less effective since it doesn’t leverage the power of a highly qualified, effective service pool to deliver committed results.
2. Focus on Global Quality not Indian Pricing Arbitrage
We get messages daily from parents whose kids have gone from maths anxiety to maths confidence due to their teachers’ personalized, compassionate 1:1 attention. No one applauds the class pricing. India allows a unique pricing advantage but I firmly believe people all over the world value a service for traits like competence and personalization, not pricing. Any start-up pioneering a model in this space, be it mental health or medical telservice, would do astoundingly well by focusing on the incredible skill and competence of India’s women talent versus just the pricing arbitrage which is inherent in these models.
3. Build Dignity into the Design
We were fortunate to have two talented women in the founding team of 7 members, who were returning to work while balancing child-care, exactly the same life-stage as our potential teachers. So we built women-first elements in the platform design early. We chose to have a teacher-led scheduling system, where teachers opened slots based on their availability. We’d upgrade the Internet and computer systems for teachers the moment they were selected to enable them to take classes without any friction of upfront spending. Rather than a conventional “gig-worker” approach, we built a long-term career development path with org structures for teachers so they developed a full career with us even if they worked flexible timings. Your design choices will be different, of course. But a caring platform at design stage enables thousands of women at scale to achieve an “AND”- Family AND work, versus the Family “OR” work, which characterizes most of their alternatives. Women, thus nurtured, can transform any industry with their participation.
I hope these can be of some use as you explore this truly generational opportunity as entrepreneurs. Not only will there be incredible job creation in India but also millions of people from all over the world will be touched by the high-quality products and services created by the unique mix of competence, compassion and creativity of women in India.
(Karan Bajaj is an author and technology entrepreneur, and also founder and CEO of WhiteHatJr. The views expressed are personal and not necessarily that of Financial Express Online)