4 key social forces to improve the status of working woman in India

The working woman in India continues to face stiff challenges and social resistance even in the 21st century. There is a gender bias against women in many industries, and the percentage of women making to the top of the corporate ladder is still abysmally low. A recent survey conducted by World Economic Forum (WEF), choosing 60 of the 100 best employers in India as a sample, revealed that women employees held only 10 percent of the senior management positions in two-thirds of the surveyed companies. None of the companies had women chief executive officers (CEOs) and almost 40 percent of the respondents had only 10 percent women work force.1Furthermore, women’s employment is not necessarily synonymous with women’s empowerment in India, and a large number of women do not get to exercise a control over their own income. Sexual harassment and a safe and secure working environment for women continue to remain a challenge in most parts of the country.

The following four social forces are critical to elevate the status of the working woman in India:

Individual force or Self-Help

The key to transforming the social status of a working woman lies in their own hands primarily. Women need to be more assertive and aware of their own rights at home as well as at work. There are many social self-help women’s groups and other women’s organizations that are ready to assist women in upgrading their skills, connecting them with job and entrepreneurial opportunities, and addressing their grievances, whether at the workplace or at home. Women’s cooperative movements such as Amul Dairy Cooperative in Gujarat and Shri Mahila Griha Udyog “Lijjat Papad” in Maharashtra are two legendary examples of self-help women groups transforming the lives of women in India. Unless woman decides to resist against her exploitation, whether at economic, social or sexual level, the goal of women’s empowerment cannot be achieved.

Organizational force or Employer’s Responsibility

The business organizations must develop a clear policy of gender inclusiveness and become equal opportunity employers. Implementation of the policy must be monitored closely, and the data of the women’s participation in the organization must be reviewed regularly. This will ensure that the top management remains informed about any gender disparities within the organization, and works consistently to close the gaps. The employers must follow best practices in terms of providing maternity leave and benefits to working mothers. Re-training of women employees and other such measures must be taken to ensure that they remain at par with the male workforce within the organization. Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) is a classic case in this regard. TCS in recent years has launched a “Diversity and Women’s Network” (DAWN) initiative that encourages women employees to stick to their jobs despite pressure from marriage, family, and maternity demands, and attain sustainable careers for the long term.2

Governmental force

The government in India has its task cut out clearly in terms of policy initiatives as well as implementation of the women’s employment, entrepreneurship and financial empowerment programs at the grassroots level. For instance, the government of India has taken an enterprising step to enhance the safety of working women that has earned it accolades across the world. The government has introduced its first single sex train in Delhi, or a “Ladies Special” that exclusively caters to women commuters. This is a pilot program under which eight new commuter trains are being introduced exclusively for women passengers in 4 of India’s biggest cities.3 This action of the government creates safer conditions for women’s employment, and encourages women to work outside their homes. It is a step in the right direction, and symbolizes the government’s increased consciousness about improving women’s participation in the economy.

Societal force

The society and the family are two crucial influences that can raise the status of the Working Women in India. The husband and other family members need to be supportive of the woman’s work outside the home. They need to share the household responsibilities in order for woman to be able to utilize her skills outside the home. India is a traditionally patriarchal and male-dominated society. Therefore, without the positive and liberal mindset of the average Indian male to encourage the working women, a real elevation of the working women’s status in the society is going to remain a distant dream.

Overall, a conducive and safe social environment and a proactive support from the family, corporate, government and other social networks can help to transform the Indian Working Women’s status for the better. But above all, the assertiveness and initiative of the working women themselves for their own rights can do more for their empowerment than all other forces combined.


- Vikas Vij (views expressed in the article are that of the author)