For the past 18 months, speculations around what the future looks like post-pandemic – the “next normal” – have dominated discussions at every level – individual, company, and country. But I believe that the future is already here. However, the promise it brings is not evenly distributed. The impact of crises is never equal, and COVID-19 has further widened the chasms in our society – especially in gender parity.
As a result of lockdowns and other challenges, income loss, unpaid care, and domestic work burden have increased drastically for women in India. [highlight color=”yellow”]According to the World Economic Forum, this has led to India falling 28 places to rank 140 among 156 countries in gender equality in 2021, driven by a decrease in women’s labor force participation from 24.8% to 22.3%.[/highlight]
In terms of work, companies have historically been bound by geographical, cultural, and other factors in making their workplaces more diverse and inclusive. But this is changing – and fast. Because one thing the pandemic has altered for good is that technology will no longer be viewed as an experience-enhancer but as the prime enabler of everything we do, including building a more inclusive workplace and economy. Going forward, India’s accelerated digital transformation will serve as a powerful catalyst for transforming the world of work and, in turn, forging new possibilities for everyone, especially women.
A new world of work – Hybrid, borderless, inclusive
The workplace is becoming hybrid. Now, work is what you do, not where you go. Here, digital technologies could enable women to bypass cultural and mobility barriers, especially in India; access new markets and opportunities to sell products they develop or create; and work flexibly, as remote work and the gig economy gain traction.
At the same time, work itself is becoming more intelligent and automated. Mass penetration of technologies like drones for delivery and rendering citizen services, 3D-engineering, AI-enabled trading, etc., is closer than we think. All these changes will make work across industries more gender-neutral. For instance, the future construction worker could be a 3D engineer building homes from behind a desk; the future firefighter could be a drone operator. So, as jobs get digitized, they will become more gender-neutral.
A multiplier effect on businesses and the economy
If these changing tides are harnessed adequately, India will see a massive opportunity cost stemming from a balanced, equitable workforce. There’s little doubt that workforce diversity is good for business, leading to higher revenues and innovation, effective decision-making, and low staff turnover.
[highlight color=”yellow”]For India, the impact is even greater. McKinsey estimates that the nation could add up to $770 billion – over 18% – to its GDP by 2025 if women had equal opportunities. This could be the key to making India’s $5-trillion-economy vision a reality.[/highlight]
But we can leverage this untapped potential only by acting swiftly to make a difference at scale for women. If we delay action, the World Economic Forum projects that we may not see gender parity for 99.5 years!
Effecting change through evolving mindset, culture, and policy
Despite the tremendous progress made over the years, there are considerable gaps that must be bridged. This requires critical intervention in three areas.
[box type=”success” align=”” class=”” width=””]The first and most important is a mindset change. There is a need to shift the mindset from gender equality to gender equity. Gender equity works to correct the historical wrongs that have left women behind, like societal restrictions on employment and classifying jobs based on gender. Next, mindset change must be translated into a culture that values and respects everyone equally and thus prioritizes creating opportunities that everyone can access and leverage. Finally, all of this must be bolstered by the right policies, laws, and gender-focused programs that level the playing field and give women a voice and the choice to work where and how they want.[/box]
Given the scale and complexity of this challenge, especially in India, where cultural barriers are so vast and varied, this will not happen overnight or by a single individual, company, or even country working alone. It will take the collective might of government and industry bodies, media, tech companies, etc., to move the needle. Together, with technology acting as an enabler, I believe we have the opportunity to build a better, more inclusive India.